Ron Burgundy: I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.
Veronica Corningstone: Really.
Burgundy: People know me.
Corningstone: Well, I’m very happy for you.
Burgundy: Um, I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.
When Will Ferrell, dressed in character, announced Wednesday on Conan that there will be a sequel to Anchorman, the news lit a fire that tore through the blogosphere, the Twittersphere and the Dude-o-sphere – the Dude-o-sphere being the realm of just about every man under 40.
Of all the swaggering dimwits Ferrell has played, none have achieved more fanatic, endlessly quoted devotion than the Channel 4 newsman from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Everything about the character – his name, his mustache, his love of Scotch, his unswerving chauvinism, his jazz flute, his cocksure sign-off (“Stay classy, San Diego”) – managed to simultaneously revel in and satirize our collective notion of what manhood was in the leisure-suited era of the 1970s.
An easy target, sure, but to dismiss the movie because of that is to make the mistake of thinking that Ferrell, co-writer/director Adam McKay and producer Judd Apatow were aiming at much more than wringing as many absurdist laughs as they could from this gonzo comedy.
No movie that features a street fight between San Diego’s competing news teams wielding chains, switchblades, guns, nunchaku, a grenade and a trident can be accused of prioritizing satire above over-the-top ridiculousness. (The only ground rule to said street fight? “No touching of the hair or face,” declares Burgundy).
There were precedents to the brand of comedy in Anchorman, most notably, Zoolander, in which Ben Stiller mocked the similarly easy terrain of male models in 2001, and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, which arrived in theatres one month before Anchorman in the summer of 2004.
But none of them so unabashedly lampooned male bravado like Anchorman. The names of the characters alone – Wes Mantooth, Champ Kind, Brick Tamland – along with Ron Burgundy, itself a perfect parody of a name we might expect of a seventies porn star, evoke an idea of manhood that is embarrassingly outmoded. And yet as immature and resistant to anything that threatens their life of pool parties and womanizing as these men are, audiences were able to laugh at and with them like no other troupe of goofs on film.
No man likely wants to “musk up” to seduce a lady by dousing himself in the pungent odours of a cologne called Sex Panther (“made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good”) but who among us doesn’t laugh when Brian Fantana, played by Paul Rudd, explains, “They’ve done studies, you know. Sixty per cent of the time, it works every time.”
If you’ve never heard that quote, chances are you have heard plenty of lines from Anchorman. “Stay classy” has become a permanent part of the pop-culture lexicon, and lonely hearts still describe themselves on dating websites by telling prospective partners “I love lamp.”
It helps that those lines are delivered by a comedic dream team that includes not only Ferrell and Rudd but also Steve Carell, Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen and Christina Applegate, who plays Veronica Corningstone, the new hire at Channel 4 who threatens the frat-house atmosphere of high fives and male supremacy.
Many people will tell you Anchorman is the most quotable comedy of all time. For a more objective measure of its greatness, look to Empire magazine’s 500 greatest movies of all time, where it ranks 113.
But facts and figures don’t explain Anchorman’s lasting cultural appeal – primarily for men, sure, but also for a large number of female fans. Its more than $90-million in box office more than made up for its $26-million budget, but nevertheless puts it behind Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers, movies that would go on to mine Ferrell’s brand of loveable idiots.
Those movies may have earned more money, but none have achieved the cult worship of Ron Burgundy, a man everyone knows is ridiculous but whose world is still irresistible to do impressions of at parties. Regardless of profits, rankings and even, some might say, narrative coherence, he’s kind of a big deal.