Irrelevant Topics continues with a conversation featuring Actor/Comedian Will Ferrell. I met Will in 1997 when he was a new cast member on SNL and I was a musical guest. Somehow during rehearsals I got asked to participate in a skit with him. Over the years I got to watch him work several more times during his tenure as a cast member, undeniably a comic genius. We got to perform together once again at a benefit for Tsunami Relief in 2005. Here we got to catch up and talk about unitards, cirque du soliel and local 70′s TV commercials. Here is Pt. 1 of the conversation.
B: Hey this is Beck calling.
W: How are you man?
B: I’m good, how are you?
W: I’m solid.
W: Do you use the term solid in your life?
B: I do. I do use solid.
W: As an adjective?
B: Sometimes. I use it as sort of…
W: I’m just starting to use it more and more.
B: I think I need to work it in.
W: You should think about it. Give it a little test drive and see if you like it.
B: Yeah… Do you have any other good ones for me?
W: Umm… I, well, I’m tapering back fantastic cause I think I overused it too much.
W: “I’m Fantastic.”
W: And then later I realized, “No, I’m not. I’m not bad, but I don’t know if I’m fantastic.”
B: It loses its luster if you overuse it.
W: Yeah, it’s like too many exclamation points in emails. I do that a lot too.
B: A word struck me the other day that made me laugh. It’s the word “kudos”.
W: Kudos. I wonder where that’s even derived from? Kudos? In context it’s supposed to be, “kudos to you.” Like, “great job?”
B: I know, somebody came up with it and it just perpetuated somehow. Unless it was master minded in a meeting— a kudos meeting.
W: Well, there’s also Kudos milk chocolate granola bars.
B: (Laughing) See I was thinking of starting a jazz-fusion ensemble called Kudos.
B: And maybe tying in a sponsorship.
W: From the bars?
W: Oh, that’s a great idea. And would you wear t-shirts that say “Kudos”? Or do you just come out in kimonos? For some reason that’s kind of a—- “the guys in Kudos wear kimonos.” I don’t know? That could be kind of fun… You know I was driving home in anticipation of this phone call thinking about when we did the benefit for the Tsunami Relief (benefit at the Wiltern Theater in 2004), and I came out in the middle of your song, gyrating against a—- what’s that instrument?
B: The harmonium?
W: The harmonium. Yeah. And that might be, our little exchange, might be one of the highlights of my career right there.
B: I was definitely impressed by the pneumatic motion of your lower extremities towards my harmonium.
W: (laughing) Right, but you—
B: And your pelvic thrust ability…
W: Right. But your delivery was perfect as to how, kind of, slightly annoyed you were with me but yet you still committed to the song.
W: What’s the song again? Because it’s such a beautiful song. (humming the song) It’s one of your more heartfelt songs.
B: It was, “Lonesome Tears” maybe?
W: That’s it. Yup. You were performing it very earnestly. It was the perfect setup.
B: You know, I think I retired the song after that.
W: Oh no! (laughing) I kind of ruined it for you…
B: No, actually it was missing something after that, because you were dressed in that red spandex unitard. I’ve seen unitards but I’ve never seen one that actually goes over your head as well.
W: Well that’s because you’ve gotta get the special skull cap edition. They make them for speed skaters and stuff.
B: And where did you come upon a speed skating uniform?
W: Capezio dance stores. Yeah.
B: It was an especially good color.
W: The red. Yeah. It’s a speedo. I still hold onto it because you never know when you might need a red unitard with matching cap. It was from an act we used to do, me and two buddies of mine, called Simpatico, where we were like a bad Cirque du Soleil group. And we came out with a lot of presentation, but our tricks were unremarkable. That’s where I got it originally.
B: There’s a lot you can do, I think, with a unitard. Well shit, I mean, if you ever get that back together I think Kudos could provide some music.
W: (laughing) Or we could open for Kudos.
B: That’s right. What is it about the aesthetic of that whole Cirque du Soleil thing? It just sort of sprung up and it was so completely evolved as a strange manifestation of entertainment. And I think the ’80s had some molding factor to its character.
W: (laughs) I think so too. And it was such a special experience and now there’s like 10 of them. They’re in Vegas. I love that there’s like 20 traveling versions of Cirque du Soleil.
