The Genius of Will Ferrell

MTV’s plan to give the actor its first Comedic Genius honors at Sunday’s Movie Awards keeps things classy.

By Jere Hester
|  Thursday, Apr 11, 2013  |  Updated 3:36 PM EDT
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Genius isn't a word ordinarily associated with Will Ferrell or MTV (at least in this post-music videos, barely post-“Jersey Shore” era). But the network’s plan to give the ex-“Saturday Night Live” star its first Comedic Genius Award at Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards resounds with the piercing brilliance of an endlessly struck cowbell.

The kudos are certainly more appropriate than the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Ferrell received in 2011, an honor, in some respects, as ill-fitting as the American flag thong he donned for a hilarious workplace sketch in the first “SNL” installment after 9/11.
 
That’s not a knock on Ferrell or MTV, but a recognition of his often-outrageous brand of humor, his audience and the generation of comedy he’s helping shape across multiple media platforms. To paraphrase Ferrell’s “Anchorman” creation Ron Burgundy, the MTV award is, in its own way, a classy move.

“Genius” is a word filled with hyperbolic potential, in keeping with Ferrell’s knack for the comedy of excess. He practices a silly-smart style of humor filled with buffoonish, ego-driven characters – from Burgundy to “Talledega Nights” racecar driver Ricky Bobby to “Blades of Glory” skater Chazz Michael Michaels. But Ferrell is laughing with us as we’re laughing at him.

Ferrell, at 45, a member of the original MTV generation, has morphed along with the once video-driven channel. He shares with MTV a spirit of entertainment exploration as embodied in the network’s original man-on-the-moon logo. He mined his TV success into a movie career and an online mini-empire, via Funny Or Die, which takes a giant leap Monday with its first nearly movie-length offering, a Steve Jobs biopic parody (“iSteve”). Ferrell, unlike many stars who forsook television after a taste of big-screen success, isn’t afraid to bounce from TV to web to film to stage (his one-man show, “You're Welcome America – A Final Night with George W. Bush” proved memorable).

If Ferrell’s not a genius, he’s surely damn smart.

For all Ferrell’s fame, his name hasn’t come up in any serious way as a potential Academy Awards host. That’s okay – he seems more at home with the MTV Awards, which never made Oscar’s mistake of taking itself seriously about trying to be funny. The off-kilter categories – Best Fight and Best Shirtless Performance are hot contests this year – reflect a comic sensibility that delves with that of Ferrell, who won the 2007 Best Kiss honors for his epic make out session with Sacha Baron Cohen in “Talledega Nights.”
 
On Sunday night, Ferrell will be playing to a crowd that includes those of us who can’t wait for “Anchorman 2.”  It might be asking too much for him and the MTV Movie Awards to stay classy. But we’ll take funny over classy every time.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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