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What a joke! Ron Burgundy to receive the Mark Twain Prize.

May 13, 2011

Will Ferrell: Mug shot.

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, the least funny man on the planet is officially Will Ferrell. So of course those fine folks at the Kennedy Center have chosen him as the 14th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize. Good grief — haven’t they seen Land of the Lost?!?

Yeah, well, me neither, but I’m not handing the guy any awards. Since that unbearable cheerleader bit he used to do with Cheri Oteri on “Saturday Night Live,” I’ve scratched my head in wonder: What’s this man’s talent again? Oh, yeah: Brazen mugging. Look at me! Look at me! I’m funny!

And yet somehow, despite the bizarrely low energy quality of his manic posturings, Ferrell has managed to hoodwink a significant proportion of the American entertainment market into accepting the proposition that he’s brilliantly amusing and deserves to be in a string of high-profile comic movies.

What? How could this be? Lest you think I’m some kind of high-brow ceiling sniffer, I have come around (okay, I admit after some initial reluctance) on any number of professional funny people, from Jim Carey to Sarah Silverman to Adam Sandler to Anna Faris to Amy Poehler to (sometimes, anyway) even Jack Black.

Will Ferrell, however, is about as funny as Carrot Top, although, admittedly, without looking like a homicidal mutant.

Carolyn Kellogg has a nice blog essay (blogsay? blessay? ebslog?) on Ferrell’s Twain nod over at the Los Angeles Times. Kellogg’s objection is that unlike most of the preceding 13 recipients, Ferrell has not written a book.

Kellogg, as always, makes a good point. What’s Ferrell written — that play in which he does a wobbly imitation of George Bush for an hour and a-half? Judging from Ferrell’s movies, most of his “humor” arises not from writing, revising and editing, but from improvisation. And let me tell you, I long ago came to the conclusion that improv is the most overrated thing in comedy (thank you, Robin Williams!).

That’s why I part ways with Kellogg when she admires Ferrell’s boiled ham of a performance as Ron Burgundy, and especially when she suggests some publisher should make an honest man out of the guy by giving him a book contract.

Egad! My problem with Ferrell isn’t so much that he hasn’t written a book (shudder!) but — oh, how shall I put this? He isn’t funny!

Lily Tomlin is the smart girl in the front of the class, making sharp quips to herself. Bob Newhart mutters drolleries for his friends four rows back.  George Carlin keeps the stoners snickering. Carl Reiner is the acerbic teacher, dropping absurdities to see if anyone’s paying attention.

Will Ferrell is the antic goof in the back of the room who thinks he’s funny but he’s not!

Does anybody remember the Kevin Smith movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back? That’s the one that convinced me I need never watch Will Ferrell again. Every time he came on screen, as a deranged wildlife officer in pursuit of the title characters, all the energy went out of the picture while he went through a repertoire of insipid imbecilities. Not. Funny.

I haven’t seen any of Ferrell’s starring vehicles. His defenders may scoff and say that means I have no standing to critique the man’s work, but I reply that the trailers were quite enough punishment, thank you very much, an assessment only confirmed when I spent three or four minutes with Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby or Jackie Moon while surfing around HBO or Showtime.

It’s one of those imponderable mysteries of life that anyone would think for a second that Ferrell deserves to be enshrined alongside titans like Tomlin, Newhart, Reiner, last year’s winner Tina Fey, or the inaugural recipient Richard Pryor, who wrote hour-plus stand-up routines that were not only hilarious but which also had the moral density and character development of a novel.

Sigh. Despite my disapprobation, Ferrell will receive this unmerited prize on Oct. 23 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, where, no doubt, a distinguished roster of guests will continue the charade that he is a talented comedian and comic actor. I’m pretty sure I won’t be watching.



3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2011 1:23 pm

    I agree. Some folks today are famous for being famous. He is funny because he and they say he is. I have found most of his stuff the only stuff out there. That makes him funny I guess. I have seen a slight crack of a couple of chuckles from me but to give him this award. To me I like Louis Black or the guy Ron White and Larry, Jeff and a few more people like that. They actually make you laugh. (or cry). Nothing surprises me any more though. I am still working on famous for being famous. Paris my dear. No I mean going to Paris. See how it works.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 13, 2011 3:10 pm

    They should give it to Jim Carrey, if only for The Truman Show, Liar Liar, Philip Morris and, especially, Eternal Sunshine. Yeah, yeah, I know the guy was born in Canadian, but he’s American enough.

  3. Ruth Berge permalink
    May 13, 2011 4:12 pm

    I actually like Will Ferrell, but the Mark Twain prize? Makes absolutely no sense. Ferrell’s comedy is a far cry from the writings of Twain.

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