- - Monday, October 24, 2011

Will Ferrell receives Mark Twain humor prize

Will Ferrell, who refined his impersonation of President George W. Bush on “Saturday Night Live” and later took his presidential act to Broadway, was awarded the nation’s top humor prize Sunday night.

The 44-year-old TV star went on to make movies and co-found the popular website FunnyOrDie.com in a career that won him the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

It was the Bush impression, though, that might have made the Washington crowd laugh — and cringe — the most Sunday.

“Washington is not a city much known for its comedy — at least not the intentional kind,” said PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill, who mentored Mr. Ferrell on his journalistic skills for the movie “Anchorman.”

She introduced a clip of Mr. Ferrell playing Mr. Bush in “You’re Welcome, America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” on Broadway. Dressed in a flight suit under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” in a mock Oval Office he explained how Morocco had sent a special unit of 2,000 trained monkeys to fight terrorism “and make children laugh.”

With that kind of comedy, Mr. Ferrell had accomplished something amazing, Miss Ifill said.

“He got Democrats to pay and see and applaud George W. Bush,” she said.

Conan O’Brien, Jack Black, Matthew Broderick, Ben Stiller and Billie Joe Armstrong from the rock band Green Day performed Sunday in Mr. Ferrell’s honor, joined by Molly Shannon, Tim Meadows and Andy Samberg from Mr. Ferrell’s “SNL” days.

The show was taped for broadcast Monday on PBS stations nationwide.

Mr. Black opened the show with a song-and-dance routine for his friend and tried to lead the crowd in chanting “Will will, Will will rock you.”

Mr. O’Brien thanked Mr. Ferrell for being his first guest and his last guest when he was host of NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

“It’s a rare friend who’s going to stick with you for 5 1/2 months,” he said.

Some of Mr. Ferrell’s famous sketches from “SNL” were played on the big screen, including his “more cowbell” routine and performance as Craig the Spartan cheerleader.”

When he finally received the prize, a bronze bust of Twain, Mr. Ferrell promptly dropped it on stage and tried to pick up the broken pieces. He joked that he had turned the prize down 13 times before but decided to accept this time because of the prize money (there isn’t any) and to be watched on PBS “by hundreds of people across this country.”

Story Continues →