Here’s an excerpt from the January 25 piece by Jim Rutenberg…
The television set anchored to the wall in Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live dressing room at NBC was tuned to the Fox News Channel; George W. Bush was on the screen, taking the presidential oath.
Mr. Ferrell, who has been impersonating the new president for national audiences since early last year, watched his subject with a slight grin on his apple-pie face. As Mr. Bush held up his right hand, Mr. Ferrell did the same. In a mild, dress rehearsal-level mimicry of the new president, Mr. Ferrell said in mock fear: “This is it. There's no turning back. It's happening.”
He dropped his hand, sat down in front of his mirror, popped a grape into his mouth and shook his head in a mix of disapproval and bewilderment. But there was also excitement.
For Mr. Ferrell, 33, the inauguration of Mr. Bush was a moment of ambivalence. He was fairly open about it: he voted for Vice President Al Gore and he has big questions about Mr. Bush's preparedness for his new job.
But then Mr. Bush's election campaign, with all of its twists and turns, has given an enormous boost to Mr. Ferrell's already healthy career as a comedian. He now stands as the leading impersonator of the commander in chief, as a definer of President Bush for the popular culture at large. He takes the reins from his Saturday Night Live co-star Darrell Hammond, impersonator of President Bill Clinton….
Mr. Hammond's Al Gore had somewhat slurred speech and the condescending air of the nerdy smart kid who is universally disliked by classmates. Mr. Ferrell's George Bush was an inarticulate, squinty-eyed frat boy doing his best to fake his way through final exams. Mr. Ferrell's Mr. Bush promised to emerge from the election process “victoriant;” his one-word election mantra was “strategery.” In a recent skit in which Mr. Gore and the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, are shown debating the country's future, Mr. Ferrell's George Bush is in the corner of the room playing with a ball of string like a cat.
Though his portrayal may well have capitalized on a negative image of Mr. Bush that had already taken shape on its own in some circles, it helped fix it in the public mind.
“I think it's going to be very hard for Bush to get away from the image that this guy has created for him in people's minds,” said Eric Foner, professor of American history at Columbia University….
Mr. Ferrell said that his decision to be open about his low regard for Mr. Bush did not come lightly. He said he recognized there was “a fine line” he had to walk, although he does not consider himself a highly political person. But he added: “You shouldn't have a problem being political, expressing yourself. It's funny in the stories and stuff; I don't know whether to be unabashed about that or not, but, yeah, I didn't vote for him.”
His general description of Mr. Bush? “Let's just put it this way: I wouldn't be surprised if this is, like, just a stepping stone on his way to being commissioner of baseball. It's just like, ‘O.K., I'll do this for a while.'” Addressing television critics this month in Pasadena, Calif., Mr. Ferrell said, “I think he's probably drawing up plans to set up a mechanical bull in the Oval Office.”
This perspective informs the Mr. Bush that Mr. Ferrell plays on the program, although the skits are written by others before being customized by the comedian. For instance, in the Saturday Night Live sketch based upon the first debate between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, Mr. Ferrell's Mr. Bush was slow to answer questions, and steadfastly avoided saying too much lest he misstate a fact.
“If you noticed in the debates, he took these long pauses, which some people, I'm sure, read as wisdom,” Mr. Ferrell said. “But I just read it as, like, ‘I'm…trying…to…think…what…I'm… supposed…to…say.'”….
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(This report courtesy of the Media Research Center.)