Tue. Jan 25th, 2022

Comedy is a genre of film that is hard to perfect because what some think is knee slapping, laugh out loud material, others think is too low brow, weird, or just stupid.  One man that has come pretty close to making an overall universal sense of humor, bringing everyone of all ages to a vast amount of laughter, is Philadelphia’s own Adam McKay.  While many ask the question, “Who is Adam McKay?” they all know once his enormous track record of comedy films is listed.  McKay is the brains of many of the classic Will Ferrell movies we all know and love, as he has written and directed, “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “The Other Guys,” and “Step Brothers.”

McKay met Ferrell when they both worked at Saturday Night Live together starting in the mid 90s, where McKay served as head writer for three seasons.  The two of them became writing partners, with Ferrell as the on-screen star and McKay controlling the behind-the-scenes action, creating some of the funniest films of our generation.  I, along with the sports editor of The Quad, Oliver Suskin-Santarelli, recently had the utmost pleasure to sit down and talk with McKay about his time at Second City in Chicago, Saturday Night Live, upcoming endeavors, and his newly released, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

DD: When you were on SNL, who were your favorite cast members to write for?

AM: Everyone loved writing for Will, it was actually a bit of a problem.  We’d do read-throughs with, like, 42 sketches and he’d be in every single one of them.  He could do everything.  He was a great straight man, he could play an odd character, he would do supporting, he could do anything you wanted.  I used Darrell Hammond a lot too cause I used to write a lot of the cold opens, the Bill Clinton ones.  I love Molly Shannon; she’s really fun.  She’s a little hard to write for though, she’s so unique and original.  I would write for her sometimes.  I would dial into her characters and I would have a hard time with it.  She was best when she co-wrote what she did.  Ana Gasteyer I wrote a lot for; she’s really great too.  She can do a thousand different things.

OSS:  With Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, and David Koechner all being extremely busy, how do you work around all their schedules?

AM: Well fortunately these guys are good guys.  If they were just people who wanted a payday and didn’t give a crap, we never would have been able to do it.  The second we told them about the idea of the sequel, they were all just like, “Yes, yes, yes!”  That being said, the schedule was still tricky.  Steve was doing a lot of movies at the time.  Paul did three movies in a row, along with a play.  Koechner does stand-up now so he was touring the country and doing a couple of other things.  (Christina) Applegate had a T.V. show on NBC, so everyone was busy.  What we did was we just gave enough notice.  We’d say, “Map out these four months, a year and a half from now.”  Then, when we got the movie green lit, we were able to map it all out.

DD:  How has your improv background in Chicgao helped you as a director?

AM:  I think it’s everything; I think that is the key.  Really what improv is, when they’re teaching it right, is they’re teaching you how to write.  All the rules to writing a good scene is what improv is.  I didn’t really notice it ‘til after I left (Second-City) and went to SNL.  It was so easy for me to write scenes, and all it is, is the rules of improv: say yes, heighten, play at the top of your intelligence.  I think watching hundreds of thousands of movies helped me a lot with directing, but as far as the writing, no doubt, improv is the basis of it.  The way I direct now is all improvisational. That’s all we do.

OSS: Do you have people in mind for certain roles when writing scripts?

AM: Yeah definitely.  In the case of Mack Tannen in this movie, we wanted it to be Harrison Ford from the beginning.  So when Ferrell and I were writing it, I was doing an impression of Harrison Ford, cause you want that cadence to be exactly right.  We just wrote a script that didn’t get made, and the whole premise of the script is that Ferrell was a stepdad who was the greatest stepdad ever.  He makes sure the kids get straight As, the house is clean, the wife goes back to get her degree, and then the real dad shows up and he’s just a nightmare, and we wanted it to be Matthew McConaughey.  We wrote the whole script in McConaughey’s voice…and then he said he wasn’t going to do it, and we were just confused by it.  So you have to be a little careful with that sometimes.  If you use it as a guideline it can be helpful.

DD:  What has been your favorite movie that you’ve done?

AM: Each one I love in a different way.  I’ll just name the one that anytime it’s on T.V. I end up watching at least 20 minutes of and still laugh, which is kind of pathetic cause I’ve seen it a thousand times: “Step Brothers.”  To this day, “Step Brothers” makes me laugh really hard.  And I love “Anchorman,” and I love “Talladega Nights.”  “Talladega Nights” could be the best movie we’ve made as far as structure, story, and the look.  But I don’t know what it is about “Step Brothers.” It’s so unhinged.  There’s so little responsibility paid towards making it a legit movie.  It’s grown men watching Shark Week with samurai swords.  It’s just everything we love distilled into one movie.  It’s also the one movie that is most polarizing.  I’ve met people that hate that movie and people that love it, so it makes sense that it would still make me laugh.

OSS:  With all of your films having been hit comedies so far, do you ever see yourself moving into a more dramatic field at some point?

AM: Yeah, I mean we’ve kicked around the idea.  There’s this script I’ve been playing with about Lee Atwater, the famous political operative from the late 70s-80s.  He invented a lot of the dirty tricks, political plays that you see nowadays.  Crazy story. If you’ve ever got 10 minutes to kill, read his Wikipedia description—it’s an insane story.  But it is a little bit funny.  That’s one I really want to do, and wouldn’t call that a strict comedy. It’s more like David O’Russell funny, where it’s got funny elements.  Eventually I’ve got to make that movie. It’s just a hard one to get financing for cause it’s not a big, splashy idea, but I think it could be cool.  I’d love to do a horror movie some day.  I think horror and comedy are very close to each other, as far as timing and expectation.  It’s about setting up straight lines of comfort and breaking them.  It’s a lot of the same kind of, architectural girders…I lost that metaphor, but you know what I mean.

Drew Drevyanko is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at AD739888@wcupa.edu.

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