In the 1990s and 2000s a group of comedic screen actors started dominating the box office. The group included Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn and brothers Luke and Owen Wilson. USA Today dubbed this group of middle-aged fratboys the “Frat Pack.”
The most successful member of this group may be Will Ferrell, the comedian best known for Anchorman, Elf and his work on Saturday Night Live.
Born in Irvine, California in 1967, Will Ferrell grew up with no show business aspirations, but he later called the third grade a pivotal moment when he discovered his funny bone. His classmates thought he was funny and it was a good way to make friends. He said the dullness of high school contributed to the growth of his comedy.
He studied sports broadcasting at the University of Southern California and graduated with a B.A. degree in sports information, but his internship at a local television station wasn’t the dream job he hoped it would be.
With the encouragement of his mother, he finally pursued something he liked when he auditioned for the improv group where many famous comedians got their start, The Groundlings, and got accepted. Ferrell was so funny that he eventually won a spot with the top professional Groundlings performers.
This brings us to SNL, which was declining in popularity in the 1994-1995 season. A producer in search of new cast members saw Ferrell and fellow comedians Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri perform. He asked all three of them to audition for SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels and they all got accepted. Ferrell joined the cast of SNL in 1995.
On SNL, Ferrell was well-known for his impersonations of George W. Bush, singer Robert Goulet, Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek and others. He was one of SNL’s most hilarious and popular cast members, and after he left in 2002, he returned to the show frequently to guest-host and has even reprised his Bush impression for the cold open of an episode in 2015.
Speaking of Bush, Ferrell made his Broadway debut on the final day of Bush’s term in office in his one-man show You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush for a limited run.
Ferrell’s first lead film role after leaving SNL was in the movie Old School (2003), which told the story of depressed thirty-somethings who start a frat to re-live their college days, and it was a hit, solidifying Ferrell’s post-SNL career.
Other film roles included the Austin Powers movies, Zoolander, Elf, Anchorman, Stranger Than Fiction, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Producers, Blades of Glory, and voice roles in the animated films Curious George, Megamind and The Lego Movie.
He has also appeared on television in such shows as 30 Rock, The Office, Drunk History, Spongebob Squarepants, Family Guy and King of the Hill.
In addition to acting, Ferrell has co-produced the HBO series Eastbound & Down starring Danny McBride, in which Ferrell had a recurring role as car dealer Ashley Schaeffer.
Along with his frequent collaborator Adam McKay (SNL, Anchorman), Ferrell launched the very successful streaming video website “Funny Or Die” in 2007 where short comedy films are uploaded and voted on by users. Ferrell has appeared frequently in videos that have appeared on the site.
As part of a Funny Or Die special, baseball fan Will Ferrell has participated in five games of MLB spring training in 2015, the earnings from his one-day baseball career going to two cancer charities. One time in 2010, Ferrell disguised himself as the imaginary Billy Ray “Rojo” Johnson, bringing a sack of beer cans to the mound before being chased off like in a scene out of one of his movies, after which his fake moustache would fall off and Ferrell’s identity was revealed to the surprised audience.
It took a while for me to warm up to Ferrell as a comedian (I didn’t like Anchorman or Elf as much as everyone else did). He tends to shine more on SNL and talk show appearances than on the silver screen. But I have grown to love him more and more over time. He’s one of those people who can make me laugh with nothing but a facial expression, and as an SNL fan I can confirm that he is one of that show’s funniest cast members in its entire 43-year history. Any day he returns to that show is a day I am looking forward to.