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Starting his comedy career as part of the Groundlings, Will Ferrell went on to fame as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and in feature films.
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Actor, comedian. Born John W. Ferrell on July 16, 1967, in Irvine, California. The oldest son of Righteous Brothers keyboard player Lee Ferrell and teacher Kay Ferrell, Will was—by his own admission—hardly the class clown as a student at University High School. Studious and, at times, a bit quiet, Ferrell chose to make his mark on the football field, where he set a school record for most field goals made. Even at the more comfortable confines of his suburban home, Ferrell displayed little of the outrageous, funny outbursts that would later help define his career.
"Very even tempered, very easygoing," his mother told Esquire. "His father and I kinda went, 'How'd he get like that?' You know those little Matchbox cars? Will would line up his Matchbox cars, by himself, and be totally happy. You'd say, 'You wanna go to Disneyland today or line up your cars?' and he'd have to think about it."
That's not to say Ferrell was a total straight man. A glimpse of his comedic skills showed up each morning at high school, when he disguised his voice to make the daily announcements over the P.A. system. Upon graduation in 1986, Ferrell stayed close to home, choosing to attend the University of Southern California at Los Angeles to pursue a degree in sports journalism. At USC, Ferrell joined Delta Tau fraternity, and finished with a near-3.0 GPA.
After his graduation in 1989, Ferrell got his first taste of the NBC television world, not at Saturday Night Live (SNL), but as an intern for the network's sports department. As the story goes, Ferrell had an epiphany of sorts about where his true talents lay after ad-libbing an on-air joke that drew laughs from a crowd. Shortly afterwards, Ferrell moved back home with his parents and began his pursuit of a career in comedy, taking acting classes and landing parts in regional theater.
Soon, Ferrell landed a regular spot with The Groundlings, a popular Los Angeles improv troupe that has, over the years, produced SNL cast members such as Maya Rudolph and Chris Kattan (both future SNL colleagues of Ferrell's), as well as Laraine Newman, Jon Lovitz, and Phil Hartman. Here, Ferrell honed his impersonation skills and caught a few TV breaks, earning occasional guest spots on sitcoms like Fox's Living Single and ABC's Grace Under Fire.
"What I recognized when I started doing comedy was that I'm probably not the wittiest, not the fastest on my feet, but the one thing I can guarantee is that I won't hold anything back," Ferrell explained to Esquire. "It was just funnier to me, and it played funnier, when instead of just yelling at someone in a scene, you're yelling to the point where you're losing your voice—that one extra step.
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