Unless you wanted to start making snarky comments about Halliburton or Barack Obama or America’s Wealthy, it could be argued that few people benefited more from George W. Bush’s political career than Will Ferrell. As a regular on “Saturday Night Live” and in later cameos on the NBC series, Ferrell carved out a George W. Bush niche beginning before the 2000 presidential election, after 9/11 and through much of the rest of his presidency.
While Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin may have nearly replaced the actual Sarah Palin in our collective imaginations, Ferrell’s Bush was a character, albeit one who managed to shape our perception of the actual W.
Via satellite from New York City, where Ferrell’s one-man show “You”re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush” will begin previews on Jan. 20, Ferrell and long-time collaborator Adam McKay chatted with the Television Critics Association about saying good-bye to President Bush.
A few choice quotes after the bump…
McKay and Ferrell both remember the beginning of Ferrell’s Bush.
“It was before he officially was running,” McKay recalls. “There were rumors about him running for the Republican nomination, and so Will just did him as a walk-on in a Clinton sketch. It was before we kind of even knew who he was, and Will basically just played him as a frat guy drinking beer, high-fiving, but I think it was always you. I don”t think there was any argument about it.”
Ferrell adds, “Darrell Hammond was always going to play Gore, and then Lorne Michaels had asked me if I wanted to play Bush. I thought, ‘Yeah, this will be fun. I”ll play him for a couple of months. He probably won”t win,’ and then… he eventually won. He just kept kind of gaining momentum in terms of his comedic persona.”
Because of Bush’s fluctuating popularity, Ferrell had the unlikely responsibility of portraying a president with a 90 percent approval rate and then something far lower.
“[T]here”s been an incredible combination of some insane news events that he’s had to deal with and obviously some poor decisions on his part, along with his type of personality and the fact that he kind of can”t speak properly,” Ferrell notes. “That, you know, makes for a wonderful kind of comedic stew, and I like to use the word ‘stew’ whenever I can.”
President Bush, of course, outlasted Ferrell’s run on “SNL” and I’d be hard pressed to remember any “SNL” Bush impressions that came subsequently, though the “Elf” star had a memorable return (and meeting with Fey’s Palin) last fall. It’s still a character Ferrell has only played for five or six minutes at a stretch, now extended to feature length.
“There’s the Bush-a-thon you did,” McKay interjects.
Ferrell: “I did the Bush-a-thon.”
McKay: “That was 16 straight hours of Bush.”
Ferrell: “16 straight hours of Bush and it was raising money for… I forget what it was raising money for.”
McKay: “It was private. It was just for your personal…”
Ferrell: “Oh yeah. That’s right. It was just for me. It was money for me.”
“And so, outside of that, this will be the longest-running thing,” Ferrell acknowledges. “And, you know, in terms of sustaining it beyond five minutes, you know, we just tried to create a piece that, you know, goes through the two terms of his presidency and kind of – I mean, unfortunately, there”s so much material that, you know, we had to kind of figure out where we were going to go with it. But it goes – it goes in and out of obviously real events, real actions, real quotes of his too, you know, we kind of take little tangents that are fictional. But there”s kind of a narrative that kind of connects the whole thing to make it one piece.”
And why not just let the Bush Administration go? Or, at the very least, let a little time pass?
“I”ve noticed, like, on message boards like for Aint-It-Cool and places like that where half of the people seem to be saying’Let it go,’ like ‘Bush is done with,’ and the other half seems to be saying ‘No, no. We need to look at this more,” McKay says. “And I think it”s great. I was excited to see that because it seems like in our country we tend to, like with Nixon and Iran Contra and Bush 1 and Reagan, we just want to blow past this stuff. Even though it”s a funny show and it”s a silly show, I think we are both kind of excited about it because let”s not let this go.”
Ferrell says, “I”m not going to predict any sort of reaction, you know, because I”m sure some people will think, you know, the show was too harsh, and somebody will think it wasn”t harsh enough.”
“You”re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush,” filmed live at the Cort Theare in Manhattan, will air on March 14.