He isn't laughing. Bearded, rumpled, and utterly serious, Zach Galifianakis takes stock of the political world he and Will Ferrell mock in their new comedy, The Campaign.
''There was a real frustration,'' he says of 2009 and the birth of the US conservative movement known as the Tea Party at raucous town hall meetings around the country.
''People were up in arms. I personally think it had a lot to do with Obama being in office. It was racial. I hate to say it, but I do believe it. There are people everywhere, who have that thinking. It's gross and disgusting.''
The Campaign features Ferrell and Galifianakis as protagonists for unnamed political parties contesting a Congressional election in North Carolina. It arrives as American screens show wave after wave of political comedy, drama and quasi-biography, from the hugely popular The Daily Show and its Comedy Central stablemate The Colbert Report to the Sarah Palin biopic Game Change and Sigourney Weaver's new cable TV series, Political Animals. There is an appetite to send up politicians.
And then there is the real thing, the Republican Party presidential candidate debates, watched by Ferrell and Galifianakis as The Campaign was filmed in New Orleans last year. The pair had worked together off-screen, with Galifianakis hosting a talk show, Between Two Ferns, on Funny or Die (funnyordie.com), the website that Ferrell co-founded and owns.
''It's like watching the big game or something,'' Ferrell says. ''Just the theatre of it was spectacular.''
''Politics - outside of Hollywood re-creating it - is such a reality show,'' Galifianakis says. ''You watch politicians doing their thing these days - they're constantly being videotaped, they're constantly being followed. You cannot slip up, and people want to watch their slip-ups.''
The slips are spontaneous, which is to say, unintended and certainly unrehearsed. That is also a stamp of Ferrell comedies. This one is no exception.
As Congressman Cam Brady, Ferrell plays a political archetype who will do anything, say anything and associate with anyone to be re-elected. In this case, the re-election, once a foregone conclusion, has fallen under the spell of the ultra-rich Moech brothers, played with delighted smarminess by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, who shift their favours to the previously unknown small-town tourist guide Marty Huggins, played by Galifianakis.
Forced to actually chase votes, Congressman Brady finds himself visiting a Pentecostalist church, where the devout prove their faith with what they call serpent handling. ''It was a tough day, a long day,'' the film's director, Jay Roach, recalls. ''Half the snakes were live.''
Ferrell had been assured the snakes didn't bite but knew that actor Nick Blady had already been bitten twice.
''We could have got shut down in a second if one more event happened,'' Roach says. ''So it was a very loaded shoot and [Ferrell] was really adrenalised, and that was some of the funniest improvised dialogue of the whole shoot.''
There were other improvised scenes, including one outrageous rendition of the Lord's Prayer, featuring both stars, and some bravura miming by Jason Sudeikis, who plays Brady's campaign manager, Mitch Moore.
For Roach, the director of Game Change, the movie account of Sarah Palin's misadventures as the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, these were moments that reinforced his admiration for the actors: ''I think what good actors do is magic, especially good comedians, because the brainpower to do what they do in that improv situation, in a split second they actually seem to think in a superhuman way … When they're switched on, oh man, it's amazing.''
Not to be too cynical about it, but Galifianakis and Ferrell have every reason to be switched on. As co-producers as well as co-stars, they are also investors in the film.
There must be times during its election campaigns when only the US fails to see the joke is on them. The Campaign catches this notion and runs with it.
That includes what Galifianakis describes as ''a base thing that you talk about in this country'', referring to the truest believers of the Republican Party and the line tailored for them, ''America. Jesus. Freedom.''
Ferrell, whose one-man show You're Welcome, America, a portrayal of former President George W. Bush, enjoyed a sold-out season on Broadway, knows better than most in his industry how a politician connects with his audience.
''We say that at the end of the movie,'' he says of the recitation of the political holy trinity. ''Saying three words, it's like 'Yeah. America. Jesus. Freedom. I'm for that'.
''What does that mean? I dunno, but they love it.''
CRITICAL BUZZ A ''vigorous'' satire, according to Variety, timed perfectly for the US election campaign.
STARS Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dylan McDermott, Jason Sudeikis.
DIRECTOR Jay Roach.
RELEASE Now screening.