[10 January 2005]
In the production notes accompanying the Anchorman giftset, executive producer Shauna Robertson explains that what most excites viewers about the DVD release is also what she finds most exciting: the opportunity to see Will Ferrell be himself, uncensored and unfettered. “I think the role of Ron more accurately represents who [Ferrell] really is,” Robertson says. “Obviously he is not a crazy anchorman, but this is his sense of humor above and beyond anything else he’s ever done.”
See, the thing I love about Will Ferrell is that I imagine he’d read that statement (“Obviously he is not a crazy anchorman”), think it was one of the stupidest things he’d ever heard (um, yeah, I think we all knew he wasn’t), and launch into a month-long Andy Kaufman-esque in-character Burgundy bender to prove that, in fact, he obviously is a crazy anchorman. Like most great comic performers, he finds his best material in the absurd and the ridiculous. Unlike most contemporary “smart” comics, he doesn’t focus on the quirks of dry cleaning or the Electoral College.
Nope, when Will Ferrell thinks ridiculous, he thinks 6’5” elves and pirates who hang out with smelly hookers. He thinks of musk made with chunks of panther (“So you know it’s good,” according to reporter-on-the-street Brian Fantana, played expertly by Paul Rudd) and being thrown off of a cliff by Burt Reynolds (during an MTV Movie Awards skit included on the set’s second disc).
Ferrell’s comedy is escapism as abstract art, a breathless retreat into the frenetic headspace of a 12-year-old boy. If the commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, MTV Movie Awards skits, and the “lost movie,” Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, included in this “unrated, uncut, and uncalled for” edition of Anchorman teach us anything, it’s that sometimes it’s all right for jokes to be stupid. (This is not to be confused with the arguments made by The Man Show and Blue Collar TV, that comedy is better when both performer and audience treat each other like fucking morons.)
That’s not to say that all of the extra material is top-shelf. Although Anchorman‘s production team presents Wake Up, Ron Burgundy as its own story, it’s clearly random improvisations and extra takes shot for the purpose of giving director and former SNL head writer Adam McKay plenty of options in the editing room. These fall-back clips are cut-and-pasted around a pretty weak B-storyline about the Channel 4 News Team’s coverage of a radical group called “The Alarm Clock” that’s robbing banks to raise money for an amorphous revolution aimed at waking up all of San Diego’s squares.
Searching for a mission statement, the group’s pothead leader Paul (Kevin Corrigan, padding his resume for “That Guy” Hall of Fame consideration) stumbles across a ludicrous public service announcement by beloved local anchorman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), suggesting that San Diegoans treat hippies kindly because, even though they’re often drunk and they will steal your pocket change, they just might turn out to be your brother. Paul fires off some standard rhetoric about how TV poisons the mind and settles upon the cell’s mission: to rid the airwaves of Burgundy’s brand of “news” and start broadcasting truth.
Despite some solid work by Chuck D and SNL‘s underrated Maya Rudolph, the funniest moments are a great cameo by Amy Poehler as an unfrightened bank teller and some excellent alternate takes by Steve Carell’s mentally retarded weatherman Brick Tamland, the kind of dude who will mistake a used coffee filter filled with grounds and cigarette butts for “one of those delicious falafel sandwiches with bacon on top.” It’s disgusting, easily one of my top-five favorite moments here. And, due to the nature of the beast, it’s almost impossible to tell if it was scripted or just an insane idea someone tossed out there in the middle of the shoot.
Improv is the focus of the “Making of Anchorman” featurette. Producer Judd Apatow (the mind behind Freaks and Geeks) saw it as an integral part of casting the film; as he explains, if Ferrell might be launching on a riff about wheels of cheese, then you need people who can keep up. Enter the news team of Rudd’s Fantana, Carell’s Tamland, SNL alum David Koechner’s alcoholic sportscaster Champ Kind, and the legendary Fred Willard as somewhat embattled producer Ed Harken. “For us, they were just the dream team of comedy actors,” Apatow says. According to Ferrell, the best part of working with such talented improvisers was the drive to come up with the funniest bit: “We had one rule: ‘The best idea wins.’ There was no ego about it.”
This lack of ego is evident in Anchorman when Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, and Ferrell’s Old School buddies Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson show up as rival news anchors, and Jack Black as a biker who punts Burgundy’s beloved dog Baxter off of a bridge. Burgundy, by contrast, is all about ego. In one of the MTV skits, he interviews Rebecca Romijn-Stamos—really just one elaborate pick-up attempt. Partway through, he breaks into song to woo her. The lyrics, which he swears afterward took him two years to write, are as follows:
You are my Spanish lady, with the weirdo name
Oh, Spanish lady
Together we’ll be like two pirates, sailing the Seven Seas
Will we find gold? Or will we find love?
Or will we make a baby, and name him Jose?
I don’t even know where to start with that. The recurring pirate theme? The inexplicable reference to Romijn-Stamos as his “Spanish lady”? The brilliant use of the phrase “make a baby”? Take your pick, dude.
The greatest part of the giftset is the introduction to Wake Up, with commentary by Ferrell and Aaron Zimmerman, who refers to himself as the “third exec producer” (though he’s listed as an assistant to Shauna Robertson). Ferrell tries to figure out whether or not Zimmerman actually worked on the film, because he doesn’t remember him at all. Zimmerman is awesome, evading Ferrell’s questions with industry-speak (“I’m the guy that makes sure all the pennies stack up right”) and other nonsense (“I buzz around, you know, here and there, around the city”).
After about 20 minutes of commentary with absolutely no tether to the footage we’re watching, we learn that Zimmerman is actually just an unemployed man whose son lost half of his face in a motorcycle accident (riding a Kawasaki which Zimmerman calls “you know, one of them rice burners”) and who had no place else to go, leading him to break in to the building and find his way to the studio to record the commentary. Disgusted by the situation, Ferrell leaves as Zimmerman yells, “WE’RE GOOD FRIENDS! AARON ZIMMERMAN AND WILL FERRELL ARE GOOD FRIENDS!” and proceeds to weep until we’re sent back to the main menu.
If this sounds a little disturbing, it most definitely is. But more than anything, it demonstrates Robertson’s point about Ron Burgundy being a more definitive representation of Ferrell’s sense of humor than anything else he’s ever done; he airs out the weird stuff that might creep out more people than it amuses. This giftset accomplishes every comedic actor’s dream: it shows Ferrell as one unique, ludicrous, and brilliant talent. Or maybe it really does just show that jokes about wild dogs, pirates, babies, and scotch are awesome. Either way, really.