May 31 2012
As I’ve mentioned before on Unreality, I’m a huge fan of Saturday Night Live, and think this entire season has been pretty damn solid. With one talented host after another taking the stage in recent months (Maya Rudolph, Charlie Day, Jason Segal, Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Lindsay Lo—well, etc.), I’ve found myself looking forward to a little extra Hulu time every Sunday. And oh man was I excited to hear Will Ferrell was coming back to host a few weeks ago. As I’d hoped, it was a hilariously awesome episode, especially if you’re a Will Ferrell fan. (I remember him and Cheri Oteri from their Spartan cheerleader days, and that cast is what got me into SNL in the first place.) In fact, as I plowed through each sketch, it felt like Ferrell never even left the show. Like, at all. There was a Bush-themed cold open and everything.
While I don’t feel like fact-checking old movie reviews at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ve read some articles over the years that chastise Ferrell for a “one-trick-pony” acting style of deadpan absurdity and overemotional outbursts. Such critics might be right at times (I personally think Farrell has more range than most give him credit for), but that doesn’t make me less of a fan; nobody said I had to love every cameo or movie he’s ever been in.
To me, it seems Will Ferrell has perfected a decade-long formula that…well, just works for his most popular characters, and there are certain attributes of his acting style I’d continue to appreciate even if Anchorman 2 flops (spoiler alert: it won’t). That’s because for as long as I can remember, he has always been great at…
1) Taking comedic risks
For starters, live comedy is a risk in itself. A thousand things can go wrong that need to be adjusted on the fly, and Ferrell is a master at improv. He sure isn’t afraid of nudity—or anything else that heightens the physical comedy of a given situation—and appears to be 100% comfortable in his own skin. The audience (myself included) responds to this comedic authenticity, whether it’s played out in 4-minute Funny or Die sketch, a 40-minute live show, or a 2-hour comedy flick.
Case in point: in Ferrell’s latest opening monologue, he called his mom up on stage to wish her happy Mother’s Day, which initially seems like an uncomfortable juxtaposition between his SNL persona and his Loving, Mentally Stable Son one. In actuality, those personalities probably have more overlap than most think (I get the vibe he has always had a lot of support from his family), though it’s tough to tell when I’m laughing at Ferrell…
2) Being hopelessly (yet organically) awkward
Yep, excruciating awkwardness is one of Ferrell’s trademarks, and he has perfected the art of creating uncomfortable situations in otherwise mundane settings. I’d say it’s safe to say that Old School is around the time his brand of humor starting catching on, because the best quotes from that movie have been getting overused at frat parties for over a decade now. And some scenes can be a little painful to watch for the socially awkward (i.e., me), but they do a great job at illustrating Ferrell’s flawed characters when they’re at their most human. But when Ferrell isn’t too busy evoking nervous chuckles, he might be…
3) Carrying an unjustifiable level of pomp and arrogance
Speaking of overused quotes, what Will Ferrell DVD collection would be complete without Anchorman? He’d been cultivating this sort of character since his Robert Goulet days, but 2004 is about the time his contrived, overinflated stage-ego really seemed to hit its stride, paving the way for dudes like Chazz Reinhold (Wedding Crashers), Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights), Chazz Michael Michaels (Blades of Glory), and Ashley Schaeffer (Eastbound and Down). Some of these personas are funnier than others, but I’ve found them all to be highly entertaining if I’m in the right mood. The over-the-top one-liners and ironic misogyny is a fun little ride if you know what you’re getting into. Speaking of which…
4) George W. Bush impressions
One of the best times to watch SNL is during an election year, but I’m always in the mood for a good Bush impersonation, and Will Ferrell’s is my favorite. Hell, it almost wouldn’t have felt right if Ferrell’s Dubya didn’t make an appearance in the cold open. Which he did. Which was awesome. And if you get chance to check it out, the Broadway edition is even better. You’re welcome, indeed.
With so many SNL cast members having dropped off the map after leaving the show, it’s great to see the diversely talented ones come back to host. Don’t ever change, Will Ferrell. Don’t ever change.
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