Will Ferrell snags this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor: How does the versatile actor keep us in…

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March 29 2007 6:15 PM

Why Is Will Ferrell Funny?

A video slide show.

Will Ferrell will receive the Kennedy Center's 14th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October, joining the ranks of such comedy luminaries as Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Pryor. Notified of the honor, Ferrell promised in a press release to "begin cultivating a Mark Twain-esque moustache in anticipation of the event." It's a typical response from Ferrell, whose brand of naive, over-the-top physical humor has made him a household name since he first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1995. In a 2007 article and slideshow, reprinted below, Josh Levin analyzed the actor's comic appeal.  

Click here to launch a video slide show

Click the launch module to the left for a video slide show on the secrets of Will Ferrell's comic genius.

In Blades of Glory, Will Ferrell plays a raven-tressed, crotch-grabbing figure skater named Chazz Michael Michaels. It's not a stretch for Ferrell to swaddle himself in spandex and become an "ice-devouring sex tornado." Like Anchorman's Ron Burgundy, Chazz radiates over-the-top machismo. Like Ricky Bobby of Talladega Nights, he's a down-on-his-luck sports hero. And like, well, every character Will Ferrell has ever played, he flaunts his hairy, paunchy body without a hint of shame.

It's undeniable that Ferrell's performances hit a lot of the same notes. But look more closely at his oeuvre and you'll see a comic actor whose most prominent trait is his flexibility. Compared with someone like Vince Vaughn, a talented comedian who infuses every role with manic shtick, Ferrell's versatility is a wonder to behold.

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Click here for a video slide show on the secrets of Will Ferrell's comic genius.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.