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A Guide To Between Two Ferns

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As well as being a brilliant comedian and burgeoning movie star, Zach Galifianakis has, for some time now, been hosting his very own comedy chat show. Between Two Ferns, a mainstay of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny Or Die website, is a gloriously funny spoof in which Zach’s grumpy and uncooperative host interviews/tortures a string of in-on-the-joke celebrity guests against the backdrop of an ultra-cheap talk show, complete with black-cloth background, sound issues and, of course, two flanking ferns. A rich tapestry of uncomfortable silences, inappropriate comments and outrageous nonsense, the tenth episode – with Sean Penn – has just gone up. So we thought we’d give you this handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the whole caboodle…

Things kick off with a predictably squirm-inducing episode as Zach welcomes manchild actor Michael Cera into his lair and proceeds to intimidate him, insult him and then manhandle him, in an attempt to get Cera to tickle his inside thigh. And Cera, a master at conveying stoicism and awkwardness, responds perfectly.

Best bit: When Galifianakis falls asleep during Cera’s first answer. With his eyes open.

A real talk-show host comes on to see how it’s done, and soon wishes he hadn’t. A weaker episode, most notable for the introduction of a sponsor (Barry’s Bananas) and a short-lived new theme tune, it suffers perhaps because Kimmel doesn’t have a well-defined comedic persona for Zach to bounce against. But it’s still got some fine moments, particularly when Galifianakis gets a little drunk and takes his shoes and socks off. “Bet you can’t do that on your show…”

Best bit: When the ever-lascivious Zach tries to find out how close Kimmel got to Ben Affleck’s lips during the ‘I’m Fucking Matt Damon’ saga. You could cut the tension with a knife. Not all of it sexual.

In which the ever-affable star of Mad Men – or “The Mad Men” as the caption would have it – endures a string of lame insults about his name, is asked if he has ever fingered any of his female co-stars, and then suffers the indignity of having several giant-sized sneezes aimed right at his crotch and chest. “I’m allergic to ferns,” wheezes Galifianakis.

Best bit: When a dispute over Mad Men’s setting prompts Galifianakis to show Hamm his notes. “It says about people in their early sixties,” says Zach. “That just says, ‘do you like websites?’” replies Hamm. And the next question is… “Do you like websites?”

Portman, stretching her comedy muscles after proving a hit on Saturday Night Live, brings her dog Whiz to the Two Ferns set and immediately has to endure nearly three minutes of being hit on by an increasingly desperate, invasive and, frankly, perverted Galifianakis who, in no particular order, asks her for her phone number, whether she wears bikinis, and whether he can smell her dog’s penis. A mini-masterpiece of uncomfortable comedy.

Best bit: When Galifianakis asks Portman, “You shaved your head for V for Vendetta. Did you also shave your V for Vagina?” Look up ‘good sport’ in the dictionary and it’s probably got a picture of Portman next to it.

In which Zach’s The Hangover co-star gets a little too effusive when recalling his past roles, Carrot Top drops in and then it gets a little physical, resulting in the first Two Ferns face-off. Not one of the best – Cooper’s need to delineate the plot of every movie he’s involved in seems a little forced – but the punch-up at the end rescues it, and raises a cogent point: who does water the ferns?

Best bit:
Zach: So you hosted Saturday Night Live.
Bradley: Yeah! That was like a dream come true.
Zach: Whose?

In which the Oscar-winning actress, trying slightly too hard to show that she can do comedy (as if Arrested Development and Aeon Flux hadn’t already offered conclusive proof), flirts with Zach and then, having lured the flustered frontman into her web, calls him ‘a fat garden gnome’. The weakest entry so far, it still features several laugh-out-loud moments.

Best bit: When Zach interrupts a tearful Theron story about her dying dog by thrusting a copy of Need For Speed – that week’s sponsor – in front of her face.

In which O’Brien – then just settling into the Tonight Show hotseat, some months before the situation escalated – comes onto a real talk show, armed with some zingers (“You’re playing Papa Smurf in the new live-action Papa Smurf movie…”) and dies on his arse, quickly nullified by the twin threats of a hostile Galifianakis and O’Brien’s own sidekick, Andy Richter.

Best bit: Bumped onto the floor in favour of new guest Andy Dick, a disconsolate O’Brien watches in horror as his first gag – “Hey, Papa Smurf called, he wants his suit back!” – sends Zach and Richter into howls of laughter.

Nobody had walked out on Galifianakis… until this episode, in which Stiller – in serious actor mode, complete with intellectual’s glasses – is given short shrift by a particularly acerbic – even for his standards – Zach. From a stunningly contemptuous look when Galifianakis realises what Stiller’s there to plug – Greenberg (which is then plugged with an audio-only clip) – to several questions about Stiller’s Jewish heritage (“Do the Blue Steel look from Jewlander”), Stiller doesn’t stand a chance, finally doing a Brothers Gibb when Zach asks him, “did you ever wish you followed your parents into comedy?”

Best bit: When Stiller tries to appease Galifianakis with the promise of a role in Night At The Museum 3, and Zach gives him his email address. “Your email address is benstillerfaggot69@verizon.net?” asks an incredulous Stiller. “benstillerfaggot@verizon.net was already taken,” replies Galifianakis.

Worried about the Ferns format running dry nine episodes in? Time, then, for a neat reversal and, arguably, the best episode to date, as Carell, wary of Zach’s insults and put-downs, goes on the offensive from the off, while Zach protests his innocence. “I hear the camera adds ten pounds – you must have eaten five cameras,” says Carell. And that’s just the start of an episode that has everything: a trade-off of flaming insults, a classic pratfall, and the heartbreaking sight of Galifianakis crying like a baby.

Best bit: The look of dead-eyed, defiant triumph in Zach’s eyes when Carell finally relents and allows him to insult him. “Like when you go to the beach and people yell ‘shark! Shark!’ and then they just realise it’s Steve Carell doing the backstroke…”

When we heard that the latest episode would feature the Oscar-winning actor, we were pretty excited, for it surely promised two things: one, that Penn – famously a laugh-free zone since 1983 – was willing to send himself up a little, and that Zach’s abrasive interviewing style would generate fireworks, no matter how fake. However, keen not to repeat himself, Galifianakis instead shows up as his camp twin brother, Seth Galifianakis, a moustachioed blabbermouth who doesn’t let a pensive Penn get a word in edgeways. The material’s still quality, but Penn barely speaks, and the anticipated dust-up never materialises. Shame.

Best bit: When Seth starts to discuss Penn’s humanitarian work in Haiti. “Is there a Six Flags there?” “No.”