No matter the medium — TV, film or the Web — everything Adam McKay touches turns to comedy gold.
A Second City vet who founded the radical and influential comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, McKay’s been doing stand-up from an early age (we’re talking grade-school early). But his best-known work has had him behind the scenes, first as a writer on Saturday Night Live, where in the late 1990s he hired an unknown Fey and gave Ferrell some of his juiciest bits. Then there’s Funny or Die, the comedy video-sharing website he co-founded with Ferrell in 2007. And most famously, he’s written, produced and directed some of the most successful big-screen laughfests of the past decade, including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers.
This month, McKay assembles a dream cast — Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes — in The Other Guys, which will do for the buddy-cop genre what Talladega Nights did for NASCAR. McKay, 42, recently talked shop with American Way.
When did you know you were funny?
There is this underlying [assumption] that if you’re [a comedian], you must think you’re funny. There are plenty of days when I’m not funny, when I just completely strike out, 10 or 12 times.
But you brought the house down as early as your sixth-grade talent show.
I wasn’t quite confident enough to write my own material, so I borrowed a couple of things and put it all together. The principal we had was Mr. Hoy, and he was a strict disciplinarian, not very popular. At one point in the set, I said, “There are a lot of respectable people in this school, people we can look up to. Take our principal, Mr. Hoy. Please. Take him!” It was like people had never heard jokes before. It killed.
In a lot of quarters, comedy still gets no respect.
Here’s the truth: If you make a [dirty] joke, it will immediately make a huge part of the world go, “Oh, these guys are idiots.” I’m OK with that. We were making Step Brothers, and I brought everyone together and said, “Look, we’ve got this fart joke here, and if we do it, we will not get good reviews. No critic can ever give a good review to a movie with a fart joke in it.” And everyone was all, “That’s OK. We can live with that.”
The Other Guys boasts an all-star cast. What was the high point of filming?
We’ve got this scene set in a funeral, and two of the guys at the funeral (Rob Riggle and Mark Wahlberg) are in this big disagreement that breaks into a fistfight. But it has to be done as quietly as possible, so as to not disturb the funeral. It’s a “whisper fight.” In between takes, Riggle is coming over, going, “McKay, he’s beating the crap out of me out there.” It turns out Wahlberg is twisting Riggle’s ears, chewing his fingers, punching him hard in the kidneys. Between every take, Riggle would come over with something new.
What do you find funny?
I can find funny in just about everything, and I don’t really care who agrees with me. I think the “whisper fight” in The Other Guys is really, really funny, but I also love the really erudite, topical stuff too. I can’t help it: A good fart joke is always going to make me laugh and so is a sharp reference to Walter Mondale.