BROOKE GLADSTONE: As the nation creeps toward normality this week, the late night talk shows return to air, but for the most part the jokes have not. David Letterman and Craig Kilborn attempted serious policy discussions. Conan O'Brien programs have offered the comedic equivalent of a good-natured shrug.
BOB GARFIELD:This past week Brooke hosted a national call-in program with Saturday Night Live's Will Ferrell, famous for his savagely funny impersonation of-- President Bush. The cast of SNL had just met to plan next Saturday's show. It was a gathering of some of the country's comedy elite, and it was clear they didn't have a clue.
WILL FERRELL:Yeah, the one place you'd think maybe there would be some tasteless jokes we, we were-- we weren't coming up with them. Yeah. Yeah. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what happened? Did you set some ground rules? Did you say okay, first off - no Bush jokes, [...?...]. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
WILL FERRELL:Well I think the political and topical humor that we're usually known for we're, we're going to have to kind of keep our foot off the gas pedal for a while. I guess we'll be making fun of celebrities. You can always do that, right? Yeah. Mm-hm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's fair game.
WILL FERRELL: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The fact is that nobody really seems to care about celebrities right now.
WILL FERRELL: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is - this is the time of the genuine working class hero.
WILL FERRELL:Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, it may be, for those of us in humor, our one salvation to still be able to tell -- I don't know -- the Cast of Friends type jokes. We're, we're beginning to enter a new era for so many different things, including comedy - you know - and watching David Letterman last night who is-- he even said it himself, he's based his whole thing on making fun of, of things and people -especially in New York and-- it's just not appropriate right now. Yeah. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So I mean where is comedy in this country and especially in this city and on Saturday Night Live if irony is suddenly off-limits?
WILL FERRELL:Yeah, I, I'm, I'm-- I'm not quite sure! I, I don't know if, if we're going - going to be going back to literally the-- the days of Vaudeville and we're just going to be doing slapstick and - you know - slipping on banana peels on stage. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But who's going to laugh at that?
WILL FERRELL:Probably no one, but-- [LAUGHS] but we'll be trying - I don't know! I don't know - and, and who knows if anyone will be laughing at anything, so--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How will you know it's time to get back and make fun of stuff again?
WILL FERRELL: I, I guess by baby steps you've already sensed that there's a slight return to normalcy here in the city-- you know. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well David Letterman did make fun of Regis Philbin -- that, that's-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
WILL FERRELL: Yeah, right! So that's-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- what you'd call a, a baby step.
WILL FERRELL: Right. And-- if every 2 weeks there's another horrible news story you're not going to -you're still not going to want to yuck it up, so--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'd like to bring in Deborah now in Manville, New Jersey. Thank you very much for coming on.
DEBORAH:Oh, thank you for the program! I really felt very compelled to call. I, I find that we really and truly do need some humor right now. I believe in laughter as part of the healing process.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If Will Ferrell went into his famous George Bush imitation, could you still find it funny? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
DEBORAH: Right. No. No, I don't think so--
WILL FERRELL: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
DEBORAH: --and you know as Will was saying you know it's, it's tough!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you want to laugh but you don't know what you can laugh at right now.
DEBORAH: True. Very, very true.
WILL FERRELL:Yeah, well I, I think the humor'll go back to more just observational humor about just quirky things in life and, and, and silly characters that, that aren't based in reality at all.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you see the resurgence of Shecky Greene?
WILL FERRELL: Y-- [LAUGHS]. Maybe just a lot of knock-knock jokes.