Very few people would disagree that Will Ferrell is one of the funniest people in Hollywood. Since his days on SNL, Ferrell has starred in movies about NASCAR, the 1970s news scene, the foibles of stepfatherhood, the ludicrous fashion industry, and even one of Santa’s elves. They’re among the highest grossing comedies ever made and he’s not stopping any time soon. He can play a wide range of hilarious characters, too. He’s not a one note guy like a lot of comedy actors today. From a career that now spans decades, here are the 10 funniest characters played by Will Ferrell.
10. Allen Gamble
In 2010, two spoofs of the buddy cop action comedy genre were released: one directed by Adam McKay and one directed by Kevin Smith. The main difference between the two is that one had plot and character development and, well, laughs. Can you guess which one it was? Need a hint? Of course, it was the one that starred Will Ferrell as the straight laced NYPD accountant Allen Gamble. As we find out later in the movie, he has a dark side and a hidden backstory as the pimp “Gator.” The montage of his corruption from a hard working student who helps out one of his female friends to a knife wielding, gold chain wearing, gangsta pimp just keeps piling on the laughs. The costume choices in this scene are hysterical. Frankly, most of the things that Allen Gamble does are hysterical. He drives a Prius, he audited his parents as a kid and got himself grounded, and his idea of a downfall into alcoholism is swigging Mike’s Hard Lemonade on his weights bench. Another hilarious running gag that the character has in the movie is that he can’t seem to see how beautiful his wife, played by Eva Mendes, is. He’s just a hilarious character, all round.
9. Ricky Bobby
Adam McKay has said that the scene in which Sacha Baron Cohen’s French character has Ricky Bobby pinned to a billiards table, saying he will break Ricky’s arm if he doesn’t admit to liking crepes, was written to be a living political cartoon. Ricky tells the French guy to break his arm so that he doesn’t have to say it (even though he really does like crepes and quietly admits so to John C. Reilly’s character) to represent America’s nationalist views and aversion to foreign cultures. Ricky Bobby is a pitch perfect satire of both the culture of the American South and the sponsor hungry drivers of NASCAR – he even has a sponsorship deal for his evening prayers! It is thought by some cynics that all of the product placement in the movie paid for the budget, but this is a misconception. Sony doesn’t take money for product placement as a policy – all of the KFC and Pepsi and Pizza Hut and Mountain Dew product placement is a parody of NASCAR’s obsession with corporate sponsors. Will Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby as so lovably dumb and innocent that even a NASCAR outsider can enjoy the movie, which is really a beautiful thing.
8. George W. Bush
The Presidency of George W. Bush made perfect fodder for the blend of biting satirical comedy and weird absurdist humor that Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have made a career out of. The question that a lot of people asked about Bush was, “Is he evil or is he just stupid?” That’s a perfect character for Will Ferrell to play! Ferrell began doing his hugely popular and spot on impression of the 43rd U.S. President on Saturday Night Live, but would later reprise the role for an entire one man show on Broadway to commemorate Bush’s Presidency as he left the White House and Obama was being sworn in. The show was filmed by HBO to air as a comedy special and is still available on DVD. Of the show, which is entitled You’re Welcome, America!: A Final Night with George W. Bush, the critics said, “Combined with lewd humor and an uncanny cast of characters to help him drive home his alter ego’s West Texas mannerisms, Ferrell’s showpiece is a true delight.” Ferrell returned to SNL recently to reprise his role as Bush and compared his own administration and Presidency with the current one. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him!
7. Ashley Schaeffer
Car dealer Ashley Schaeffer, with his long, flowing bleach blond hair and his sunglasses and his abrasive attitude, is one of the funniest characters ever to hit the small screen. Will Ferrell, playing the role brilliantly, immortalized the line, “Can you feel the tension? I can. I can feel down in my plums. They’re gettin’ a nice, bluish hue. Gettin’ ready to take them down to the farmer’s market.” Ashley was the perfect match for the equally abrasive Kenny Powers, with whom he butted heads for three years. Kenny is the one who smashed all the cars in his BMW dealership and subjected him to a life of selling Kias. By the end of Ashley’s run on the show as a recurring character, he has basically a slave owner in the mold of Calvin Candie. He shot cannonballs at Kenny and Stevie as they escaped his plantation, but not before he made Stevie dress up as a geisha to entertain his Japanese guests. He was always hilarious, and props to the writers of the show for continually making him a more and more horrible human being and pushing the boundaries of his character – and props to Ferrell for keeping up with them.
If you thought that Derek Zoolander was a terrific satire of the absurdity of the fashion industry, then the child labor loving villain Mugatu takes it even further. The wacky, cloudy, wispy white hair and the ridiculously over the top outfits and the never-ending anger all help to contribute to making this a terrific comedy character. The sequel might have disappointed a lot of people, but Ferrell was still on top form in the role of Mugatu, stealing every scene he was in, which we have come to expect from the guy. The role of Mugatu came at an important time in Ferrell’s career as he was transitioning from TV star to movie supporting player. Empire magazine’s review of the original movie noted that his star was rising, writing, “Will Ferrell is fast becoming a byword for patchy but funny all star spoofs,” concluding, “The message is clear: if you see Ferrell, stick around.” That is a message that has continued to be relevant to this day – go and see a Will Ferrell movie, because even if it’s not a particularly good movie, you are guaranteed at least a few belly laughs, thanks to his hilarious performance and line delivery.
