No-one goes into a panel with Will Ferrell…not even one being done via satellite…with an expectation that it’s going to be a serious affair. But when he turns up wearing a woolen winter hat and a pair of New Year’s Eve glasses shaped like the number 2009, it’s fair to say that you can throw seriousness completely out the window.
“First of all, these are actually prescription glasses,” Ferrell assured us. “I’m not trying to be funny. It happens to be 2009, so that’s great. I also had head surgery, so that’s why I have this hat on, too.”
Sure, Will. Sure.
Ferrell and his longtime collaborator, Adam McKay, had turned up to discuss Ferrell’s new one-man show, “You’re Welcome, America: A Final Night with George W. Bush,” which will be getting a live airing on HBO on March 14th. Ferrell hadn’t really been called upon to do his Bush impression very much since departing from “Saturday Night Live,” but he thought the show would be a fun way to send off George W.
Ferrell and McKay reminisced about the origins and evolution of Ferrell’s impression, which began as a mere walk-on in a Clinton sketch. “It was before we kind of even knew who he was,” said McKay, “and Will basically just played him as a frat guy drinking beer, high-fiving.”
“Darrell Hammond was always going to play Gore,” said Ferrell, “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. He went from the 90 percent popularity to…it’s the longest sustained drop in popularity in Presidential history. Obviously, there’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. That makes for a wonderful kind of comedic stew…and I like to use the word ‘stew’ whenever I can.”
“You’re Welcome, America” will be a decidedly longer affair than your average “SNL” sketch, which forced Ferrell to figure out how best to sustain the humor for the duration of a full show. “We just tried to create a piece that goes through the two terms of his presidency,” Ferrell said. “Unfortunately, there’s so much material that we had to kind of figure out where we were going to go with it. But it goes in and out of real events, real actions, real quotes of his, too. 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.”
Ferrell has met Bush on more than one occasion, of course, but the most memorable of their encounters for Ferrell was the very first.
“He was then Governor Bush,” said Ferrell. “It was during the campaign, I just started playing him, and supposedly he and his people said they were huge fans of mine and they would love to meet me. And so I hurried down to the studios at ‘SNL.’ All of these photographers were there and taking all of these photos, and they pushed me into this circle of people. And they said, ‘Go and say hi.’ I went up and said, ‘Hello, Mr. Governor. Thanks for doing the show.’ And I could just tell he had no idea who I was.”
Ferrell has no expectations for how people will react to “You’re Welcome, America,” aside from a presumption that some will think it too harsh and some will think it’s not harsh enough.
“I honestly think people should expect the unexpected,” he said. “There’s nothing derivative about the show. We set out to do a funny show, to do some funny political satire, but at the same time, I think we really surprise people with a lot of the twists and turns and some of the things we are trying to say with the show.”
“You’re Welcome, America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” airs live on HBO on March 14th.