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Will Ferrell vs. Zach Galifianakis
In honor of this week's The Campaign, we're putting America's biggest funnymen against each other.
by James Brady Ryan
Some comedians have respectable careers for many years, put out good and reliably funny work, and that's that. But sometimes comedians have Moments, and suddenly they're everywhere and everyone knows their names and maybe they're the funniest person alive. Will Ferrell certainly had that moment, and Zach Galifianakis had (is having?) something similar. Now that they're starring opposite each other in this week's The Campaign, we though we should look at four areas each man has made a mark and see who comes out on top.
Try and cast your minds back to a dark time called "Saturday Night Live in the '90s." Before DVR's and the ability to share your favorite video clips online, being an SNL viewer was a much more grueling task: there was no cherry picking the good stuff — you were committed to watching an hour and a half of sketch comedy that missed as much as it hit. This was the era of "that show isn't even funny anymore," but there were always bright spots in the cast — and Will Ferrell was, for a while, the brightest spot. Ferrell's trio of classic impressions (Alex Trebek, George W. Bush, and James Lipton) were screamingly funny, and that's to say nothing of the original characters like the Spartan cheerleaders and music teacher Marty Culp, which still hold up today.
Of course, it can't all be wonderful, and characters like head-bobbing night club staple Steve, while funny for a while, eventually lost their appeal. Elsewhere, besides some voice work for shows like the decidedly weird The Oblongs and a few one episode guest appearances here and there, Ferrell didn't do much on TV around this time. More recently, he's had runs both successful (on Eastbound and Down) and less successful (on The Office). But he's a primarily a movie star now.
Zach Galifianakis' TV career has been decidedly spotty and obviously less robust than Ferrell's. Galifianakis had a recurring role on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as somewhat insane (what else?) actor Tairy Greene. Now, the humor of that show is decidedly not for everyone — it's entirely possible that most of the audience who loved The Hangover would switch channels on it pretty quickly. But Galifianakis played right into the series' bizarro world, which sometimes borders on anti-comedy, and it's always a hoot to watch a man with a sweater tied around his neck berate children. Then there's Bored to Death, HBO's decidedly un-sober detective comedy. As the offbeat Ray, Galifianakis proved he could be funny without being quite so screamingly weird.
Galifianakis's rough patches on the small screen may have had more to do with show problems than actor problems, but they're still rough. Tru Calling, an aggressively mishandled piece of sci-fi schlock, cast him as mentor, friend, and morgue worker Davis — there was simply no way that Galifianakis and his charms could save the role. And then there was Dog Bites Man, a partially scripted show that had actors pretending to be journalists and tricking random folks into believing that fiction. The man himself has said he was pleased by the show's very short run, because being a part of it made him too uncomfortable.