Will Ferrell on His South Coast Repertory Acting Class and Pay-to-Play Standup at Golden Bear
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"I would start by singing the theme song to Star Trek. The whole [in falsetto:] aaaaaaaaa-aaaahhhhh, aaa-aaa-aaa ahh-ahhhhh .... But I'd sing the whole thing. Aaaaaaaaa-aaaahhhhh, aaa-aaa-aaa ahh ahhhhh. That would usually get applause or some reaction. And then [I'd say] I was originally the singer and I don't have any testicles."
-Will Ferrell, to WTF podcaster Marc Maron, on our Holiday Film Issue 2013 cover boy's first performance on stage at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach.
Earlier, we brought you Ferrell talking with Maron about his Righteous Brothers' bandleader father, watching Irvine Improv open-mic performers from the back of the club and life in his "Park Watts Apartments."
The best way to consume the interview is not by reading the transcript below but by listening to the entire podcast at WTF with Marc Maron: Episode 450 - Will Ferrell.
The following snippet from that time-capsule worthy interview began with Ferrell explaining to Maron that while he wanted to be in front of the camera while pursuing a broadcasting degree at USC, he had no desire to go out and actually report stories. So he also studied acting.
MARC MARON: In LA? In town?
WILL FERRELL: In ... down in Orange County ... South Coast Repertory theater, which is a big rep theater, and my mom gave me a nine week scene study class as a Christmas present. And so I took the class and ...
So you took this class and you're like 19 years old?
And who's in that class?
Housewives [both laugh] and local Orange County actors and ...
So you're doing scenes with a woman ...
... and she's like hit the wall at home ...
... and she's trying to make her life relevant again?
And yet I loved it. It was fascinating. And then I was trying ... and I enrolled in a standup comedy workshop.
Oh, who taught that?
Hmm, usually I know the failed comic who embarks on that.
You would never know this guy.
So this was the, as my mom terms it, the graduate school portion of my life because she said you can live at home for free as long as you are moving forward doing these things, so very progressive ...
Pursuing the dream.
Yeah, or something.
What was your brother doing?
He was in school. He was three years behind me.
So Steve Klasky comedy workshops at Irvine Valley College, which took place in a junior high classroom where there was a mic and Peavey amp.
Plugged into the guitar amp directly?
Exactly. And once again, the first class 30 people were in the class and everyone had to get up on the mic and introduce themselves. The second class it was down to 20. By the third class, there were just eight of us. And you're just doing your act into a microphone, and he's not really equipped to critique you in any way.
[Giggling] What did he do?
He's a comic himself but the thing I noticed in a course description is it ended in a performance at the Golden Bear down in Huntington Beach.
I was like, OK, this will force me to get up on stage.
Do you remember your act?
Yeah-yeah-yeah, I started with a nice block of Star Trek material.
OK, a couple impressions in there?
I would start by singing the theme song to Star Trek.
The whole [in falsetto:] aaaaaaaaa-aaaahhhhh, aaa-aaa-aaa ahh ahhhhh .... But I'd sing the whole thing. [Falsetto again:] Aaaaaaaaa-aaaahhhhh, aaa-aaa-aaa ahh ahhhhh.
That would usually get applause or some reaction. And then [I'd say] I was originally the singer and I don't have any testicles.
Yeah. then I'd go through the show and ...
And that was the opener?
That was the opener.
A long singing part and a no-balls joke?
A no-balls joke.
And then it was off to the races. But I did well enough in the final performance to be recruited by Steve Klasky to be in his stable of comedians that would do local shows. So this was '91-'92 which was, you know, one of the booms of standup comedy.
Sure. I'm not sure when the official one happened, but ...
But in that, you know, where every restaurant in town had a comedy night, which literally meant building a stage in the corner.
Right, yeah, a sad attempt to draw people into a failing business.
Yeah, so I did this in all these places in Orange County.
With what, like eight minutes?
Just opening for Klasky?
No, Klasky would open and Klasky would then bring each of us up one at a time and the deal was no one got paid but everyone got stage time.
So he recruited a bunch of guys, all from his class, and they would pay him ...
Yep, he got all the money.
... and he'd get these gigs where he got all the money for the stage time?
[Sarcastically] That's beautiful. And it was under the radar because this was Orange County and no one was going to crack down on that guy.
Do you remember any of the other people in it? Did any of them go on to anything?
No. I never talk to any of the other comics.
Ferrell goes on to tell Maron how he later took his standup to the Santa Monica Improv and the Ice House, but he knew deep down telling jokes was not his thing. So he simultaneously enrolled at the Groundlings improvisational theater in Los Angeles and later graduated to the Groundlings main cast and, after that, Saturday Night Live.
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