Following in the footsteps of hilarious legends like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, funnyman Will Ferrell received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor this past weekend at Washington D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Known mostly for his seven seasons on SNL and his hilarious film roles since then like Zoolander, Wedding Crashers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Blades of Glory, Ferrell is the second youngest comedian awarded the honor (the youngest being last year’s recipient Tina Fey).
While Ferrell has had dozens of amazing performances, here are our picks for the top five roles that have made Ferrell so iconic.
1. Gene in the SNL Skit: “Cowbell”
The one that started it all. This skit, a VH1 Behind the Music parody of the band Blue Oyster Cult, was written by Ferrell himself and featured the fictional band member Gene Frankel whose only job was to play the cowbell on a rare few songs. As the band records the popular Blue Oyster Cult song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” big time music producer Bruce Dickinson (played by the one and only Christopher Walken) constantly asks for more and more cowbell. The most famous line of the sketch comes from Walken’s Dickinson, “I gotta fever. And the only prescription is more cowbell.” This sketch was a highlight at the Mark Twain Prize ceremony for obvious reasons and a TV special on E! listed it as the fifth most unforgettable moment of SNL history.
2. Ron Burgundy in Anchorman
One of the most quotable films of the last 20 years, this also marked the film debut of Ferrell’s partnership with friend and SNL writer/director Adam McKay. Everyone and their mother knows at least one line from this film and that’s thanks to both the hilarious writing by McKay and Ferrell and the pitch-perfect acting by Ferrell and the amazing comic talent of stars like Christina Applegate (Veronica Corningstone), Steve Carell (Brick Tamland), Paul Rudd (Brian Fantana) and David Keochner (Champ Kind).
3. Buddy in Elf
After doing some extremely not kid-friendly material on both SNL and movies like Old School (also on our list), Ferrell pleasantly surprised critics and families everywhere with this hilarious and simply adorable film about an elf/man who spreads the cheer and spirit of Christmas. Another great cast including Zooey Deschanel (New Girl, 500 Days of Summer), Ed Asner (Up) and James Caan elevate the film and the world was introduced to actor Jon Favreau’s talent as director who would later get the chance to direct giant films like Iron Man and Iron Man 2.
4. Frank “the Tank” Ricard in Old School
This is arguably the role that set the tone for Ferrell’s future in film. Made by Hangover director Todd Phillips and starring other comedians like Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Jeremy Piven, this film shows off how much Ferrell is willing to bare for comedy. The answer: everything. With Frank “the Tank,” Ferrell gave us the epic line now uttered by frat guys in every college campus around the country: “We’re going streaking!”
5. George W. Bush in You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush
Ferrell entered stage stardom in this one-man show about the former president. Elaborating on his protrayal of Bush from his SNL days, this show was widely acclaimed for using both clever and dirty humor to celebrate and poke friendly fun at the former president’s choices and blunders. The performance was also televised on HBO and Ferrell received both a Tony nomination for the onstage show and an Emmy nomination for the television special. The show surprisingly did not incur a large wrath by any political side, as PBS new anchor Gwen Ifill said at the Mark Twain Prize ceremony, “He got Democrats to pay and see and applaud George W. Bush.” Comedy that is so good it transcends potential controversy? That’s exactly why Ferrell is so good.
To watch the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, tune into PBS on October 31, 2011.