5. Chazz Reinhold
The Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw summed up Will Ferrell’s memorable cameo appearance at the end of Wedding Crashers perfectly: “Ferrell comes on for a cameo as the genius who invented wedding crashing. Like a Jedi Master, he has gone to the Dark Side and now crashes funerals, taking advantage of lonely women’s grief and fear of solitude – to get laid! How Ferrell cackles at his cleverness, while hollering for his mom (with whom he still lives) to fix him some meat loaf. It is a moment of very studied high comedy silliness.” This was a guy who gave the movie as a whole just two out of five stars, so it is some high praise that he enjoyed Ferrell’s brief appearance as an unapologetic funeral crasher who yells the words, “Ma! The meat loaf! Fuck!” at his mother. Ferrell has said that he was offered one of the lead roles in the movie: “I read the script and I kinda was like, ‘Great concept…’ but I kinda turned that down. I don’t even know if I saw the potential of how big that was gonna be.” He says he regrets turning it down, but his cameo role as Chazz Reinhold is far more hilarious and memorable, so it all worked out for the best.
4. Brennan Huff
A lot of comedy actors, like Adam Sandler, have made a persistent persona out of the perpetual, petulant man child. But very few of them, even after doing the same schtick for movies upon end, have managed to nail it as well as Will Ferrell did in the role of Brennan Huff. It was a movie that Ferrell and Adam McKay wrote with the assumption that it would lose money, due to its absurdist sensibility. But it actually ended up being one of the duo’s highest grossing efforts, since the electric chemistry shared by Ferrell and John C. Reilly connected with audiences across the world. They both nail the delivery of every single one of their ridiculous lines, from “I smoked weed with Johnny Hopkins” to “As soon as she is of age, I am putting her in a home.” Ferrell even nailed the maturity of Brennan, as he gets a job and an apartment and discovers Costco. We can see an underlying sadness this whole time, when Brennan is putting on a facade and becoming, as Robert puts it, “so crushed and normal.” It’s an all round fantastic character and performance in a movie that you can hardly fault.
3. Frank the Tank
Before he became a movie star and got his own starring vehicles, Will Ferrell was a supporting player in the films of already established stars like Mike Myers and Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. In those supporting roles, he always stole the show, and this movie is no different. In this hilarious college comedy, he played the role of Frank the Tank, a guy who has just gotten himself locked into a marriage who then lets loose when his friend opens his house up to a fraternity. He’s just gotten over his immature youth and he’s become a boring grown up, and over the course of the movie, the beauty of the character is that he goes too far back the other way. A script for a sequel was written, but it has yet to be produced. Ferrell said, “I read [the script]. Some super funny set pieces, but I don’t know. I think Vince [Vaughn] had the same reaction. We’re just kind of doing the same thing again. It was like us going to Spring Break, but we’ve got to find this guy who’s the head of a fraternity. Once again, funny things but it’s just us once again back in a fraternity setting. It just felt like it was repeating. But watch, I’m overthinking it.” So, you never know. We may see a Spring Break bound sequel to this modern comedy classic yet!
While Will Ferrell was shooting his role in this Christmas comedy classic, he was worried about whether or not it would work. He has said in retrospect that when he was on the set of the movie, he was anxious about the prospects of its success. He explained, “I was literally filming that movie, running around the streets of New York, a grown man dressed as an elf, thinking to myself, ‘If this movie doesn’t work, it’s over!’ I was like, ‘I just don’t know if they’re gonna buy me in this. Is it too saccharin? Is it gonna work?’ There were moments where I was like, this is either gonna work really well or people are gonna go, ‘What happened? Why did you dress up as an elf?’” Frankly, a lot of the success of this movie comes from just how much Ferrell committed to the role of Buddy. If he hadn’t jumped into it wholeheartedly and played the character ingenuously with his unique brand of overacting, then it might not have worked. So many copycats starring adult comedy actors in family Christmas roles have failed, because they don’t just go for it in the way that Ferrell did. It’s beautiful.
1. Ron Burgundy
Ron Burgundy is not just the funniest character played by Will Ferrell; he might be the funniest character in the history of film. He’s certainly responsible for some of the most iconic comedy movie quotes of all time, from “I’m kind of a big deal” to “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” The tone of the movies is so absurdist that you question whether or not Ron Burgundy’s head is all there. He claims to be a full blooded Mexican and psychologically loses the use of all of his sense when he has just been blinded. Ron Burgundy marked a change in comedy. When he uttered the words “That escalated quickly,” he ushered in a whole new style of comedy that is meta and self aware and analyzes itself. It’s brilliant stuff. The character marked Ferrell’s transition from a supporting player to a leading man and he hasn’t looked back. The long awaited sequel may have disappointed some people whose expectations were set unrealistically high, but diehard fans still quote the sequel and rewatch it plenty, because no matter what you think of the film itself, it is still a showcase of Ferrell as Burgundy and it simply doesn’t get any better than that.