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21 Times Will Ferrell Was A Comedy Genius

It was a fateful summer day on July 16, 1967 in Irvine, California, when Betty Kay and Roy Lee Ferrell Jr. welcomed into the world their eldest son, John William. Since then, Will Ferrell, as he's better known today, has been making the residents of Planet Earth chuckle like no other human being. He burst onto the scene in the 1990s when he joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live," and he's since gone on to deliver the comedy goods as a Christmas mascot, the classiest of all newsmen, and an unparalleled talk show guest.

How can you call Will Ferrell anything other than a "comedy genius"? He's the only "SNL" cast member in history to be spotlighted on three "best of" DVDs, he's starred in a string of box office hits, and it's an eternal delight whenever he graces our favorite TV shows with a surprise cameo. Since it's always a good time to laugh, let's go ahead and take a tour through Ferrell's career to remember all the times we shouted "He's a genius!" in between our tears of joy and fits of uncontrollable laughter.

Get Off the Shed

Will Ferrell joined the cast of "SNL" during the show's 21st season, and he made the power of his comedy genius clear right from the get-go. It was a transitional year, as legends like Chris Farley, Mike Myers, and Adam Sandler had recently left the cast, while Ferrell arrived as part of a crop of newcomers like Darrell Hammond and Cheri Oteri who were about to make a name for themselves. The first episode aired on September 30, 1995, and it was hosted by Mariel Hemingway, who at the time was starring in the primetime soap opera Central Park West, aka C.P.W. (And in case her last name has you curious, yes, you probably did read her grandfather's novels when you were in high school.)

In a sketch entitled "Get Off the Shed," Ferrell wasted no time establishing one of his trademark character types: the seemingly well-adjusted suburban dad with boiling rage simmering just below the surface. He and Hemingway play a couple hosting their neighbors (played by David Koechner and Nancy Walls) for a cookout. The interactions between the adults are perfectly pleasant. But with the offscreen, unseen children, it's another story. Ferrelll's promises of violence are terrifying, but his smiling exterior makes for the ideal comedic juxtaposition.

Tales of Bill Brasky

Long before we heard about the time Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked a salesman, we learned that a fellow who goes by the name of Bill Brasky once scissor-kicked Angela Lansbury. That's not from an episode of "Murder, She Wrote," but rather, it's a tidbit from a series of "SNL" sketches in which a group of drunk businessmen loudly share absurd tales about their gigantic co-worker, "the best damn salesman in the office."

A handful of Bill Brasky sketches aired in the '90s, and it was then delightfully reprised in 2013. Ferrell's "Hank" was the only character who appeared in each edition (and he was one of the few to actually have a name). In this edition from Season 21, we learn about the time Brasky forced Hank to wear a women's bathing suit. What happens next may just surprise you, unless, of course, you're already lucky enough to know the magic of Bill Brasky.

More Trebek than Trebek

Will Ferrell is largely known for playing belligerent man-children whose confidence overshadows their ability to an absurd degree, but he's also brilliant when it comes to inhabiting characters who are intelligent enough to understand they're surrounded by buffoons — and are just barely controlled enough to keep it together in the face of steadily mounting lunacy. If you've seen any of the hilarious "SNL" skits that imagined a world in which "Celebrity Jeopardy!" forced host Alec Trebek (played by Ferrell) to tolerate a parade of famous morons led by the unaccountably antagonistic Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond), you know exactly what we mean. Ferrell doesn't often play straight man, which is a shame — Hammond's Connery produced most of this recurring bit's biggest laughs, but they wouldn't have been half as funny if he hadn't been playing off Ferrell's steadily mounting exasperation anchored by a desperate need to believe that someway, somehow, a single one of his contestants might someday manage to play the game correctly.

Devil Can't Write No Love Song

"Deal with the Devil" stories are eternally popular in fiction, thanks to their irresistible promises of untold fame and fortune. But what happens when the Lord of the Underworld can't deliver on his end of the bargain? That's the premise behind this "SNL" sketch, in which Garth Brooks plays a struggling musician who'll do anything to write a hit song. So he sells his soul to make it happen, but unfortunately the Will Ferrell-portrayed Lucifer is beset by an out-of-tune guitar and general exhaustion.

First of all, we have to give Ferrell a ton of credit for acting under some prosthetics that appear to be rather heavy-duty by late night TV standards. But somehow he survived the heat and delivered one of the most indelible Devil portrayals ever seen. The tunes on offer might not have been what Brooks was looking for, but we have a feeling that "Fred's Got Slacks" is on the karaoke set list in both Heaven and Hell.

