Will Ferrell Stays Classy

The movie comedian, who returns to host "SNL" weekend, never really left TV. Check out some classic clips that might ring a bell.

A decade ago this month, Will Ferrell left "Saturday Night Live,” ostensibly to seek movie stardom, following a memorable seven-year stint punctuated by a certain cowbell.

Ferrell, unlike some other "SNL" veterans who exited in search of big-screen fame, has proved a consistently successful comedy film figure, producing goofy, funny fare like "Step Brothers," "Talladega Nights" and "Blades of Glory." But the comic actor, who returns to host "SNL" this weekend, never really left TV.

He's shown up on "30 Rock" as the star of “B---- Hunter.” His arc on "The Office" last year as borderline-demented office manager DeAngelo Vickers briefly threatened to overshadow Steve Carell's departure. He played a recurring role as a madman auto dealer on "Eastbound & Down," the wild HBO comedy he co-produced. His (nearly) one-man Broadway show about former President George W. Bush became a TV special. His Funny or Die website has spawned two television incarnations, so far – a spinoff on HBO and a Zach Galifiankis “Between Two Ferns” special that aired on Comedy Central this past Sunday.

Ferrell also has been churning out – reportedly for free – odd, low-budget commercials for Old Milwaukee beer in which he declares, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

He might be talking about the freedom he’s found in his career. Ferrell is the epitome of the modern multi-media comic actor – seeking laughs wherever he can find willing eyes and ears. 

In the process, Ferrell is exerting an influence on the changing comic landscape. Glimpses of his wacky, sometimes raucous brand of humor can be found in big box office comedies like "The Hangover” flicks and "Bridesmaids." He’s a leading purveyor of a brand of silly-smart comedy that recalls Steve Martin, whose rise to fame got a boost from "SNL," and is best practiced night-in-and-out by Conan O'Brien, a former "SNL" writer. It’s fitting that Ferrell recently chose “Conan” as the setting to announce – in character, as Ron Burgundy – plans for an “Anchorman” sequel.

Perhaps more significantly, Ferrell's DIY approach on his Funny or Die site offers an accessible platform for performers to go viral, while giving us his co-star turn beside a foul-mouthed toddler in "The Landlord." The short-form humor is a natural extension of his roots on “SNL,” where Ferrell excelled playing, among other characters, an uptight Alex Trebek, a fawning James Lipton and a bearded, aging pseudo-sophisticated swinger lurking in a hotel hot tub.

Ferrell, for all his post-"SNL" success, is at his best live, where the ample, sometimes manic energy that fuels his comedy and various ventures can barely be contained on the small screen. As we await Ferrell’s first “SNL” hosting gig in three years, check out some classic skits that might ring a bell:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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