What began as a sketch for a TV show that was never picked up by FOX is now living the dream: Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, the prickly mock-interview show, has expanded into a Netflix movie.
Along the way, the low-fi Funny or Die staple hosted by Zach Galifianakis and directed by Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Scott Aukerman has been a durable, Emmy-winning source of cringe comedy since it began in 2008 with a Michael Cera interview that set the tone: Cera is mocked for his childish voice and uncomfortably thigh-tickled.
The improvised shorts typically feature celebrities who are in on the joke, but that doesn’t mean the questions posed by Galifianakis aren’t savage. And sometimes, those guests bite back. While you wait for the Netflix film, here are some of the sickest burns so far:
Episode 3: Jon Hamm. "I understand that you won a Golden Globe. Mark that under 'Who gives a shit.'" Not the worst thing you could say about Jon Hamm (who returns to retrieve his car keys two years later during the Will Ferrell interview), but still a vicious surgical strike against a star who didn’t win an acting Emmy until the final season of Mad Men.
Episode 6: Charlize Theron. "You are hilarious!" "Me, naked in a pool, with like a fat garden gnome. You are really good!" Theron puts her Oscar-winning acting skills to use when her flirty banter and laughter lull Galifianakis into believing he’s been invited for a naked swim. The cruel payoff, spelled out all over his face as he’s laughed at, is just one reason Theron is an international treasure.
Episode 8: Ben Stiller. "Do you ever wish that you had ever followed your parents into comedy?" A grizzled-looking Stiller, promoting the film Greenberg, walks out of the interview after this final straw, but nails Galifianakis on a question about what the host eats for breakfast: “Egg yellows?” Stiller offers. Still, it’s a pretty lopsided fight, with Stiller as the slow-burn straight man until he tries to punch through the set at the end.
Episode 9: Steve Carrell. "I heard your last name used to be even longer but you ate all the other letters of the alphabet." The Office star shows up ready to fight, knowing that he’s there to be mocked, and trying to stay ahead of the insults. His blast of prepared fat-shaming material makes Galifianakis cry, causing Carrell to soften, giving the host enough of a recovery to start back in on some big-nose jokes.
Episode 11: Bruce Willis. “When you were making The Whole Ten Yards, were you ever worried that it would be too good?” The Die Hard star endures a long string of burns, including, “Did you know that some actors turn down roles?” and several Ashton Kutcher digs before he slips into a weird, perfect monologue about lost glory and the good old days getting “Blown up and down Hollywood Boulevard” until the phone stops ringing. Then Galifianakis catches on fire. Perhaps the most perfectly random episode of the series.
Episode 14: Jennifer Lawrence. "You should be off-pudding." Galifianakis begins the interview by saying that his pal Bradley Cooper told him that in real life, Lawrence is (checks notes…) “Ugly.” She fires back, suggesting Hunger Games is his life story. When he tells her she shouldn’t say that because it’s off-putting, she delivers her perfect line. “Because you’re fat,” she explains, “you shouldn’t eat any more pudding.” It’s only seconds later, though, that she’s played off the show with orchestral music.
Episode 17: Justin Bieber. "You’ve had three hairstyles. What’s next for your career?" Either Justin Bieber is an excellent actor or he’s genuinely shaken by the mockery he’s in for on this cringiest of episodes, which also includes a full-blown belt spanking and green slime. This one also breaks down Bieber’s infamous remark about Anne Frank in a way that, strangely, makes perfect sense.
Episode 18: President Barack Obama. "I have to know, what is it like to be the last black president?" Perhaps the most widely-seen episode of Between Two Ferns was this surprisingly unscripted one that sees the president taking nearly as many Dad Joke shots at Galifianakis as he gets. On the issue of pardoning turkeys at Thanksgiving: “Was that depressing to you, having one turkey kinda taken out of circulation, turkey you couldn’t eat?” What sells it is Galifianakis with his angry glare and Obama barely suppressing his pleasure at the joke. It’s not the strongest ending: the set falls apart revealing that the show has been filmed at the White House for its entire run, but the back and forth between host and guest is surprisingly excellent.
Episode 19: Brad Pitt. "Is it hard for you to maintain a suntan? Because you live in your wife’s shadow." A laconic Pitt is taken to task for his good looks, his lack of showering (debatable!), and his drug habits with the gift of a gigantic wrapped bong (Galifianakis claims it’s a bassoon). The Angelina Jolie jab, though, is the roughest question of the entire interview, even topping the introduction of the Friends theme song (“I like that song,” Pitt mutters). The host and guest share a piece of gum and are interrupted by a stand-up set by Louis C.K. that has not aged well five years later.
Omar L. Gallaga is a longtime technology and culture writer with bylines in The Wall Street Journal, NPR's All Tech Considered blog, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, CNN and the beloved TV websites Television Without Pity and Previously.tv. He's a former newspaper journalist who now lives in New Braunfels, Texas. You can find him on Twitter @OmarG.