The danger of Will Ferrell’s live Broadway show, Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome America — A Final Night With George W. Bush, was that it ran the risk of feeling like a friend’s home movies of a trip we already took, to a place we don’t want to revisit, five minutes after we left. But then he “parachuted” down to the stage, prayed to a “blonde, almost Swiss-looking Jesus,” and showed us a penis. Lesson learned: Sometimes it’s not where you’re going, but with whom.
Ferrell, who introduced his Bush impersonation on Saturday Night Live, had plenty of time to master the former president’s mannerisms, clipped Texas accent, and trademark smirk. The tricky part is that until last night’s HBO special, he only had to do it for six minutes at a time, tops. But to hold onto Bush (and our attention) for an hour and a half—not to mention live, onstage? That takes cojones, and the dude proved he’s got ’em…which we know, because we saw them. Or somebody’s, anyway.
addCredit(“Phillip V. Caruso/HBO”)
But what did we actually learn in Ferrell’s surprisingly didacticprecis of the Bush presidency? That he prefers Wings to the Beatles, Joey over Friends,and digs that “Tiger Woods guy” currently occupying his old seat. Hecan’t get a pound from his jiggy Secret Service agent, but brings outthe Super Freakin Condi Rice, and practices a sexual technique known as the “Westerngrip.” There are so very many things about our ex-prez that we did notknow. And at some points, when the momentum lagged, it probably shouldhave stayed that way. We could have spent a little less time recountingall the world leaders Bush met, or that one time he and the rest of theBush boys got stuck in a cave-in. But every time Ferrell hit a dullpatch, like gratuitously dropping the N-word or mispronouncing the nameof German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he’d bust out a bit of inspiredinanity like his extended riff on the Castilian lisp and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Refreshing sangria and Penelope Cruz have bleep-all to do with Bush 43, but hey, it was hilarious.
If there was a surprise in Ferrell’s performance, it was the seriousturn he took in talking about the war. Moments of silence aren’tstandard in a stand-up routine, but then, this was hardly a typicalcomedy show. Ferrell mined for humor, but he also took pains to berevelatory, reminding us, for instance, of Bush’s apparently hostilerelationship with the New York Times, but indicting the paperfor being complicit in the run-up to the Iraq War. He mentioned thatwhen the president touched ground to survey the damage of hurricaneKatrina it was in Mobile, Ala., not New Orleans. He brought up thatpainful seven minutes of silence after Bush was told about thedestruction of the World Trade Center. And then, true to form, hebrought the funny back as he tagged audience members with their ownBush-style nicknames. Was it the most even (primarily) one-man show onthe boards? No. But I’m pretty sure Nerd Alert, the Fiber Man, NesteaPlunge, and the Scholar of Unnecessary Subjects were thoroughlyentertained.
What about you, PopWatchers, what did you think?