"You Stay Classy, San Diego": Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
There are many difficult challenges in Hollywood. Transitioning from a child performer to an adult star. Winning an EGOT. A woman in her 30’s playing the mother character to an actor in their late 20’s. Of all the Herculean tasks Hollywood has to offer, perhaps none is more perilous than transitioning from a star on Saturday Night Live to a notable Hollywood A-Lister.
For the star of SNL, the breakout performer of any cast period, choosing the right time and the right projects to go from a ‘Not Ready For Primetime Player’ to a major movie star is a rocky road with many hits (Eddie Murphy in the Beverly Hills Cop movies, Mike Myers with So I Married an Axe Murder and Austin Powers) and quite a few more misses (Joe Piscopo’s whole career). And while a few writers have made a splash in the industry, the role of the behind the scenes creatives in SNL’s history often took a backseat to the mythological status of the cast. Coming off a long stretch of 7 and 6 years on the show, respectively, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay took their compatible energy as a performer and writer and set loose Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. They created a cultural touchstone, a comedy story infinitely quotable and a partnership and performance style that set the blueprint for much of Ferrell’s most successful work.
To me, the most important thing about Anchorman is its legacy of cultural quotable-ness, a proto-meme factory of one-liners. Adaptable jokes that would become the hallmark for the work of fellow performers in the cast like Steve Carrel. It gave you a retort when a friend has on too much cologne (‘It stings the nostrils!’), it gave you a way to describe your preferred fitness activity (‘I think it’s pronounced ‘Yogging'?’), it gave you a way to express your feelings when you didn’t know how you felt (‘I love lamp!’). And as quotes and cultural cache morphed in new ways to the internet, Anchorman was uniquely positioned, released at the right time to be the perfect response in single image form to the time your sister attacked you when you told her to pick her shoes off the floor (‘My that escalated quickly!) or to give you a mathematical percentage for how often your lifehack to get free popcorn at the movies works (‘60% of the time, it works every time!’). All the best McKay/Ferrell collaborations have these sort of outlandish quotes that take on a life of their own outside of the film.
The second most important thing about Anchorman is how it set the tone for Will Ferrell's career. During the proceeding years on SNL, his work had been limited outside of the SNL season to smaller roles in ensemble comedies like Mustaffa in the Austin Powers movies or a fictionalized version of Bob Woodward in Dick. 2003 gave Ferrell the time to fully focus on his movie stardom, and it’s a 1-2 punch of work that’s hard to deny - a duo of ‘Large Adult Son’ style movies, such as the raunchy frat boy fantasy Old School and the sweet and silly new holiday classic, Elf. Ferrell has shown an ability to vacillate between the character archetypes he displayed in those films, and Anchorman distills the later. A barely functional adult who needs the guidance of those around him, often in the form of a slightly out of his league woman (but not like, Kevin James out of his league). Elf, and his more serious work like Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go, display an often sensitive soul, embracing the magical wonder of living a better life and sharing it with those around him. But more often than not, it’s the idiot man child roles that have found their largest success in Ferrell's Life, including in other McKay helmed features like Talladega Nights, The Other Guys and Step Brothers.
The association between McKay and Ferrell has been uncommonly beneficial for both. It's gone across multiple media ventures, including the online streaming and television production company Funny Or Die and a Tony nominated one man show featuring Ferrel’s genius interpretation of George W. Bush, ‘You're Welcome, America!’ Ferrell spent the next decade after Anchorman as the premiere movie comedian, and his antics continue to be newsworthy, such as a recently playing every position on the field of a baseball diamond over multiple stops in the Cactus League. McKay is also in rarified air - any project needing a comedy punch up seems to find his name attached, and his prodigious writing skills lead to a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 2015’s The Big Short.
It's hard to see the beginning of an era until after it's happened, but Anchorman sets a high mark for outgoing performers and creatives alike at SNL. Behind the scenes, performers had more urgency to be featured on screen, such as Seth Meyers, Paula Pell and Colin Jost, and Ferrell's magical number of 7 years seems to be the new benchmark for performers looking to make the leap out into the world without Lorne’s safety net. It's an imprecise formula, and the ability to bore out success remains to be seen in a changing media landscape - but Ferrell and McKay landed the initial dismount with the kind of success that makes ending this article difficult, so, without further ado, I present for you the Channel Five Singers -