Will [Ferrell] and I joke that we single-handedly ruined Paul Thomas Anderson’s producing career before it started,” Adam McKay says, casually splaying his 6-foot-5 frame across the couch, as though in a weekly therapy session. The original script for his eventual comedy classic “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” was so deliriously absurd that Anderson, the auteur behind “Boogie Nights,” “The Phantom Thread” and “Magnolia” — a movie that ends with a preposterous rain of frogs falling from the sky — threw up his hands and amicably bowed out of the agreement.
“He was, like, ‘I don’t know what to tell these guys, because I love this, but I know it won’t work,” McKay adds.
Of course, it did work — at least half a dozen lines from the movie are firmly entrenched in the greater American lexicon — and pretty much everything else has worked for McKay in the decade-plus since he brought Ron Burgundy into our lives.
.. He’s one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, albeit so self-effacing that you could never imagine him saying that with a straight face.
.. It’s an almost unrivaled come-up for the former head writer of ”Saturday Night Live,”
.. A decade later, 2015’s brilliant “The Big Short” permanently altered his trajectory from go-to comedy guru into one of Hollywood’s most astute chroniclers of political and economic corruption. Inspired by a Michael Lewis tome about the 2008 housing crash, the fourth-wall obliterating parable of American greed netted McKay a slew of Oscar nominations and a win for best adapted screenplay. At age 50, the card-carrying member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has not only become one of the industry’s most sought after commercial filmmakers, he’s become an unlikely heir to ’70s political satirist Hal Ashby — or perhaps the answer to the question, what if Mike Myers directed “All The President’s Men?” And for this, you can blame Public Enemy.
.. “When Public Enemy hit, it changed everything,” McKay says. “Those songs stopped me from being a moron teenager and politicized me in a big way.”
.. With his gray hair and spectacles, worn T-shirt and loosefitting olive pants, McKay looks more liberal-arts professor than Professor Griff. But hearing him talk hip-hop and politics affirms the carefully considered values of a longtime traveler.
.. In a National Review screed against “Vice,” right-wing firebrand Ben Shapiro claimed that Hollywood’s “leftist contempt” for conservatives led to President Trump. He incorrectly attributes McKay’s critiques to a hardened ideology, rather than a caustic fury that takes widow-making aim at those who abuse power and the public trust.
.. “I remember people screaming at me when I was protesting the Iraq War, saying I was anti-American, anti-this. I wanted to call them up and go, ‘Okay, so that didn’t work. So, what am I? Am I still a liberal?’ I hate these tags you get whacked with. All I want to do is judge politicians and our government by their actions. Are they corrupt or not? Are they effective or not?”
.. The obsessive streak that led him to pore over every bit of available data about Dick Cheney was there when he was memorizing the lyrics to songs by Run-DMC, Mantronix, Three Times Dope and LL Cool J.
.. After leaving Temple University a few semesters short of an English degree, McKay moved to Chicago to co-found the Upright Citizens Brigade. He became a member of the last generation tutored by improv legend Del Close, the sensei who mentored Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Jim Belushi, John Candy and nearly every other major comic figure to emerge from the pre-millennium SNL pipeline. It’s also where McKay started attending protests.
.. “In Chicago, the improv and theater traditions were always tied to political activism,” McKay says. “But [early ’90s] culture wasn’t going in that direction. When I got to SNL, they asked me, with a bit of surprise, ‘you’re into politics?’ I was, like, ‘not really politics, but government.’ And so I become the guy writing a lot of the bits about presidents.”
.. At SNL, McKay quickly formed an enduring friendship with Ferrell and became head writer at 28, after just one year on the staff.
.. “I noticed that when you’re writing a comedy piece that has a bottom to it — that gets at something deeper — it hits 10 times bigger than a guy who just has a funny tick or needs to get his tooth fixed,” McKay says.
.. “Anchorman” mocks the misogynistic buffoonery of an insecure newscaster desperate to preserve his privileged status.
.. The genius of “The Big Short” lay in its ability to blend surrealistic gonzo comedy with a cogent unraveling of the impossibly complicated fraudulence that led to the financial crisis. The reflexive instinct would have been to play it straight and offer a sober rendering of the grotesque avarice that had ruined millions of lives. Instead, McKay had Selena Gomez (playing herself), sitting at a poker table next to the father of behavioral economics, explaining the intricacies of synthetic CDOs (collateralized debt obligations).
“I come from that improv background where you’re allowed to break stuff and narrate,” McKay explains. “It’s just a matter of getting the timing right. If you don’t, it doesn’t work.”
.. He cites one of “Vice’s” best scenes, a “Wayne’s World”-style fake ending that arrives at the end of the second act; it posits “what if” Cheney had opted out of the vice presidency, stayed at Haliburton and kept America out of Iraq.
.. Although “Vice” might not fully illuminate the inner murk at the heart of Cheney — the biggest “known unknown” conceivable — it remains consistently funny and doubles as an effective shorthand history of the past half-century of power politics in Washington, including ostensibly minor-but-myopic decisions such as Reagan dismantling the solar panels atop the White House roof.