Dr. Beaman has some very disturbing test results

This is one of those sketches that has you wondering what the hell the "SNL" writers were smoking when they came up with it. Ferrell plays a medical professional who goes by the name of "Dr. Beaman" just minding his own business in his office. It all starts innocently enough, as he welcomes Tom and Kathy Framingham (Chris Parnell, Molly Shannon) to check on the status of their newborn baby. But then it gets derailed pretty much immediately, as he takes a personal phone call and assures his friend on the other end that he's got "all the time in the world." It doesn't get much better for the Framinghams after that, as Dr. Beaman insults them at every opportunity and informs them that their son is a witch and/or missing.

It all goes off the rails when Tim Meadows pops in for a few seconds as "Dr. Stephen Poop," which results in Ferrell and Shannon uncontrollably corpsing (i.e., laughing in the middle of the scene). But Ferrell's a comedy legend, so he powers through his loss of composure and continues to spin the tale of the unfortunate case of the Framinghams' son. Who else could make child endangerment this hilarious?

Jacob Silj teaches us about Voice Immodulation

Have you ever encountered people who seem to be constantly shouting all the time? Well, you should really be sensitive, because they might just be suffering from the condition known as Voice Immodulation. That is, if Will Ferrell's performance as "Jacob Silj" is to be believed.

Silj is a recurring character in Ferrell's repertoire who appeared a handful of times on Weekend Update. He's typically introduced as an expert on some geopolitical topic, but that message gets lost in his relentless, high-volume monotone. In this particular appearance from Season 26, we get a mix of pathos and inspiration. We learn the terrible news that Jacob can't really ever confess his sins to a priest in private, but we also discover that one of the best tennis players of all time, Pete Sampras, is supposedly a poster child for living with VI. It's a simple concept, executed with finesse (or lack of finesse, considering Jacob's grating voice).

Bush v. Gore Presidential Debate

Will Ferrell's George W. Bush is quite possibly the best political impression in the history of "SNL." (Tina Fey's Sarah Palin and Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush are probably his stiffest competition.) Ferrell played the 43rd president in dozens of sketches, but none of them are anywhere near as iconic as the first presidential debate sketch from October 2000.

You probably remember the word that Bush used to sum up his campaign strategy and his pained facial expressions at the names of European leaders. But a little lesser-appreciated is the blink-and-you-miss-it moment when he nods approvingly at the mention of a racy TV show featuring a crew of Penthouse Pets. "SNL" has made a tradition out of airing high-profile debate sketches every election year, but none of the 21st century efforts have reached the same heights as "lockbox" and "strategery."

Robert Goulet steamrolls Conan

One of the signs of a comedy genius is the ability to resurrect a long-ago pop culture figure with an uncanny impression. Case in point: singer and Broadway star Robert Goulet, who most millennials and Gen Z-ers know about exclusively thanks to Will Ferrell.

By May 2001, Ferrell had played Goulet on "SNL" a few times, but he took his take on the crooner to another whole level when he stopped by in character on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." O'Brien was in hysterics throughout, seemingly totally unprepared for what his guest had in store for him. Ferrell acted as though he was in another era entirely, as he pretended that he was talking to former "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson. Then he wrapped a bow on the whole shebang with a rendition of the Christmas standby "My Favorite Things" (remember, this episode aired in May).

Harry Caray roasts the ESPYs

Here's yet another Will Ferrell impression that's arguably become more famous than the real McCoy, at least among comedy buffs who avoid sports like the plague. And also like Robert Goulet, Ferrell's loopy rendition of longtime MLB broadcaster Harry Caray eventually wandered out of the halls of Rockefeller Center.

At the 1998 ESPYs (hosted by Ferrell's "SNL" co-star, the late great Norm Macdonald), Caray wandered out in a daze, apparently under the belief that he was attending the Academy Awards. He then proceeded to roast every athlete in his crosshairs, including such massive figures as John Elway, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. The crowd lapped it up, but not everyone was a fan. USA Today's Michael Hiestand panned the moment as a "low point" in the ceremony (via Sports Business Journal). Meanwhile, Ferrell's zinger about Super Bowl winner Elway's teeth stung so hard that, as Ferrell revealed on an episode of the podcast "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend," it was apparently talked about at ESPN for decades afterward. (via Showbiz Cheat Sheet).

Gus Chiggins, Old Prospector

Nowadays, the morning after a new episode, "SNL" will regularly release sketches that were cut in between dress rehearsal and the final version of the show. But back before the age of readily available streaming video, you had to wait for a special occasion (or attend in person) to catch those dress cuts. One of those special occasions was the first Best of Will Ferrell DVD, which gave us the great pleasure of meeting Gus Chiggins the Old Prospector.

