In his new film The Campaign, which opens Friday, comedian Will Ferrell sinks his teeth into the juicy role of a Southern politician angling for a seat in the U.S. Congress.
Hopes aren't high for the film, which also stars Zach Galifianakis, but you can always expect comic goodness from Ferrell. The California native almost always delivers something of worth, even in the most dire situations.
With a foundation that includes improv (he was a member of celebrated troupe the Groundlings) and sketch comedy (he remains the most popular alumnus of Saturday Night Live), Ferrell is counted as one of comedy's greatest talents. His film and television characters rank among the all-time best.
Here are 10 of his most memorable from both formats.
1 Ricky Bobby. Ferrell skewered the South something fierce in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR-themed riff on everything from obsequious corporate sponsorship to flag-waving patriotism. Talladega Nights became one of the biggest hits of Ferrell's career, and whose mini-cult of avid supporters has made pop-culture catchphrases out of the film's dialogue.
2 Gene Frenkle. The phrase "more cowbell" originated with Ferrell's portrayal of a fictional percussionist in Blue Ãyster Cult - one whose role in the group was relegated to hitting a cowbell with a drumstick. The image of Frenkle, who is played by Ferrell as the essence of '70s shtick, was reportedly modelled after Blue Ãyster Cult singer Eric Bloom, who actually did play the cowbell on Don't Fear (The Reaper. The SNL character was fictional, but Ferrell's delivery was the real deal.
3 Ron Burgundy. Ferrell plays his TV anchorman from the '70s as a dim-witted but swarthy scamp, an egocentric talking head with the smallest of redeeming qualities. The film from which he came, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, has considerable cultural cachet to go with its boffo box office - so much, in fact, that a sequel (brought forth by incessant fan demand) is forthcoming.
4 Frank (The Tank) Ricard. Old School's cup is overflowing with comedy goodness, a large chunk of which can be attributed to Ferrell's performance as Frank the Tank, an abbreviated adult whose party antics are the stuff of legend. Beer bongs, tranquilizer darts to the jugular, solo streaking, fights with a sex instructor - it's all in a day's work for Frank the Tank.
5 Neil Diamond. There's no shortage of classic Ferrell characters on SNL, from TV host James Lipton to high school cheerleader Craig Buchanan. But one of his most inspired parodies was as a foul-mouthed Neil Diamond, who made an appearance during a mock episode of VH1: Storytellers. Ferrell played Diamond as if he was a gangster and player, in spectacular fashion.
6 Buddy the Elf. The highest-grossing film of Ferrell's career strikes the perfect balance between kids' movie and grown-up comedy. There's plenty to like about Elf, a modern-day holiday favourite that gets funnier with each viewing. Ferrell's performance carries the 2003 film as he mixes man-child innocence with the comic timing of a seasoned pro.
7 Robert Goulet. To see Ferrell as crooner Robert Goulet pitching his new CD, The Coconut Bangers Ball: It's a Rap, is to be in the presence of goofball greatness. Ferrell brings down the SNL house with a capella versions of songs by SisqÃ³ and the Baha Men. It's a wacky skit, but with Ferrell at the helm it counts as one of the best in the show's history.
8 Harry Caray. One of the first characters Ferrell honed to perfection was that of Harry Caray, the famously inquisitive baseball commentator. During his seven-year run on SNL, Ferrell often drew his biggest laughs as the "curious like a cat" Caray, who confounded guests with his ineptitude while hosting Space, the Infinite Frontier.
9 Alex Trebek. The series of Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches are some of the most talked about and oftquoted in SNL history; that reputation has a great deal to do with the straight-man presence of Ferrell. He plays exasperated host Alex Trebek on all 14 episodes, the best of which pit him against Burt Reynolds (played by the skit's creator, Norm Macdonald). Haven't seen it? Do so now.
10 Wedding Crashers. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson carry Wedding Crashers on their backs, but the script often references one Chazz Reinhold, who reportedly created a set of rules by which the crashers must adhere to during their adventures. Ferrell plays the devious Reinhold with a mixture of smarm and charm, and in just six minutes on screen nearly steals the picture.
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