Will Ferrell on Watching Irvine Improv Open Mics and Life in "Park Watts Apartments"
Photo by Gemma LaMana, cover design by Dustin Ames
"... I had an older neighbor, in Irvine's only apartment complex by the way."
"Park West Apartments."
"Which the rich kids referred to as 'Park Watts.'"
Oh, really, it was bad?
"It was just that one black family [was among those living there] but everyone thought, wow, it's ethnic."
-Will Ferrell, our Holiday Film Issue 2013 cover boy, to WTF podcaster Marc Maron.
You've no doubt seen Will Ferrell all over the place, in and out of character, promoting Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. And, as is usual with the open book of a comedy actor, he's talked to interviewers about more than this or any other movie he has been in.
But I don't recall Ferrell ever having gone into the depth of his younger years in Orange County as he did in Episode 450 of the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, which went up on iTunes Dec. 9.
I'd wager part of this was due to host Maron's lack of knowledge about Irvine beyond the Irvine Improv where he's done standup many times before. (And, as longtime WTF listeners know, it's not Maron's favorite comedy club by a longshot.)
Anyway, during the interview, Newport Beach-born, Irvine-raised Ferrell talks about watching open mic performers from the back of the same Irvine Improv, his father's career as a bandleader for the Righteous Brothers (anyone else remember Bill Medley's Music City nightclub in Fountain Valley?) and, yes, life in "Park Watts Apartments."
Do yourself a favor and listen to the entire podcast at WTF with Marc Maron: Episode 450 - Will Ferrell.
WILL FERRELL: Irvine.
Oh my God, there's nothing in Irvine, is there?
The mean streets of Irvine; oh, you don't know Irvine.
Tell me about it ...
It is tough.
It is ...
All I know about Irvine is that mall.
Uh ... That mall where the Improv is. [Maron's referring to Irvine Spectrum; the Improv was at University Towne Center during the period Ferrell is mentioning.]
That's all I know about Irvine.
That's my ...
That Irvine Improv is where I'd sit in the back of the room and watch on open mic nights and ...
Think ... aw, I can go up.
It was there that long ago?
It was there that long ago and it was just after I graduated from high school and I would come back on weekends from college and I would sit in the back of the room and go, "Oh, wait, I'm just as funny as that guy; oh, wait, I'm not as funny as that guy; oh, wait, I'm just as funny as that guy; oh, wait, not that guy." And I would ... I think I went four times.
You were like 19?
Four times I was going to sign up to do it, and four times I chickened out every time.
It's terrifying, right?
The idea of just even putting your name on the list ...
There's no way ...
There's no good feeling ...
There's none even when you're on the list, and it says your going to be on in six weeks and it's "Oh, shit;" It's every day it's coming, it's coming.
My four minutes. It's going to happen.
But, yeah, Irvine.
I was born in Newport Beach and grew up in Irvine ... uh ... I went to University High School [laughs], and I went to college.
What'd your parents do?
Uh, my mom was eventually in education after many odd jobs, and my dad is a musician.
What kind of musician?
He's an old time rock 'n' roll, he did a country album.
Really? On guitars? Drums? Bass?
No ... uh ... um ... piano. Keyboards.
Keyboards and saxophone. He played with the Righteous Brothers for like 20 years.
Did you go to concerts?
Yeah, I'd go to the shows and sit up there and that was a real treat to sit in the lighting booth and watch the shows.
But did anything come like ... uh ... I know when you watch an act for any length of time where there's some weird moment you have where it's like, "Oh, it's a show. They're not just ..." you know, when they improvise the same joke?
Were you just like ...
Well, I knew the patter.
And ... but ... no, my perverted thing was I was always really proud of him. I was like ...
Of the Righteous Brothers?
Of their patter. I was like, "It's really working well tonight. They're doing great."
But I didn't do that disillusioned thing of oh, they do the same thing every time ...
... and they have the same pauses and they had the same fake laughing at each other's jokes. My thing was like, professionals! And last night, no so good but tonight, wow, the fake laughing is extra good tonight.
[Laughs.] And your dad was just in the back with the band?
He was ... he was ... he was road manager for a little while when I was really little, and then he was just bandleader and ...
So they were already like past their prime and past touring?
They were still a big touring gig.
Uh, nice to me. Well, they had little rises because Bill Medley had the big hit with Dirty Dancing, "The Time of My Life" song.
Oh, that was one of the Righteous Brothers?
And then in Ghost they used "Unchained Melody," which was Bobby Hatfield, so that gave them another rise. So they'd have these moments where they became relevant again.
And then Top Gun.
And Top Gun.
That, that was huge.
Yes, "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." So there was always these, even though they started in the '60s, they were still getting big crowds 30 years later.
Isn't that wild about those bands? It's happening now with like bands we grew up with.
It's crazy. People go and people love them. I wouldn't think to go see Journey, would you?
Who would you go see if someone came around? Like who were your bands?
The band ... I remember I'd listen to a lot of Steely Dan.
As a kid.
Really? I couldn't wrap my brain around it.
A lot of Kanas as a kid.
Oh, "Carry On." So you were into that keyboardy thing.
Well, I had an older neighbor, in Irvine's only apartment complex by the way.
Park West Apartments.
Which the rich kids referred to as "Park Watts."
Oh, really, it was bad?
It was just that one black family [was among those living there] but everyone thought, wow, it's ethnic.
It was the only ones they noticed.
[Ferrell laughs.] Anyway, we had a neighbor up above who was our babysitter and a guy we looked up to and talked a lot of sports with and we listened to all his albums.
You need that guy.
Yeah, you need that guy to show you the way.
Yes, someone's got to ...
That being said, I don't know if I'd go to any of those concerts.
No but, like, I talk with people about this a lot. There's like a, if you are a kid and your dad was probably on the road a lot ...
Yeah, because my dad was ...
Well, you need that guy in the neighborhood who's going to show you how to play baseball and ...
Yeah, right, and turns you onto music.
You just hope he has good taste.
It seemed like it was a mixed bag with this guy.
We were into it, I gotta say.
Want more? Read about Ferrell taking an acting class at South Coast Repertory, taking a stand-up comedy class at Irvine Valley College and getting up on stage for the first time at the late, great Golden Bear of Huntington Beach: "Will Ferrell on His South Coast Repertory Acting Class and Doing Pay-to-Play Standup in OC."
Better yet, hear the entire podcast at WTF with Marc Maron: Episode 450 - Will Ferrell.
Then go back and read "STYNCLSY With Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.