'Anchorman 2' director Adam McKay, CLA ’90, reflects on his career
Adam McKay, CLA ’90, first took the stage to try stand-up comedy while a Temple student—and he was terrible at it.
“It was at a place called Comedy Works in Old City, a really cool comedy club,” he recalled. “Jim Carrey and some other guys had performed there. But I totally bombed. I was so nervous, I was afraid to take the mike out of the stand. I was basically reading my jokes instead of performing them.”
That rough beginning aside, McKay has found success as one-half of the duo behind movies including Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers, and as a founder of the website FunnyOrDie.com. The other half of that duo is Will Ferrell, whom McKay met when both joined Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1995.
“Toward the middle of our time on SNL, Will had one movie left on his deal with Paramount,” McKay explained. "We’d had so much fun writing sketches together, he asked, ‘Hey, do you want to write it with me?’”
They did write a movie together, but the studio passed on it. McKay was undeterred. He says the first process was so enjoyable, they decided to try again. “So we sat down and wrote Anchorman.”
McKay wrote for SNL for seven seasons—three of them as head writer. But his work on NBC’s iconic series was not his first foray into the world of sketch comedy. One of McKay’s Temple classmates, Rick Roman, told him about the improvisational comedy movement in Chicago, and about comedian Del Close. Close is credited with creating “the Harold,” a form of improv that provides comedians a framework with which to craft a scene.
That method of performing appealed to him in a way stand-up did not. “[Stand-up] can be pretty grueling, and I was never that great at it,” McKay said. “I really wanted to try the stuff that Del was doing.”
McKay moved to Chicago, and began training and performing at the iO Chicago Theater (founded by Close). While there, he and several fellow performers, including future SNL cast member Horatio Sanz, founded the sketch- and improv-comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade.
McKay continues to produce, write and direct films with Ferrell, including Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, in theaters Dec. 18. Traditionally, the pair has avoided making sequels, but McKay said the movie’s fans have been asking for a second installment for years.
“The track record for sequels isn’t great, except for maybe The Godfather Part II,” he said. “But people kept asking for [a sequel], and we thought it could be a fun challenge to present that story in a new way.”
McKay recalled his early stand-up performances to offer budding comedians some advice. “The first few times you do it, you’re probably going to bomb,” he said. “You have to keep doing it until you feel comfortable. But that’s true of anything. Brain surgery, for example.”