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Will Ferrell is one of the most successful comedians to graduate from Saturday Night LIve, and he's established a career that makes him one of the few people who can automatically get people in seats based on his name alone. But he's also a comedian who got his start working with ensembles, and in nearly all of his films, he's teamed up with another comedian-- or, sometimes, another actor very new to comedy at all-- to make the most of his comedic strengths. Whether his sparring partner helps ground him and stick to the script or joins him in the wildest improv imaginable, Ferrell is almost always better as part of a team-- and he's at it again in this week's The Campaign, in which he teams up with Zach Galifianakis that's as hilarious and absurd as it is depressingly true.
But among all the people Ferrell has teamed up with in his career, who brings out the best in him? That became a surprisingly contentious topic around here, so instead of throwing some punches, we decided to bring the debate to you guys. Read below as Mack and Katey debate the merits of Ferrell's various co-stars, and don't forget to vote in the poll at the bottom to make your choice known.
KATEY: So Mack, before we start-- you have not yet seen The Campaign. Are you interested in it in general, or for the Ferrell-Galifianakis pairing at all?
MACK: I am like a B on the plot of The Campaign, but I am interested to see how Ferrell and Galifianakis bounce off one another.
KATEY: You were the one who suggested talking about Ferrell's on-screen pairings to begin with. What interests you in particular about who he's bouncing off of?
MACK: It interests me to know whether Will Ferrell steamrolls the other person or whether the other person actually pushes back, if that makes sense. Like the great thing about John C Reilly is Reilly actually wins their back-and-forth improv combos roughly 40% of the time.
KATEY: Exactly-- and to jump ahead, I think that's why Reilly is my favorite of his collaborators. They seem to be on a wavelength together that just goes off in the weirdest, best directions, that no one else has really matched. Though Galifianakis, it must be said, comes close-- his comedy is really different, but he is also really willing to go for it, which makes him and Ferrell a great team in The Campaign.
But you have another pick for his best sparring partner, right?
MACK: Yes, as much as I love Ferrell's bantering with John C Reilly, I'm not sure Will has ever been in the zone more than he was during the Saturday Night Live presidential debates in which he played George W Bush and Darrell Hammond played Al Gore. To me, that was the most carefully-worded, the most clever and the most brilliant either of those great comedians have ever been. They really pushed each other to places I'm not sure Ferrell and Reilly would ever be careful or patient enough to go.
KATEY: Well that's the advantage of SNL-- you have years to not only work together, but perfect this set of characters and refine them based on what you see working and what doesn't. It's like live theater, really-- which I guess is why Ferrell killed it doing the George W. Bush play a few years later.
But here's the thing about Darrell Hammond-- he's such a chameleon in his SNL roles, and doesn't have a distinctive style. I don't think he challenged Ferrell the way Reilly, or even Mark Wahlberg, does.
MACK: Well, I guess it all comes down to what you mean by "challenge". See, I could be wrong, but I get the sense Ferrell's natural sense of humor is one of irreverence and aggressive, goofy one-ups-manship. Reilly is completely in that wheelhouse. The reason why he works is because he's arguably as good as that exact style of comedy as Ferrell. So, in that way, you're right. Reilly is a great challenge, but the reason why I prefer Hammond is because he pushes Ferrell not to throw away words.
Will loves talking and talking because he knows at least every third or fourth throwaway line will be brilliant, but in the SNL sketches, against someone real measured like Hammond, he can't do that. He can't just go on. He has to make every set up count. The dynamic brought something out of Ferrell I haven't seen from other people. I guess what I'm saying is, as much as I love Reilly, he and Ferrell are occasionally a little too open to finding a joke anywhere, whether it's on subject or not.
KATEY: That's a fair point. But I feel like I'd have to see Farrell and Hammond in a movie together to really prove it. The writing in those debate sketches was such a big element, and it's hard for me to know what Hammond is really bringing as opposed to the writing. I think that's what makes Reilly and Farrell so memorable-- they've had free reign in two movies, and are able to really bring everything they've got.
You know what might change all of this, though? Whatever happens in Anchorman 2. Who knows what that band of weirdos might bring to the table.
MACK: In a way, I think Anchorman kind of is a good analogy for this entire debate. See, there's two Will Ferrell's. There's the ridiculous guy who you can throw into a stupid, outlandish plot (Anchorman, Step Brothers, Wedding Crashers etc) and let be as absurd and hysterical as possible....or there's the guy who is a little quieter, a little more human (some of his SNL work, Stranger Than Fiction, Winter Passing) that's not quite as obnoxious, maybe not quite as funny but more grounded and honest. I like both of those guys, but I definitely like the second guy a little more, which is why I'm a Darrell Hammond guy. I'd rather laugh a little less and think a little more.
KATEY: Alright, I admit that Step Brothers is more on the first side of the debate-- and God do I love it for that. But The Campaign gives you a little bit of both, if only because of the political angle of it-- Ferrell has to be playing a real human to nail the satire element, and he does a really good job of it. He kind of brings that George W. Bush level of idiocy to it, and he and Galifianakis create these two characters who both seem ridiculous, but when you put them together, they're scarily realistic.
I think what this debate proves is that Ferrell is way too good at balancing legitimate satirical comedy with complete balls-out ridiculousness-- how many people can say that?
MACK: It's really impressive. You know, when Will Ferrell first left Saturday Night Live, there were people openly talking about how he may have been the most talented comedian ever to work at Studio 8H. Frankly, I found that talk offensive---but as the years have passed and Ferrell has done more and more wonderful projects, the talk becomes less ridiculous. That's a debate for another day, but as for this one, I'm willing to admit that, while I prefer Hammond and Ferrell, I would still gladly take Reilly and Ferrell over 99.9% of possible twosomes.
KATEY: And when you see The Campaign hopefully you'll agree with me that Galifianakis at least belongs near the top of the list.
MACK: I have nothing but the highest of expectations.
Who is Will Ferrell's best co-star?