B: You know, to me it’s almost like the avant-garde for Vegas, when it’s your moment to step out into the avant-garde. Then you end up getting those blown glass unicorns from the gift shop. Not to diminish their value. I’m talking more of the aesthetic of the presentation—-which is great in its way—
W: Umm… I’m going to be honest with you, I will have to mention this in my blog, this little blog that I run, that you were kind of disparaging. ‘The Cirqus’, we call ourselves.
B: I was trying to, I don’t know, ascertain an obvious truth. But then it veered off into a kind of disparaging direction.
W: Right, and then you checked yourself.
B: Then I checked myself and you put up a little traffic cone for me, because I didn’t realize I was going onto the other side of the road there. So thank you for that.
W: Well, You could give me kudos for it if you wanted to.
B: I could. Or I could just give you a back rub.
W: I actually auditioned for Cirque du Soleil at one point.
B: You did?
W: I’m just having a memory. Because they were doing the current version of whatever the current traveling show is down at the South Coast Plaza in Orange County and that’s when I was living back at home in Irvine post-college days and they had an open call for clowns and mimes (laughs) which I had no experience in but I thought “Let’s just get in there and see what happens” and they already had the big tent set up and then I can’t even remember what? They had people go up in groups and pretend to kind of do whatever they thought they should do but I never got a callback so… oh well.
B: What did you do? Did you have to dress up?
W: No, no, no. I think that they were just trying to teach you some basic Commedia kind of moves and…
W: Yeah. But I never got a follow up call so I guess I did not have what they were looking for. (laughing) That certain unspoken European, French-Canadian…
W: Yeah, yeah.
B: Pizzazz. See. That’s another word that I would put into the category with kudos.
B: Oh, Can you hold on one second? I have a technical…
W: Glitch? You have an old cassette recorder don’t you?
B: Yes. Radio Shack.
W: Did you have that phase as a kid? “Uh, let’s tape record ourselves.”
B: (laughs) I had an entire era of my childhood where I was obsessed with cassette tape recorders.
W: Yeah we did too. Because you have the microphone and then you do fake shows. You do funny voices. You’d also just log hours of strange conversation as a kid and just play it back. But I remember that was a common theme: “I know, let’s tape record ourselves.” “Great!” But what a simple joy! (laughing) It’s like what, exactly? Why was it so fun?
B: I know. And there are probably many, many kids that were doing the same thing. Whoever invented the cassette technology was not developing it for the purpose of 9 year-olds to create their own imaginary radio stations, which is what we did. Me and my friends were obsessed with the Muzak station. They don’t really have Muzak stations anymore and I was mourning the loss of that recently. I was remembering that when I was a kid they had these Muzak stations which were straight orchestral instrumental arrangements of pop hits of the day. There were no vocals, it was all instrumental. But they did have a DJ and we thought the DJ’s were great because they were really mellow. They were really, really sedated, really relaxed. And there would be Muzak covers of the most inappropriate songs too.
W: (Laughing) Like “Hot Child in the City”.
B: And “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” but it would be an oboe doing (both simultaneously make sound of oboe playing “Hit me with your best shot”) And then all the typical power ballads…
W: (laughing) A little Pat Benetar.
B: Some Juice Newton. We used to use the songs as a little musical bed for us to sing over.
W: That’s a great idea.
B: And our station was called “K-Mellow”.
W: (laughing) And you’d sing the lyrics?
B: We would make up lyrics over the music, which, unfortunately, I don’t have any tapes of. But there were some good lyrics. You know, gratuitously obscene and mostly pretty random, but I think that was probably the founding of a lot of my songwriting right there. Did you guys do any radio station kind of thing?
W: I’m trying to think. I think we did more like “This is the Jerry Davis Show” and “Hi, I’m Jerry Davis and my guest here…”. We would just do, I guess, radio plays in a sense. I guess they were shows that were supposed to be, in our minds, be on the radio. But we wouldn’t say “Hi, I’m a DJ, yeah.” So yeah, we would just go right into the show that we assumed people would want to listen to. But yeah, we missed out on the radio thing.
