On the last day of classes, University of Rhode Island students logged onto Zoom, not to attend a lecture, but to join in on a private conversation with Will Ferrell, hosted by Judd Apatow.
The first 2,900 students to register were given the opportunity by the Student Entertainment Committee and Office of Student Involvement to join the one-hour Zoom event. Students were able to ask questions while Apatow and Ferrell reflected on Ferrell’s career. Ferrell told stories, recreated sketches and congratulated students on finishing the semester. Halfway through the conversation, Apatow and Ferrell started picking students at random to join the video and allowed them to ask their own questions.
One student asked for Ferrell to give a mini-commencement speech for the graduation that will no longer be held.
“You are about to go on a journey, and remember, reach for the stars,” Ferrell said.
Apatow told him Ferrell’s “speech” wasn’t helpful at all and Ferrell joked that it was all he had as he had to give speeches for 200 other universities.
Students were able to witness an hour full of this banter between the duo whose professional relationship began with the classic 2004 film “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” Both Apatow and Ferrell attended the University of Southern California, with Ferrell earning a now-obsolete sports information degree before going into comedy.
When asked about the inspiration for characters like Burgundy, Ferrell said, “I’ve always been fascinated by the cocky American as a character.”
Apatow and Ferrell then drew comparisons between Burgundy and President Trump as Ferrell recalled his days impersonating former President George W. Bush on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) and in his Broadway play, “You’re Welcome America.”
Ferrell was a cast member on SNL, the late-night sketch comedy show, from 1995 to 2002 and is amazed that it’s still on the air. He auditioned for the show with a bit that would make him famous, “Get Off The Shed.” Ferrell even recreated this audition for his Zoom audience.
In his seven years on the show, one of his most popular sketches was “More Cowbell” with Christopher Walken. Ferrell shared that he found inspiration for that sketch through listening to the song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, which the sketch is based around, and being interested in the cowbell that could clearly be heard in the instrumental.
Apatow and Ferrell both said that in the world of comedy, it’s important not to let outside criticism ruin your self-confidence. In a review for his premiere episode, Ferrell was called “obnoxious and too loud.” He just cut the article out of the paper and hung it on the wall in his office. It was something that he’d learned from his musician father when he told him he wanted to be a comedian.
Ferrell recalls his father saying, “I think you have the skill, but it takes a lot of luck. If you don’t make it, don’t worry about it, you can just try something else. Don’t worry if you fail because it’s a crapshoot anyway.”
Ferrell compared starting his comedy career to playing the lottery and figured he would have fun trying, and if he failed, he could always become a substitute teacher. Keeping the mindset that he was funny and also lucky allowed him to just focus on himself and not what others were saying about him. He knew not to put his self-worth into the hands of those who weren’t comedians themselves.
His time on “Saturday Night Live” was so important and impactful for him both personally and career-wise that he made the decision to donate all of the money he earned from the Zoom event to various food banks in New York City in the name of Hal Wilner. Wilner was the sketch music producer for the show for 40 years before passing earlier this month due to COVID-19 complications. “We are all going to get through [this] and great things are going to happen for everybody,” Apatow said. “Hang in there, stay positive, be productive, stay healthy, help out other people the best that you can and be proud of all the hard work you put in at [URI].”