One of the first calls President Obama made after the killing of Osama bin Laden was to ex-President George W. Bush, who launched the manhunt for the terrorist nearly a decade ago. The former chief executive, who generally has avoided the spotlight since leaving office in 2009, reportedly later declined the President's invitation to join him at Ground Zero Thursday.
But Bush's self-imposed low profile hasn't stopped Will Ferrell, who has spoofed the former president on stages ranging from TV to Broadway to the Web, from reviving his imitation for a new comedy video that's as clever as it is audacious.
In Ferrell's short, posted on his Funny or Die site, he portrays Bush standing near a restaurant buffet table as he informs the nation of the assassination of his greatest enemy.
"Tonight, as of 14:00 hours military time, I can report to America, the world and the folks here at the Sizzler steakhouse on Canyon Ranch Road – right outside my gate-guarded community in Dallas, Texas where I frequently eat lunch – that I've personally overseen a strategic and covert operation that killed the gopher who's been tearing up my backyard," Bush/Ferrell declares solemnly.
He describes the gopher takedown, and notes: "The gopher was buried in accordance with gopher burial traditions – he was wrapped in a bathroom mat and thrown in my neighbor's yard."
The video, which owes a debt to “Caddyshack,” seems destined to spur debates over whether the parody is a smart, final shot at what critics would call Bush's legacy of missteps and post-presidency irrelevance – or a gratuitous cheap shot at the man who led the country through some of its darkest days.
Ferrell’s silly brand of comedy can be edgy, but is rarely cruel and never subtle. We’re choosing, though, to take nuanced view of his latest work: The video, which juxtaposes the mundane with the profound, isn’t about slamming Bush as much as it is about using humor to process Obama's landmark Sunday night speech.
Since the news of Osama's death, we've seen a wave of TV comics use pop-culture to filter the news (Jon Stewart’s crew came up with some fake movie posters, including, “To Kill a Mockingturd.” David Letterman invoked “Celebrity Apprentice” in an Osama-driven Top 10 list). Fictional terror fighter Jack Bauer fame became a trending topic on Twitter shortly after the President's announcement (“So now we know what Jack Bauer's been doing since the end of ’24,’” one wag tweeted ). Mashable notes the killing has spurred various other pop culture-inspired Web memes (including pictures portraying Osama as "Harry Potter" villain Voldemort).
Ferrell, who finishes his temporary gig on “The Office” this week, is in a good position to add to the Osama jokes. Funny or Die, which just won a bunch of Webby Awards, is an Internet humor leader that generally provides speed and quality in comedy delivery. More importantly, Ferrell memorably played Bush on "Saturday Night Live," and extended his run with a (nearly) one-man Broadway show – 2009’s “You’re Welcome America. A Final Night With George W. Bush” – in which he portrayed the 43rd president as bumbling and wrongheaded but ultimately a decent man.
Ferrell’s imitation of Bush, in itself, has become a pop culture icon of sorts – and serves as an able vehicle for some goofy humor amid our giddiness over long-awaited victory and largely unspoken fears for the future. Check out the video below and decide for yourself whether Ferrell can declare, "Mission accomplished."
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.