Will Ferrell Was a Comedy Superstar, So Why Did We Leave Him Behind?

In the early 2000s, “A Will Ferrell movie” very much slotted in to the cinema-viewing lexicon. It was famed for a new, wild actor that blew up the screen with his outraged child-in-a-middle-aged man body. rabid smile housed a tremendously talented comedy actor who really was a new breed of clown. is everyman-shaped, but possessed the comedy timing of a Lamborghini.

In the mid-00s he stood out as something a little different. As a major player in the Frat Pack movement (a dubbed name given to Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and the Wilson brothers, who would appear in one another’s movies), he preceded the Judd Apatow stoner comedy empire of the late 2000s. In a Bush-era presidency, his movies stood out, both for and because of Americans and often, Americana. His high-strung characters were loudmouthed, obnoxious a-holes who the American people could commit an hour and a half laughing at and relate to, while the rest of the world giggled at his heightened to the max stereotype.


Brick, Where’d You Get a Hand Grenade?

2004s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was a modern day Naked Gun, with jokes ranging from the very silly (a grown man playing jazz flute, a dog getting drop-kicked off a bridge), to the extremely adult (Ron Burgundy asks his female colleague out, while sporting an erection). Still to this day, Anchorman and its particular sense of energy have not been replicated or, well, bettered. It is a gold standard modern comedy classic, thanks to a tremendous supporting cast more than capable of doing lots of improvisation, and an actor/director entirely on the same wavelength.

The Anchorman cast in suits get ready to fight
Paramount Pictures

Summing up Anchorman‘s absurdity on and off-screen, Paul Rudd, who played Brian Fantana, reflected on the epic news stations fighting scene, telling Vulture:

If I had said, “You know what? I really am feeling something else,” I’m sure they would have given me another weapon. But there was no reason for any of our weapons. “How did you get that hand grenade?” “I don’t know.” That applied to all of us. How did any of us get any of our weapons? We didn’t know.

Will Ferrell once mentioned sharing the same “comedy brain” with his regular collaborator Adam McKay, and one could argue their own specific language as well. Directing Ferrell on five separate motion pictures (Anchorman 1 & 2, Talladega Nights, Step Brothersand The Other Guys), the two were an unstoppable force for the R-rated comedy, and thanks largely to Ferrell’s ability to inhabit the dumbest of main characters.

Working as a stand-up comic, and studying with renowned improv troupe The Groundlings, Ferrell rose his way up the ranks of Saturday Night Live and became a stand-out (Lorne Michaels has said that he counts Will Ferrell in the “top two or three that have ever done the show”). He gradually moved in to films, featuring characters heightened so much that their stupidity was just shy of cartoonish.

Related: Best Will Ferrell Movies, Ranked

Storming in to the naughties, Ferrell would star in Zoolander as a peroxide blond fashionista-cum-dictator, Mugatu, Christmas-obsessed Buddy The Elf in Elf, and the aforementioned pigheaded news anchor Ron Burgundy. These were all characters who feel like they’ve been brought up in dreamworlds of their own designs, and yet exceed in their own very specific chosen fields.

Zoolander's Mugatu played by Will Ferrell
Paramount Pictures

Even re-watching Ferrell’s wonderfully confident SNL audition tape shows that same blueprint: The angry barbecuing father who gets more heated as his children refuses to remove themselves from a shed offscreen, or the man who can’t help but play with cat toys like a curious tom, shows a playful energy that is hidden in an otherwise normal, basic-looking person prepared to be incredibly silly. He would only continue that trend of stubborn jerkwads with Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory and Jackie Moon in Semi-Proand would command paychecks that backed the comedy megastar’s appeal to boot (Forbes writes that Ferrell was paid over $15 million dollars for his role in Hollywood bomb, Land of The Lost).

America Vs American Comedy

Ferrell’s exceedingly American turn in 2006 as Ricky Bobby, a Nascar driver in Talladega Nights, cuckolded by his best friend and outraced by a Frenchman, was a primo American self satire on the big screen – on a backdrop of very real moronic US politics and a war in a foreign land off of it. The fiction fit well against the non-fiction. Ferrell’s work was never intentionally political, but was certainly stupid – something that was very on brand for America at the time.

In the same way that Ferrell became infamous for his impression of President George W. Bush, as the Obama administration was inducted in 2008, Ferrell would gradually become outdated versus the new, laid back, and effortlessly real characters that began appearing in competing comedies ( they were mostly just stoned, but yeah).

Ferrell in front of the American flag in Talledega Nights
Sony Pictures Release

Ferrell’s dramatic career never really succeeded in the same way that skinny Rogen and skinny Hill’s did either, and have become more of a rarity because of their lack of success, though the comedian has made great dramatic movies. Stranger Than Fiction‘s premise may be one of the most brilliantly creative and simple ideas over the last 22 years (a man is being narrated by a blocked writer, who has a pinchant for killing off her characters), and Everything Must Go was a sad, drab movie about a man selling off all his possessions).

Related: Will Ferrell Joins Margot Robbie’s Barbie Movie

Ferrell’s dramatic performances were so opposing from his loud comedy characters, however, that they appeared knee-jerkingly quiet and dull in comparison even when they were good. As an audience, the jump from one to another was too swift, too jagged. We needed a middle ground, and not midlife crisis.

The Times They Are A-Changin’… So When Ron Burgundy Fell, He Fell Hard

As we moved in to the 2010s, America seemingly embraced its downfalls, as Millennials realized that nihilism and exasperation were every day’s troubles, and that doing a bong hit to not think about those troubles were too. Judd Apatow, a producer on Anchormanand later Step Brothers, would form an empire with his movies about real life romance on a bedrock of sticky-icky green bud. And while Ferrell has had some hits since, cop comedy The Other Guys for one, his shtick just couldn’t seem to keep up with the kids. By 2015, Will Ferrell co-starred in a painful double header of Get Hard and Daddy’s Hometwo movies that were particularly poor (with the former film also being arguably just racist).

He has since split with his former co-writer and director, Adam McKay, who in turn has moved on to weighty and more ambitious projects (and very publicly informing the world of the couple’s creative split, alongside a liquidation of their joint production company” Gary Sanchez Productions”). Ferrell doesn’t speak to McKay anymore, and the death of their collaborations put a damper on their comedy careers.

Will Ferrell's career has stalled without McKay

Will Ferrell dominated the box office in the 2000s with his loud comedy shenanigans and colorful splashly weird and self-centered characters, but without a big in a long time perhaps as a fanbase we’re all just too stressed with the current global situation, and have moved on to other things. Paul Rudd has said that Ferrell was one of the last few people he knew to get a cellphone of his own, which might signify that the comedian takes a while to catch up with the world.

Then again, after his emotionally haunting performance in the dark Apple TV+ show The Shrink Next Doorand with upcoming projects like Spirited, Barbie, and Strays, perhaps the actor is catching up. For a performer like Ferrell, who has admitted to simply following his nose on what he finds funny, maybe none of that really matters as long as Ferrell’s the one still laughing.

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell Face Off as Christmas Musical Spirited Begins Filming

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell Face Off as Christmas Musical Spirited Begins Filming

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