B: We did a thing where we would do the back announcement, “This is K-Mellow. This is Todd Thompson here with guest…”
W: You were really committed to that format.
B: Oh yeah. “We have in-studio guest…” What was that magician’s name?
W: Doug Henning?
B: Yeah. “We’ve got in-studio guest Doug Henning. Where did you get those suspenders Doug?”
W: “Well thanks for asking. Uh, just picked ‘em up the other day…”
B: (laughing) “Can I see if that moustache is real? I love the way it tapers by the way.” (Both laughing) So you grew up in Southern California right?
B: Do you remember the TV commercials for, I think, it was a place called Schick Shadel? I don’t know why they were always playing them during the afternoon cartoons and during all the kids shows, but it was a treatment center for, I think, addiction and they would electrocute you as a cure. I seem to recall that was part of the thing.
W: Oh wow, I don’t remember that at all.
B: “Come to Schick Shadel…” We were terrified, because some day, if you got a beer or something you might end up at Schick Shadel and you would have to get the treatment. We used to do commercials on our fake radio show where you would get ‘the treatment.’ “Hey, step right in here. Put this thing on your head. Okay, we’re going to press the button now.”
W: (laughing) Yeah. The commercials that come to mind for me as a kid were Wilson’s House of Suede and Leather, I don’t know if you remember that? It was up on Wilshire, or in Beverly Hills somewhere. I was an Orange County kid so I would never go to LA other than like an occasional field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits or Natural History Museum so Wilson’s House of Suede and Leather just looked amazing. And also Zachary All clothing.
B: Zachary All! I remember that.
W: Yeah, where they would go through the list of all the suit sizes? “We’ve got portly short, portly tall, full breasted, double breasted, triple breasted. Like racks and racks of suits. So Zachary All and Carpeteria…
B: Oh Carpeteria! I remember that!
W: (Singing the jingle) CarpeteriAAA…
B: (Joining in) CarpetiriaAAA…
W: Like a big genie with his hands on his waist.
B: And they used to roll out the carpets really violently on the commercials.
W: (laughing) And then, of course, there was Toyota of Orange and they had a jingle “Well you won’t get a lemon…”
W: (singing together) “At Toyota of Orange!”
B: I remember that one. And of course Cal Worthington. That’s just a given.
W: Almost not even worth mentioning.
B: “This is Cal Worthington!” I don’t even know where he was from? He had a really specific accent and a great cowboy hat.
W: I think he was from somewhere like Texas or the Midwest.
B: Yeah, Texas probably. And he would just list off the cars endlessly. “We got a ’73 Ford $1479.99 and we can get you…” He’d list a hundred cars and you’d just be waiting for the show to come back because the commercial would go on forever. It’s funny about California, maybe more so during that time, since there was such a great influx in the ’30s and ’40s of people from Texas, Oklahoma, that whole dustbowl influx, that it really left a mark. I remember a lot of Western type people being around then. I think unconsciously we grew up with a little of that that western accent. There’s a little twang that got passed on.
W: I think even a little bit through the ’60s, because my folks are both from North Carolina and they came out here in 1964.
B: I don’t know if its been ironed out by now.
W: It might have.
B: I think it has been.
W: Thank god!
B: (laughing) Hopefully my kids…
W: How many do you have?
B: I have two. How about you?
W: Yeah, we have two.
B: You have two as well?
W: We’ve two, and uh… I don’t like it.
B: You don’t like it?
W: I don’t like it one bit. It’s too much time to have to deal with them. With just their needs, you know?
B: (laughing) They’re needful.
W: They’re completely needful.
B: I think that’s the one thing they should tell you about parenthood beforehand.
W: That you’re gonna have to carry a lot of stuff.
B: And you’re gonna have to go into training. You’re gonna need to train as if you’re going into elite…
W: Elite Special Forces.
B: Elite Special Forces. Special Ops. Cause that’s the level of rigor invovled.
W: They also don’t tell you, I mean, it’s obvious on the one hand but you kind of don’t believe the accumulation of stuff you’re gonna take on between toys and supplies. No exaggeration it’s easily triple what we probably had. So we’re in the process of planning…
B: An intervention?
Pt. 2 continued next week.