Decked out in a big brown hat, a pickaxe, and some banging pots and pans, Gus isn't out to find some gold, but instead, for some inexplicable reason he's being deployed to Afghanistan with the United States Army. The audience was cracking up (and so were Ferrell's castmates), so it's hard to understand why it didn't make it to the broadcast version. Luckily, it's readily available to watch now, so we can forever revel in Gus' cries of "cinnamon and gravy" and "coyotes" (pronounced "kie-yotes," which is undoubtedly the more hilarious pronunciation).

Buddy discovers the world's best coffee

The 2003 Christmas classic "Elf" is perhaps the ideal version of one of Will Ferrell's main character types: the Overgrown Childlike Bundle of Joy. There are plenty of hilarious and heartwarming scenes in this Jon Favreau-directed flick that's become a holiday tradition. But there's one moment that only lasts about 20 seconds that's a perfect distillation of the appeal.

As Buddy the Elf is walking around the streets of New York City for the first time, he encounters a sign advertising the "World's Best Cup of Coffee." Despite the hyperbole, it's a fairly standard storefront claim, but Buddy is too delightfully naïve to realize that. We should all be able to take a cue from this Christmas lover and be able to celebrate discoveries like this one every day. It takes someone special to sell guilelessness like that and make it so appealing.

Ron Burgundy is stuck in a 'glass case of emotion'

Less than a year after "Elf," "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" arrived in theaters in July 2004 to establish Will Ferrell's other main character type: the Overconfident Blowhard. But as we learn soon enough, in the case of San Diego's classiest newsman, that overconfident shell is also a cover for a gooey interior, which is abundantly clear in his relationship with his beloved pooch Baxter. So when a motorcycle enthusiast played by Jack Black punts Baxter off the side of a bridge, it's no surprise that all of Ron's messiest emotions come spilling out. They're so messy, in fact, that you might say that they have to be contained by a "glass case of emotion."

That's exactly what happens when a blubbering Ron calls his fellow anchorman Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) to share the terrible news. We're then witness to a naked display of despair, a go-to move for Ferrell and perhaps the most hilarious version he's ever pulled off. When Ron's informed that his rival colleague Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is getting the chance to be the on-air anchor, he sprints to the station, and we're treated to the glorious spectacle of him totally unnecessarily shoving a random passerby to the ground.

Will Ferrell crashes Wedding Crashers

If back in 2005 you were trying to decide whether or not to buy a ticket to "Wedding Crashers," the combination of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson was probably already appealing enough. Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher emerging early in their careers was a nice bonus, but an even more surprising bonus happened when a certain funnyman emerged for a cameo toward the end.

Throughout much of the film, Wilson's John and Vaughn's Jeremy talk in glowing terms about a guy named Chazz Reinhold, the legend of all legends in the field of wedding crashing. When Chazz finally emerges from the shadows, we discover that he's played by none other than Will Ferrell. Sure, it's a bummer that he still lives with his mom, but be honest with yourself: how often do you know to shout "Ma! The meatloaf!" in everyday conversation?

Ricky Bobby prays to Baby Jesus

Lots of professional athletes are in the habit of promoting corporate brands, whether on their uniforms, on their social media, or the old-fashioned way on the TV. Some are more shameless about it than others, and perhaps the most shameless ever is NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby.

True, Ricky might be a fictional character created for the 2006 film "Talladega Nights," but the point still stands. The Bobby family's shamelessness is abundantly clear when they sit down for a dinner spread that consists of pretty much every greasy American fast food chain you can think of. Meanwhile, Ricky says a prayer to "baby Jesus," which calls to mind the religious ostentatiousness that certain real-life athletes are also prone to. It all adds up to a ruthless satire of the good ol' U.S. of A. in its crassest and most holier-than-thou glory.

The Landlord

Before Adam McKay started focusing his filmmaking attention to Oscar-chasing satires like The Big Short and Vice, he was directing Will Ferrell classics like Anchorman and Talladega Nights. Then in 2007, the two of them teamed up for perhaps their most ambitious venture yet when they co-founded Funny or Die. The site's first video arrived in April of that year and in just two and a half minutes, it immediately christened Funny or Die as a major player in the comedy world.

It begins innocuously enough with Ferrell pouring himself some sparkling water and McKay reading an issue of Vogue. But then terror arrives in the form of Ferrell's landlord, played by McKay's then-2-year-old daughter Pearl. Pearl's performance is hilarious in the way that little kids acting like adults often are, and Ferrell is the perfect scene partner for her. He never once questions the absurd reality of a toddler landlord. With his tears of panic and insistence that she needs help with her drinking, we quickly get a full sense of this strange reality.

