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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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If that's what's called for within the context, isn't that our job as comedians?"
It was while performing with The Groundlings in the early 1990s that Ferrell first caught the attention of SNL founder and producer, Lorne Michaels, who'd come to Los Angeles looking for new talent for his show. Ferrell was invited to an initial audition, and then asked to come back for another round.
"I had read how Adam Sandler, in his meeting with Lorne, had humped a chair and had him laughing so hard, he signed him on the spot," Ferrell said. "So I thought, I'm gonna go in there and be funny. I had a briefcase full of fake money, and as Lorne starts talking, I was gonna open it and start stacking piles of money on his desk. 'Lorne, you can say whatever you want, but we all know what really talks. And that's cold, hard cash. Now, I'm gonna walk outta here. You can take the cash if you want. Or not.' And then just leave and not come back." Impersonations, however, and not payola were what eventually landed Ferrell on the SNL cast. The comedian used the audition time to showcase two of his favorite characters—Chicago Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray, and an overzealous father who screams at his son to get off the shed roof—that would later help make him a star of the show.
Ferrell's arrival at the New York City-based sketch comedy show in the fall of 1995 came at a tumultuous time for SNL. On the heels of a rough ratings stretch the year before, Michaels had chosen to clean house, retaining just a handful of veteran performers as he welcomed 14 new ones, including not only Ferrell but Jim Breuer, Darrell Hammond, and Cheri Oteri.
After what proved to be an underwhelming first season, Ferrell's talent began to blossom. Within a few short years, he had helped lead a ratings renaissance for SNL, prompting television audiences to return each week to his unique mix of new characters, including Steve Butabi, Marty Culp, Professor Roger Klarvin and impersonations of figures such as President George W. Bush, Janet Reno, and Neil Diamond. "Will is the glue that holds the show together," Michaels told People magazine in 1998. "He's the first choice of the writers for almost every sketch."
In 1998, Ferrell, who'd made a short, but funny appearance in the first Austin Powers movie, expanded his film work with a starring role in the SNL spinoff A Night at the Roxbury. The film, while a flop, signaled the start of his expansive movie credits.
As Ferrell was flooded with more and more movie offers, SNL producers became desperate to keep their franchise star. In 2001, Ferrell was offered and accepted an unprecedented $350,000-plus salary from the program. A year later, though, Ferrell made the decision to leave the show for good.
Unlike other former cast members who've departed SNL with grand illusions of Hollywood success, Ferrell has proven to be one of the industry's more bankable comedic stars. In late 2007, it was reported that for Ferrell movies averaged $8 of gross income for every dollar he is paid.
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