Unfortunately, I could not witness this once in a lifetime experience live. But thank God for HBO, I was able to catch a show of “You’re Welcome America, A Final Night with George W. Bush.”
In case you haven’t heard, this show isn’t about the real George Bush. It’s about the fake George Bush, or the George Bush I prefer: Will Ferrell. Ferrell portrayed Bush during his years on “Saturday Night Live” (that role was filled once Ferrell left by not as accurate impersonations by Will Forte and Jason Sudekis) and did the best Bush impersonation anyone has ever done. In fact, it might just be one of the best celebrity impersonations ever.
Many SNL skits can’t survive the transition from five minute short to ninety minute feature. However, Ferrell’s Bush transitions quite smoothly, and he manages to hold our attention, and make us laugh, for the full ninety minute running time of the show.
“You’re Welcome America” is focused solely on Bush, so it makes sense that it is a one man show. In it, a more relaxed, post-presidency Bush descends from a helicopter and shares his life story. He traces back from his early days of his birth in Connecticut (Connecticut firmly apologizes for that, America) to his party-boy college years and then to his presidency. He focuses largely on the War in Iraq, his Texas Ranch, and his strange relationship with his cabinet members, especially Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.
Throughout the show, Bush serenades his audience with anecdotes of his past life, such as his experience being trapped in a mine shaft with his father and a certain relationship he had while going AWOL in Vermont. Lets just say that after hearing that story you’ll never want to use the phrase “western grip” in a sentence ever again.
Pretty much the entire show goes smoothly. The only hitch was a story about a monkey army. It was funny at first and funny in theory, but the joke carries on too long and kind of looses its funny by the end of it. Maybe they could’ve used some more of that time to further poke fun at Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and maybe a little bit of Scooter Libby and sprinkled with a bit of North Korea. Note: the name Osama Bin Laden is only mentioned once throughout the entire play. Way under my estimates.
But besides that, the entire show is excellent, and of course that is all owed to the brains behind it: Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. Their comedy movement is sweeping the internet, and now broadway as well.
But I can’t finish this review without mentioning Ferrell’s performance. It is nothing short of comic brilliance. As usual, he nails every aspect of Bush in his impersonation down to the last detail. He gets the voice down right and even his method of walking (in Texas, it’s just called walking). He uses many of Bush’s mannerisms, the biggest being the way in which he gives every person he meets a nickname. He never once refers to Barack Obama as Barack Obama, just as the Tiger Woods guy.
Not once does Ferrell’s performance feel hammy or contrived. I could sit there and watch him for another hour-and-a-half and still want more. In fact, there is a moment of near emotional relevance that occurs in the show. In it, Bush asks for a moment of silence for all of the dead Iraqis. That smirk has disappeared, and instead his eyes grow red as what appears to be real tears stream down. Ferrell has turned his Bush impression from a character to a real person. The overall point of Ferrell’s Bush impersonation is now seen: Bush is not a bad guy. He’s just a guy with speaking problems who just wants to party. It’s the forces that controlled him while he was in office that are really to blame. Of course, all of this ends with a phone call from Michael “Brownie” Brown.
Other highlights include Ferrell’s hysterical Spanish accent (with an obligatory “Vicky Cristina Barcelona reference”) and his soon to-be-famous nickname calling which was most likely improvised. Many critics who have panned the show (boo!) claimed that the best part was an appearance by an actress playing Condoleeza Rice dancing. Funny as it was, it was not the best part. It was Ferrell’s show. And he owned it.
We might not be able to blame George Bush for America’s problems any more, but we can thank him for inspiring some of the best comedy this country has ever seen. So instead of saying you’re welcome America, say thanks, Bush.