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Explainer: Will Ferrell's 5 best 'SNL' skits

  • IMAGE: Ferrell as Bush
    Will Ferrell portrayed many characters, both real and fictional, including then-President George W. Bush.

    With all apologies to the "Saturday Night Live" greats, has there ever been a cast member with more memorable characters than Will Ferrell?

    His skills as an impressionist and character development, and his ability to run the spectrum between deadpan and manic and everywhere in between, made him an ideal member of the troupe. Who else could play Saddam Hussein, Janet Reno and the Unabomber? A cheerleader and a 1970s rock musician? James Lipton and Harry Caray?

    Ferrell constantly made viewers laugh as an "SNL" regular from 1995-2002, and on the occasions when he’s come back as a guest performer since. It’s tough to pick just five Ferrell skits as favorites, but here is one man’s opinion.

  • George W. Bush

    “Saturday Night Live” has never been shy about parodying the presidency, with hits and misses along the way. But Ferrell’s George W. Bush captured the essentials of Bush’s personality as well as his speech patterns and mannerisms. Ferrell was just accurate enough to be biting, but different enough that it was always clear that this was a joke.

    This was particularly tough given that the Bush presidency itself was among the most challenging and the controversial in recent memory, with dangers from abroad and detractors at home both making him a tricky candidate for comedy. Ferrell was equal to the task, capping it off with a brilliant return in 2008 to endorse a very reluctant John McCain. Though Bush 43 wasn’t always popular, Ferrell always made viewers laugh.

  • Neil Diamond

    Neil Diamond songs like “Sweet Caroline” are still a staple on classic rock stations, karaoke bars, and baseball stadiums everywhere. But was there a darker side to the music legend?

    Probably not — but there sure is in the way Ferrell played him. In a “Behind the Music” parody that appeared in the late 1990s, Ferrell's Diamond discusses murder, heavy drinking and pornography, among other unsavory acts. Though his depiction of crooner Robert Goulet was also memorable, the Diamond impersonation gets the nod here as the best portrayal of a musical legend that totally flips that singer’s image on its head. You’ll never listen to “Forever in Blue Jeans” or “America” the same way again.

  • Alex Trebek

    While many of his original characters were of the high-energy variety, playing the role of the “Jeopardy” host allowed Ferrell to be more of the straight man, having to remain calm while dealing with the idiocy and abuse of the “celebrity” contestants.

    Of all of his impressions, the Alex Trebek ones remain the most timeless. That’s partially because “Jeopardy” is still on the air, and partially because Ferrell’s deadpan performance here never goes out of style.

    In particular, the interplay with Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery was always a hit. Connery heaped nonstop abuse on Trebek, to the point where if this had been a real program, the host would surely have snapped and attacked the actor with a telestrator. But watching Ferrell just stand there, steaming, made this the best game show sketch in "SNL" history.

  • Craig Buchanan, Spartans High School Cheerleader

    The world of high school chess has never seen a better pair of cheerleaders that Ferrell and Cheri Oteri, who played Craig and Arianna, the most enthusiastic Spartans in the history of East Lake High.

    Of course, they technically weren’t on the main squad. And they weren’t invited to most of the sporting events they attended. And the athletes and coaches were usually aggressively uninterested in having them there. That might have stopped less dedicated teenagers, but not Craig and Arianna! They took their talents to places like swim meets, bowling tournaments and ping-pong matches. With their creative cheers, unusual dance numbers and ever-present boom box, they surely gave nightmares to the cast of “Bring It On” and all of its subsequent sequels — and in the process, became seared in the memories of everyone who went through the following days singing things like “Who’s that doing [insert activity here]? It’s me! It’s me!” during math class.

  • Gene Frenkle from Blue Oyster Cult

    Wait just a minute — you've gotta have more cowbell!

    It's tough to find an "SNL" viewer who doesn't love Ferrell's portrayal of cowbell player Gene Frenkle, who lent his aggressive playing to a recording of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." Frenkle wasn't real, but Ferrell played him so well that actual band members later related they were occasionally asked about Frenkle.

    As with most of Ferrell’s memorable characters, the key was how he interacted with the rest of the cast, in particular guest host Christopher Walken, who played a fictional music producer. Walken’s egotistical yet understated direction, combined with Ferrell’s energetic strutting, led to the sketch that is gut-bustingly hilarious, even all these years after it first aired.

    In fact, now I got a fever, and the only prescription is … more cowbell! And more Will Ferrell.

Photos: Will Ferrell’s wonderful world

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  1. Horsing around

    Will Ferrell tackles the open range and the Spanish language as a Mexican ranch heir in 2012's "Casa de Mi Padre." (John Estes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. All dressed up

    Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis goof around in a very serious way while presenting an award at the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, 2012, in Los Angeles. "As serious musicians, it is our pleasure to step out from our day jobs for a moment to present the Academy Award for best original song," Ferrell deadpans. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Needs more cowbell

    Ferrell reigns as the King of Bacchus at the 2012 Krewe of Bacchus Parade on Feb. 19, 2012, in New Orleans. In addition to the traditional beads and coins, the actor also adds a veyr Ferrell-like touch by tossing mini cowbells. (Skip Bolen / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. On the mic

