Parting Shots

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

President George W. Bush's final curtain call is Tuesday. That's the same day the curtain goes up on President George W. Bush on Broadway, played by Will Ferrell reprising his "Saturday Night Live" role. Adam McKay, Ferrell's longtime collaborator, directed the show, "You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush," which will run through March 15. He spoke with Outlook's Rachel Dry about why presidential punch lines are almost always funny and what Barack Obama has in common with Lisa Simpson.

Bush himself seemed in a pretty wisecracking, self-deprecating mood these days, especially in his final news conference last week. What did you think?

We were flabbergasted. . . . It's not the time or place for any of it. It's sort of like if I burn down my house by falling asleep with a cigarette in bed and then I was being interviewed by the local news and was making jokes.

It's not the time or place for him to be doing it, but it is the time or place for you?

We aren't the president. As citizens, there's only a couple things we can do. One of them is to interpret, and the other is to try and laugh a little bit about it because it's been such a brutal eight years. . . . That is one hundred percent our job to do that. You don't want the person who's in the middle of everything to be making jokes and be doing fake tap dancing.

Why do this show now?

At the end of his presidency, there's this tendency to sweep it under the carpet and move on, but for one night, we wanted to do an overview of the last eight years and have people laugh about it.

So you don't get swept up in a fog of hope and change?

You can't move forward unless you understand what's happened. Americans are really uncomfortable when people in positions of authority do bad things. We don't like to acknowledge it. We like to smile and kind of push past it, and it's not exactly the best idea. But at least the public can prosecute them to some degree or form opinions about what happened.

But it's going to be funny? In the way that public prosecutions are hilarious?

I'm being far more angry than the show is. The show is a mixture -- looking back at the last eight years, with silly fictional digressions inspired by Bush. It's incredibly silly and a bit raunchy sometimes.

You've said that the show aims to hold the administration's feet to the fire. How?

Well, we're going to talk about some stuff and we're going to laugh. . . . I'm not sure about a fire. We're going to hold their feet to the toaster oven, I think.

How will President Obama work as a punch line?

It's sort of like how Homer Simpson is the funniest character ever, and Lisa Simpson's not necessarily the funniest character. Obama's an actual adult who knows how to work.

Wait, so Obama is Lisa Simpson?

Homer Simpson is crazy funny -- a complete idiot and narcissist, and Lisa's the mature one, and she probably gets a laugh once an episode or something. But the very act of making fun of a president is kind of exciting. Right away it's interesting or subversive. . . . So, yeah, you can definitely do some funny stuff with with Obama. And Joe Biden is kind of a character.


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