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Will Ferrell Wins Nation’s Top Humor Prize In D.C.

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
October 24, 2011

The “Saturday Night Live” star who perfected his impersonation of “President George W. Bush” and later took his presidential act to Broadway received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor — the nation’s top humor prize — Sunday night in Washington.

Ferrell accepted the prize at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, at an event with performances from Jack Black, Conan O’Brien, Larry King and the rock band Green Day in his honor. They were joined by Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon and Lorne Michaels from Ferrell’s “SNL” days. The show was taped for broadcast Oct. 31 on PBS stations nationwide.

When the award was announced in May, Ferrell said he would begin “cultivating a Mark Twain-esque mustache” for the acceptance event. He was spotted Friday in the White House press briefing room ahead of Sunday night’s ceremony, though there was no word on the state of his mustache.

On the red carpet, Ferrell said he’s proud to win the Twain Prize because it’s the “only legit” comedy prize that “puts the emphasis on humor and how hard it is.”

Ferrell said playing the Bush character is one of his favorite memories for its political laughs, especially when he took the character to Broadway.

“We hit it at the perfect time when people wanted some sort of comedy after the eight years we just went through.”

SNL co-star Molly Shannon said she has known Ferrell since before their stint together on the show. She said contrary to his TV persona, Ferrell is very serious and sweet to work with.

“He can really see people,” she said.

Ferrell is the son of a teacher and Roy Lee Ferrell, a guitarist for the Righteous Brothers. He grew up in Irvine, Calif., went to college at the University of Southern California and got his start in comedy with the Los Angeles improv group, The Groundlings.

That’s where he was discovered by “SNL.” He starred for seven seasons on the NBC series, with memorable characters that included “Craig the Spartan Cheerleader,” a middle school music teacher named “Marty Culp” and impressions of Janet Reno, Alex Trebek and Neil Diamond.

Ferrell went on to make some outlandish movies including “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Old School.” More recently he tried his hand at drama with this year’s independent film “Everything Must Go.” He has also made a Spanish-language comedy, “Casa de Mi Padre.”

Ferrell told the AP he has tried different avenues as movie studio budgets tightened. He opted for projects with smaller budgets but more creative freedom.

In 2009, Ferrell revived his Bush character with a one-man Broadway show “You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush,” which was nominated for a Tony Award. He later performed the show live on HBO.

Longtime collaborator Adam McKay and Ferrell also took their comedy to the Internet with the 2007 creation of the popular video website FunnyorDie.com. Since then, it has drawn an audience of millions for its original Web programming.

Thirteen other people have won the Mark Twain Prize since 1998, including Tina Fey, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. It recognizes people who have followed the tradition of Samuel Clemens, the writer known as Mark Twain who used social commentary and satire to have an impact on society. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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