Good Cop, Baby Cop

Just a few months after "The Landlord," Ferrell and the McKays teamed once again for another unforgettable Funny or Die joint. This time around, Ferrell plays an accused criminal refusing to sign a confession for some mysterious crime, while Pearl plays a fearsome detective with a well-earned reputation for cracking the toughest of nuts.

As Pearl saunters into the room in her cute pink outfit, you can immediately feel the temperature drop about 20 degrees. She threatens all sorts of violence, and delivers on those threats, extracting exactly what she was summoned for. Once again, Ferrell does everything he needs to do to help Pearl's performance sing as well as it does. You can't sell that fear we see in his eyes without genuinely believing that a tiny detective can send him straight to hell.

Step Brothers gives us Something to Talk About

The 2008 Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly teamup "Step Brothers" is an exercise in extremes. But amidst the broken beds and shattered glass at the Catalina Wine Mixer, a more tender and intimate moment sticks out.

40-year-old step-bros Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (Reilly) get off to a rocky start when their parents first get together, but soon enough, they're inseparable friends who have decided to go into business together. But first, Dale needs to hear Brennan sing. Ferrell had already shown off his mighty fine vocal chops to comedic effect plenty of times before in his career, but it's still chilling when he busts out a note-perfect rendition of Bonnie Raitt's blues rock classic "Something to Talk About." It's hilarious, AND worthy of a spot on the Billboard charts.

Will Ferrell plays Orson Welles ... sort of

Even if you're a Will Ferrell superfan, you might have missed his excursion as Eric Jonrosh on the 2014 IFC miniseries "The Spoils of Babylon" (and its 2015 follow-up "The Spoils Before Dying"). Each episode is framed by an introduction from Jonrosh, the fictional author of the book that the series is supposedly based on.

Ferrell's erratic, bloated performance as Jonrosh is a riff on filmmaker Orson Welles' Paul Masson wine commercials (via Indiewire), which is famous for its drunken outtakes. This is Welles far from the glory of "Citizen Kane," and Jonrosh is similarly a man who's sunk to rock bottom. Packed within Jonrosh's huge gut and big bushy beard is plenty of ego, as well as huge servings of ridiculousness. Now let's raise a toast to the Spoils ... of Babylon.

Ron Burgundy takes over late night

Few Will Ferrell characters have had quite the long-lasting impact left by Ron Burgundy. He's played the newsman a number of times outside the two "Anchorman" films, and he even hosts his own podcast. In August 2019, Ferrell pulled off the seemingly impossible by promoting the podcast's second season by appearing as Burgundy on six different talk shows in one night (via Deadline). He performed some prop comedy on "Conan" and some non-prop-based comedy on "Colbert," "Corden," "Kimmel," and "Fallon."

But the coup de grȃce has to be his ventriloquy act on "Late Night with Seth Meyers." His dummy is a plaid-wearing, tatted-up hipster named J.J. who sends Ron into a fit of rage after one too many insults. If you can watch Will Ferrell despair at the apparent death of a puppet and not think of him as one of the funniest people of all time, then you must have forgotten how to keep it classy.

Remember that time Will Ferrell was on a random CBS drama?

Will Ferrell can go big and broad like nobody's business, but he can also pull off deadpan when the situation calls for it. Case in point: that time he stopped by "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in February 2020 to promote his new film "Downhill." He took the opportunity to remind the host that he too was once a member of "the CBS family," as he proceeded to play a clip from his appearance on a 2003 episode of the legal drama series "The Guardian."

It all begins rather uneventfully, with Ferrell showing up as a random mustachioed man waiting for an elevator. But when that elevator door opens, just about the most unexpected plot development imaginable emerges. Considering Ferrell's reputation for yanking people's chains when he appears on talk shows, it's understandable if you think that this is a fake cameo. But check it out for yourself around the 40:15 mark to confirm that yes, that really did happen.

Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds throw a change-up

If you're a regular viewer of talk shows, you were probably pretty excited when you saw that Will Ferrell was booked for "The Tonight Show" in November 2021 to promote his Apple TV+ series "The Shrink Next Door." But then you discovered, much to your disappointment, Ryan Reynolds' smirking mug instead. How could this be?

As it turned out, Reynolds and Ferrell had teamed up to pull off the ol' switcheroo, as the latter took over the former's spot on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Ferrell went ahead and promoted Reynolds' new Netflix movie, "Red Notice," even though he's not in it and hadn't seen "a stitch of it." If you're familiar with Ferrell's 2013 Golden Globes appearance, you know he's the master at hyping up movies he knows nothing about, and he once again delivered a hilarious serving of nothing. After many years of chuckles, guffaws, and belly laughs, we eagerly await whatever this comedy genius still has in store for us.