    Tacking another line on to his sports resume, Will Ferrell announces the starting lineups at the New Orleans Hornets/Chicago Bulls basketball game in New Orleans on Feb. 8, 2012, and poked fun at nearly all the players: "At guard, No. 1, his favorite movie is 'The Notebook' -- Derrick Rose!' he shouts. (Bill Haber / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Daddy time

    Will Ferrell spends time with son Mattias at the L.A. Lakers/Denver Nuggets basketball game on April 3, 2011. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Getting a big head

    Will Ferrell voices the title character in 2010's "Megamind," playing a brainy alien who serves as a criminal mastermind behind evil doings in fictional Metro City. (DreamWorks Animation) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dynamic duo

    Will Ferrell, right, stars with Mark Wahlberg in the 2010 comedy, "The Other Guys." The two play police detectives who look up to another cop duo, played by Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. In prehistoric times

    Ferrell stars with Danny McBride and Anna Friel in the 2008 big-screen adaptation of the 1970s TV show, "Land of the Lost." Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, who, along with his team, gets sucked into an alternative prehistoric universe where dinosaurs reign and evil, but slow-moving Sleestaks are the biggest threat. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Step-Brothers'

    Ferrell teams up again with "Talladega Nights" co-star John C. Reilly, in "Step Brothers." Ferrell plays Brennan Huff, a sporadically employed 39-year-old who lives with his mother. Reilly plays Dale Doback, a terminally unemployed 40-year-old who lives with his father. When their respective parents marry and move in together, Brennan and Dale are forced to live with each other as step brothers. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Semi-Pro'

    Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Association's Flint Michigan Tropics in the 2007 comedy "Semi-Pro." (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Iceman

    Will Ferrell (in orange jumpsuit) plays Chazz Michael Michaels, a former singles figure skater who is forced to pair up with Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) in order to get back on the ice in 2007's "Blades of Glory." (Dreamworks) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Speed racer

    Ferrell stars as NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby in 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." At one point, when he believes he's on fire, Ricky Bobby screams, "Help me, Jesus! Help me, Tom Cruise! Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft to get the fire off me!" (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Breaking into song

    In the 2004 movie version of the musical version of "The Producers," Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprise their Broadway roles of Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock, while Ferrell joins the fun as wacky Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. Franz tells the boys, "I had nothing to do with the war! I didn't even know there was a war on. We lived in the back, right across from Switzerland. All we heard was yodelling... yoodle le he hoo." (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Funeral crasher

    In Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson's 2004 film "Wedding Crashers," Farrell plays Chaz, a man who manages to top Wilson and Vaughn's method of finding single women at weddings, by crashing funerals. "Grief is nature's most powerful aphrodisiac," he tells Wilson. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Time to twitch your nose, Sam

    Ferrell starred as Darrin Stephens with Nicole Kidman as his witch wife, Samantha, in the 2005 remake of the TV hit "Bewitched." (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. You stay classy, San Diego

    In 2004's "Anchorman," Ferrell stars as Ron Burgundy, the top-rated anchorman in San Diego in the '70s. When feminism marches into the newsroom in the form of ambitious newswoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) it's more than a battle between two perfectly coiffed anchor-persons ... it's war. (Dreamworks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Show me your belly button

    Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller starred in the 2004 big-screen version of "Starsky & Hutch," but Ferrell managed to steal the show as Big Earl, a convict who's attracted to Hutch. When Big Earl convinces Hutch to show him his belly button, he marvels, saying, "It's like a little bowl of oatmeal with a hole in it. I got one too. I just got a little more brown sugar on mine." (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Santa's helper

    Ferrell stars as Buddy, a full-grown man who was taken in by Santa's elves in 2003's "Elf." When he's sent off to have a normal life in the big city, he's astounded by the differences between the real world and Santa's village. When he sees a department store Santa, he tells him, "You sit on a throne of lies." (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Frank the Tank

    Ferrell stars as one of three former college buddies (the others are Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn), now in their 30s, who start their own fraternity in 2003's "Old School." During a house party, a fellow partier asks him what he's going to do the next day, to which Ferrell replies: "Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we're going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond." (Dreamworks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. 'What is your favorite sound?'

    Ferrell as effusive host James Lipton of "Inside The Actors' Studio" with guest Billy Bob Thornton as himself on "SNL." The real James Lipton was so taken with Ferrell's impression that he had Ferrell (as Lipton) interview him on his own show. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. It's about 'strategery'

    Ferrell took on President George W. Bush with a searing impression on "SNL" that emphasized the president's tendency toward malapropisms. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Fashion plate

    In 2000's "Zoolander" Ferrell plays Mogatu, a fashion designer who creates the Derelicte line. He explains his line this way, "It is a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique." (Paramount) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. More cowbell!

    This "Saturday Night Live" skit is a "rare tape" of Blue Oyster Cult recording their classic "Don't Fear the Reaper" with an added dose of cowbell. Band members are played by Chris Kattan, Jimmy Fallon and Chris Parnell, while Ferrell plays the enthusiastic cowbell expert. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. What is love?

    Ferrell and Chris Kattan starred in 1998's "Night at the Roxbury," a film based on the "Saturday Night Live" skit about two annoying brothers who constantly bob their heads in unison to the Haddaway song, "What Is Love?" Roger Ebert wrote of the film, "It is incompetent, stupid, and horrible beyond belief." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Not quite ready for prime time

    Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer played quirky singers and music teachers Marty Culp and Bobbi Mohan-Culp in a recurring skit on "Saturday Night Live." (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
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