.. McKay operates with the requisite curiosity of an outsider, dumbfounded at how everyone systematically abdicated their values, and does his best to find the tonal sweet spot between a Richard III soliloquy and Ron Burgundy blustering about being kind of a big deal.
.. He singles out Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’ Rourke for praise but reserves his highest admiration for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
.. “Wherever she’s going, I’m going,” he says. “She’s awesome, and what I’d like to see American government get back to: accountability, transparency and letting people know where you’re taking money from.”
.. “The midterms left me hopeful, especially the fact that 15 percent more people voted,” McKay says. “All I care about now is getting this guy out of there and us to an America that believes in and is working to fight global warming. What ties into ‘Vice’ is the need to get big money out of our democracy. It’s responsible for so much — from the denial of global warming to oil companies doing whatever they want.”
.. And like almost any worthwhile artist, there’s a deep-seated empathy for his subjects that McKay can’t shake. Even if his protagonists aren’t necessarily likable, he’s gifted at making them seem human — whether it’s a lecherous Southern California newscaster or the Mr. Burns of real-life political memory.
“I learned that these are people with actual vulnerabilities, who I could actually identify with when they were young,” McKay says. “Yes, there was some anger, but the biggest surprise for me was that I genuinely felt sad for [Cheney and his wife.] Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting the horrible things they did, the people who died, the torture. But I teared up at the first big screening. I couldn’t believe it, but it was like a spiritual tragedy, not just for them, but for the entire country enduring this similar kind of loss.”
Hammond was one of SNL’s greatest impressionists during his 14-year run with the show, pulling off more than 100 characters, from the lip-biting Bill Clinton to the foul-mouthed Sean Connery. But his Trump was so good, SNL kept him in that role even after he left the cast in 2009. He made his final Trump appearance in 2016. (Taran Killam also briefly held the role.) Then Trump’s candidacy took off, and SNL boss Lorne Michaels decided he wanted a more visceral approach. He tapped Baldwin, a Trump hater whose cartoonish portrayal of the reality-TV star president would go on to earn him an Emmy.
.. For Hammond, the shift was crushing, which he detailed when he spoke to The Post last year. Hammond, who remains SNL’s announcer, says he’s now at peace with keeping his Trump in the past. He had moved to Los Angeles to get away from the constant questions, taping his intros remotely. Now he’s back in New York and has been a regular presence around Studio 8H.
.. Hammond’s relationship with Trump is different from Baldwin’s. He tries to remain decidedly apolitical. There were times, long before the White House, when he visited with Trump in his office, studying his movements and speech patterns. He even had Ivanka Trump’s phone number on his cellphone, only deleting it after he lost the part. Last year, Jim Downey, the legendary former SNL writer, called Hammond’s Trump impression “the gold standard.”
But Michaels, speaking to The Post last year, said that he wasn’t looking for accuracy as Trump’s candidacy began to build.
A woman (Heidi Gardner) at dinner with friends (Will Ferrell, Beck Bennett, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kenan Thompson) dares to bring up the sexual misconduct allegations against Aziz Ansari.
On the sixth floor of 30 Rock, women have long been portrayed as sexual conquests, victims or aggressors, live on Saturday nights. During the 1990s in particular, SNL excelled at celebrating male libido and a get-away-with-anything approach to sex, while reducing women to their sexual function. The show consistently cheered male sexuality and reinforced its boundlessness (consent be damned), while shaming women who reached for power or were unlucky enough to be publicly associated with sex.
The SNL writers’ room is famously collaborative, so it’s hard to know how many such bits Franken specifically wrote. But as a writer on 285 episodes from 1976 to 2008, he undoubtedly influenced the zeitgeist of the show during that era... Again, the laughs: Thomas’s sexual inadequacy is what’s supposed to be funny. SNL imagines that sexual harassment is hilarious and that unattractive women deserve it... One 1996 skit about O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark portrays her as an erotomaniac or “fatal attraction type” — a derogation hurled at women during the 1990s, including at Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky, to discredit them and weaponize their sexuality. Clark, played by Nancy Walls, is less interested in the case’s outcome than forcing fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden to sleep with her, or “take the black bronco down the 405,” as the show put it. “The only thing I’m guilty of is being extremely horny,” Walls says. “Please remove your pants.”.. If SNL women weren’t sexual victims or erotomaniacs, they were not real women at all. Will Ferrell’s career was made in part by his “Janet Reno’s Dance Party” sketches, which rendered the first woman attorney general as a gangly man with an awkward deep voice, skirt and pearls... Ferrell said in an interview that he wouldn’t have played Reno the way he did if she were a “normal woman.” In other words, because Reno didn’t always fit neatly into the stereotypical roles SNL ascribed to women — sexually aggressive like Clark or sexually victimized like Hill — the country’s chief law enforcement officer became a fake woman, just Ferrell in drag... What’s clear, in truth, is that American comedy culture has used sexual abuse as fodder for too long... From Franken and Harvey Weinstein to Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, women are reckoning with the painful reality that powerful men recently accused of sexual misconduct have long been the media and cultural gatekeepers in America.They’ve been the arbiter and the lens, determining what is newsworthy, what is socially acceptable and, in Franken’s case, what is funny... You can tell an awful lot about a society based on what it thinks is funny.