Galifiniakis’ series makes TV debut, ferns in tow

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NEW YORK (AP) - Certainly, the Internet has its purposes, but there might be none greater than “Between Two Ferns.”

The radically awkward, largely improvised interview show has been arguably the most beloved Web series since it debuted in early 2008. The episodes, four-minute blasts of public-access style absurdity, arrive every few months (and sometimes longer) without warning, as if dropped from the heavens.

Now, “Between Two Ferns” is making its TV debut in a 30-minute special (a veritable gluttony for fans accustomed to snippets parceled out over a year) airing Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EST/PST on Comedy Central ahead of the channel’s second annual Comedy Awards.

Dubbed “Between Two Ferns: A Fairytale of New York,” the special is modeled on Barbara Walters‘ pre-Oscars interview shows. The production is a little grander: It opens with Galifianakis in a tuxedo atop Rockefeller Center, introducing his three guests _ Jon Stewart, Tina Fey and Richard Branson _ while stuttering over his own name.

“We wanted to mock the celebrity obsession that is so annoyingly present in our culture,” says Galifianakis. “No one worships that more than Barbara Walters.”

The special is both a kind of faux-extravaganza to celebrate the humble “Between Two Ferns,” and, potentially, a last hurrah.

While countless comedies have used the interview format for parody, “Between Two Ferns” has its own unique rhythm. Galifianakis may be satirizing vacant, unknowing celebrity interviewers who use the opportunity to elevate themselves. But much of its appeal is simply as an unfiltered vessel for Galifianakis’ brand of comedy _ a mix of gleeful antagonism, perfectly-timed pratfalls and absurdist irreverence.

“The uncomfortableness of it all, he just revels in that kind of environment,” says Scott Aukerman, who co-created the series with Galifianakis.

The two have seldom talked about “Between Two Ferns” publicly, preferring to keep an air of mystery around its creation. But they granted interviews ahead of the special: Galifianakis by e-mail, Aukerman by phone.

The show was born when Aukerman and BJ Porter were making a pilot for a sketch comedy show that never made it to television.

“If I remember correctly, I basically said, `Get me an actor to interview and two ferns and we will make it work from there,’” recalls Galifianakis.

Aukerman says they decided to put the sketch (the inaugural episode featured Michael Cera) on the then-nascent Funny Or Die “as a lark.” Its immediate success surprised the comedians; most episodes have now been watched some 5-10 million times.

On a simple set of folding chairs flanked by ferns, Galifianakis interviews celebrities with deadpan insults and blatantly condescending questions. He’s asked Bruce Willis if Ashton Kutcher is the favorite of his kids. He’s called Jimmy Kimmel “Timmy Kimbles” and told him he has “girl lips.”

Things often get physical. He’s tickled Cera until it became creepy. He’s sneezed violently and repeatedly into Jon Hamm’s crotch. His interview of his “Hangover” co-star Bradley Cooper dissolved into slapping.

Guests frequently attempt to fight back, usually by targeting Galifianakis’ weight. Charlize Theron called him a “fat garden gnome.” Will Ferrell yelled for him to “get the fat out of your ears.” More than once, Galifianakis’s defensiveness is punctuated by his chair collapsing underneath him.

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