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‘Between Two Ferns: The Movie’: Zach Galifianakis’ clueless alter ego just as rude on the road

Netflix movie adds a story and many more self-parodying celebs to the comedian’s tightrope walk of a talk show.

Zach Galifianakis converses with the title characters of “Between Two Ferns: The Movie.” Netflix
Adam Rose/NETFLIX

The noted southeastern North Carolina public access television host Zach Galifianakis is interviewing the Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey on the long-running program “Between Two Ferns.”

Galifianakis: “All right, all right, all right. I was just describing the box office of your last three films. … Of all the things you can win an Oscar for, how surprised are you that you won one for acting?”

On another show, Keanu Reeves joins Galifianakis on the famously sparse “Between Two Ferns,” which features interviewer and subject framed by … two ferns.

Galifianakis: “Do you research your roles?”

Reeves: “Yeah.”

Galifianakis: “Have you ever considered researching a character that has taken acting lessons?”

In the tradition of uncomfortable-humor, faux-interview characters such as Martin Short’s Hollywood hack Jiminy Glick and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Ali G., the Zach Galifianakis of “Between Two Ferns” is a clueless boob with an overinflated sense of self, a nearly non-existent social filter and a knack for asking the most inappropriate and offensive questions to his celebrity subjects.

With A-list names from Natalie Portman to Sean Penn to Justin Bieber to Brad Pitt to Jerry Seinfeld and even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton joining in on the fun, the Funny or Die online series was a brilliant exercise in tightrope-walking improv and was must-watch television.

Now comes “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” a Netflix original, fake documentary about the fake television show, hosted by the fake version of Galifianakis and featuring the likes of David Letterman and Chance the Rapper playing themselves.

That sounds more complicated than it really is. Basically, Galifianakis is playing a hapless version of himself, and while the behind-the-scenes sequences of his misadventures are amusing enough, the real comedy gold is in the excerpts of a new batch of “Between Two Ferns” interviews, with our host asking his trademark offensive questions in his trademark stilted, deadpan manner.

The conceit of the movie has Funny or Die co-creator Will Ferrell demanding 10 new episodes of “Between Two Ferns” from Galifianakis in just two weeks — and seeing as how the studio was just destroyed in spectacular fashion (don’t ask), that means Galifianakis will have to take the show on the road and come to his celebrity guests.

If Zach can deliver on this seemingly impossible mission, he will get his own late-night talk show on the Lifetime network.

Off we go, with host and crew (and ferns) crammed into a Volkswagen station wagon and hitting the road! First stop, the long-bearded David Letterman, described by Galifianakis as looking like “Santa Claus with an eating disorder.”

It goes downhill from there, in fantastically awkward fashion. (Who better than the great Letterman, who always seemed just a bit uncomfortable throughout his legendary career as a TV host, to clash with Galifianakis on his own blunt level?)

From “The Larry Sanders Show” to “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to “Wayne’s World” to “Episodes” to “Crashing,” the scripted (but often improv-friendly) showbiz satire has been a rich source of comedic material, with centerpiece stars such as Garry Shandling and Larry David and Matt LeBlanc playing heightened, unflattering versions of themselves, and dozens of guest-star celebrities demonstrating they’re good sports by joining in on the fun.

“Between Two Ferns” is filled with hilarious alternate-universe moments, from an unlikely romantic triangle of sorts involving Galifianakis and a famous celebrity couple; to a stop in a small town in Kansas, where a down-on-his-luck Jon Hamm is doing a seven-hour autograph session; to a visit to the Sedona, Arizona, compound of “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage, who proudly shows off some, shall we say, unique treasures.

Even with a running time of just 82 minutes, “Between Two Ferns” loses a bit of steam in the home stretch, when the interview segments take a back seat to the resolution of that plot about Zach and the gang racing the clock to deliver 10 completed episodes in two weeks so he can realize his dream of hosting a national talk show.

Still, the storyline serves its real purpose — as the launching point to showcase a whole new series of interviews featuring some of the biggest stars of our time facing off against the greatest talk show host in the history of southeastern North Carolina.