Few actors have had the commercial success of Will Ferrell. Old School approached 75 million dollars in the box office, Elf and Wedding Crashers were on level as some nation’s GDPs by grossing 173 million, and 209 million, respectively. While Talledga Nights, Blades of Glory, and Step Brothers were all able to top the 100 million mark. Now that the cast of Saturday Night Live is Andy Samberg and some other losers, I feel it’s appropriate to take a trip down memory lane of the last great SNL movie star.
Now, I’m more than aware that Ferrell has made some horrendous movies (I’m looking at you, Land of the Lost), and that some of his most commercially successful performances were painful to watch (see: Elf, Blades of Glory). However, that shouldn’t take away from the shining moments of Will’s career, and there are plenty. Let’s star with the big fella’s glory days on SNL.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ERA
The Blue Oyster Clut “More Cowbell” skit that aired on SNL in 2000 is arguably one of the greatest skits in the show’s long history. I can’t think of a lot of things funnier than Will, in his saran wrap tight shirt, prancing around banging a cowbell as Christopher Walken asks for more and more. Hell, he even makes Horatio Sanz look funny in this skit, and that’s pretty much impossible. I’d say the same thing about Chris Parnell, but I enjoy his work on Archer and 30 Rock. That being said, this skit epitomizes Will’s style of comedy. Loud, slap stick, and physical, but not on a Kevin James level.
The Celebrity Jeopardy skits show off another side of Will’s comedic abilities, the ability to play the straight man. The bit is obviously run by the witty quips of Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery, but Hammond needs Ferrell in order for it to work. Hammond can make funny comments all day long, and celebrities being stupid is generally comical, but the nature of the comedy exists in how Ferrell reacts. He even makes Winonna Ryder somewhat tolerable for a couple of minutes. Try, if you will, to imagine Keenan Thompson in the same role. Yea, I’d rather eat a bowl full of broken glass, too.
I am a proponent of the thought that “impressions are the most sincere form of flattery” and when they’re done well, they can be very, very funny. However, you have to be more than just good at impressions to really make the impersonation funny Frank Caliendo somehow made Seinfeld not funny, and that’s almost impossible. Enter Will Ferrell as late Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. Not only is the impression of Caray uncanny, but lines like “I’d eat the moon, if it was made of barbeque spare ribs” make this one of the funniest bits in SNL history. Jeff Goldblum does a good job trying to stay in character. If it had been Jimmy Fallon there instead, he would have fallen out of his chair laughing.
Will took his success on SNL to the big screen, starting with Night at the Roxbury, a movie made out of an SNL skit. How they managed to turn a skit that’s just 3 minutes of head bobbing and pelvic thrusts into a 90 minute movie is beyond me, but then again, we are talking about Hollywood. They’ll make a movie about Chia Pets if it will make money, but I shouldn’t give them any ideas. Will transitioned well out of the SNL-themed genre to make actual films, with some very funny performances, indeed.
FERRELL ON THE BIG SCREEN
The first time I saw Old School, I knew I wanted to pledge a fraternity. I wanted to do everything those guys did, except while I was actually in college. Ferrell was a huge part of that: while Luke Wilson moped around for a majority of the movie, it was Ferrell that kept your attention. Vince Vaughn gave a great performance, but watching how Ferrell handled his character’s life crumbling all around him was really something to see. Will’s character was full of passion, and Ferrell needed to bring a lot of passion to make the character work. Only so many people can pull of ‘Frank the Tank.’ It’s part slap stick (“We’re going streaking!”) and part intense emotion (see the above video). Old School helped Will move from another SNL alumni to credible comedic actor.
This isn’t a scene from Anchorman, which had me rolling in my chair hysterically when I saw it in theaters, but it does help us get a handle on his acting skills. Will became synonymous with the character Ron Burgandy, and was able to become Ron Burgandy for the length of the film. The above video, a DVD extra that shows an outtake of Ron Burgandy’s ESPN anchor audition, shows how funny Will is able to be off the cuff. Something which is proven to be funny (see: Curb Your Enthusiasm), and just as difficult to pull off.
I liked Wedding Crashers the first time I saw it, but was so incredibly excited when I saw Will Ferrell in the movie for the first time. Smoking jacket on, nun-chucks adorned around his neck, and with an expression that could not be more serious asks “What the f*ck do you want?” Brilliant. Will’s ability to add to through cameo is something that really is difficult to do. He adds another level of comedy, but doesn’t try to overpower the story that’s already developing. A lot of Will’s best performances have been through cameo, which he’s started to move towards as he’s moved away from starring in his own motion pictures.
OTHER FORMS OF MEDIA
Danny McBride has proven himself to be a very funny actor, and he owes a lot of his commercial success to Ferrell. Will and cohort Chris McKay produced McBride’s cult hit, The Foot fist Way, which you should have seen yesterday if you haven’t already. McBride’s HBO series Eastbound and Down is just as hilarious, and thankfully, Will made another cameo as awesome dealership owner, Ashley Schaeffer. The dialogue is well done, because of the chemistry between McBride and Ferrell. The two are able to have a back and forth which is great, no matter how many times you watch it.
The Landlord (see above) and Good Cop, Baby Cop helped funnyordie.com get really popular, really quick. So popular, in fact, that the site now has an HBO series, of which Ferrell is a producer. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to play off a baby co-star, but I can assume it’s difficult. Will, once again, does a great job adding to the hilarity of the scene, without taking attention from Pearl, the baby landlord, the true source of the scene’s comedy.
There’s always an opportunity to see something hilarious at a minor league baseball game, and their ownerships are always so desperate for ticket sales that just about anything goes. Will decided to show up in character to the ballpark as the character “Rolo Johnson,” who has a penchant for a well-trimmed mustache and gold jewelry. Will’s outrageous behavior is able to take a minor league baseball game, which is boring as all get out, and turn it into a night that those in attendance will never forget.
Like all good things, Will has certainly passed his prime when it comes to the movies that he stars in. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s lost the ability to be funny, or that he’s sold out in any way. By starting his own production company with Anchorman director, Adam McKay, Will was able to free himself from the awful purgatory that is working for Hollywood movie executives. Certainly, we’ve seen some of his best performances past, but one can only stay on top forever. That doesn’t mean that Will Ferrell is done, by any stretch of the imagination, it just means that he’ll have to develop to a changing world. It’s my personal opinion that he has begun that change, and will continue to do so for quite a while.