Ferrell “makes you laugh so hard you cry and pee at the same time,” said actor Jack Black, who kicked off the show with one of his over-the-top rock scats with a ’70s, Freddie Mercury-esque interpretation of “We Will Rock You,” rejiggered as “Will will, Will will rock you.”
The show included tributes from Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Andy Samberg, Ed Asner, Matthew Broderick, John C. Reilly, Ben Stiller . . . oh, it goes on: “Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong!” intoned the announcer at the start of the two-hour show, almost “SNL” Don Pardo style, followed immediately by . . . “Gwen Ifill.”
Yes, another night in Washington, where glamour and humor require a bit broader definition. A good-humored Ifill was there to introduce clips of Ferrell’s unforgettable turns as President George W. Bush in the 2000s, which culminated in a one-man Broadway show.
Adam McKay, Ferrell’s longtime writing partner and co-creator of their popular viral video site, Funny or Die, introduced a clip from the site, a skit in which Ferrell’s Bush and other “SNL” alums — from Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton to Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush — crash the White House bedroom of President and Mrs. Obama (Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph). Better still, and still so funny, was “The Landlord” clip Ferrell and McKay made a few years ago, which starred McKay’s toddler daughter and eventually garnered 73 million hits.
“If you are a fan of the [“SNL”] sketch ‘cowbell,’ you have got to tell Will,” Samberg told the audience, since the entire world still begs him for “more cowbell.”
Not long after that bit, a teleprompter failure left Samberg in a bit of a lurch. For all the celebs present who’ve done their best work in front of live audiences, it takes a surprising amount of effort to keep the Twain show aloft — and the clips are always the best part. Long sequences were shown from all of Ferrell’s movie hits: “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”; “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”; “Old School”; “Elf.” It was like being at the Thanksgiving table if someone has given your brother-in-law permission to do every Will Ferrell character there ever was. You just revel in it.
The in-person tributes weren’t bad either, but lacked a little spark. The audience sat patiently through a couple of lulls between the LOLs, which will likely be edited down and perked up for the ceremony’s broadcast next Monday on PBS stations.
The guest of honor, dressed in a sharp velvet tux jacket of midnight blue, sat in a box up off to the right of the Concert Hall stage, with his pretty wife, Viveca Paulin, who wore an apple-green satin number topped by a shimmery gold jacket.