During the Golden Globes Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig did a bit using a piece of royalty free music popular with the youths on TikTok. During our live chat, I said that Will Ferrell has done an excellent job, as he has become one of the eminent men of comedy, of staying in touch with what’s going on in comedy and supporting younger comics, so it wasn’t surprising he would be involved with a bit aimed at a younger audience. Unlike some other prominent comedians of his generation, Will Ferrell has not closed his ears, he has remained open to new voices and change in his art and his industry.
Now, he’s at Sundance with Harper Steele, who 1) sounds like a hard-boiled detective working cases no one else will take, and 2) is trans and Ferrell’s friend of 30 years. They got their start together at SNL in the 1990s, where Steele was a writer, eventually becoming head writer in 2004. Over the years, Steele and Ferrell have worked on many projects together, including Eurovision Song Contest, The Spoils of Babylon, and Casa de mi Padre. Now, they’ve made a road trip documentary called Will & Harper, documenting a literal and emotional journey as Ferrell learns about Steele’s transition.
Will Ferrell is powerful. He wields actual power in the industry, not only as a performer able to command attention and audiences, but as a producer of—largely female focused—films like May December, Booksmart, and Hustlers. And instead of doing what some of his highest profile peers are doing and using that power to shame and condemn and hurt a vulnerable community under political attack, he is using it to make a film about friendship and how the journey of friendship is never over, that our friends are constantly evolving, hopefully becoming their most authentic self along the way, and that we can go on that journey with them, authentically, supportively, and lovingly. Rather than tear down the trans community, he remained open to his friend and chose to be with her through her transition and her journey.
So the next time a comedian punches down, and insists it’s their right to tell jokes on anyone because “that’s what comedy is”, remember that Will Ferrell, one of the best comedians of his generation, chose empathy and friendship instead. He wielded his power in a different way, a more supportive, hopefully constructive way, he chose to be there for his friend and make something empathetic and kind. Comedy doesn’t have to hurt. It can be a spear, but it can be a shield, too.
Live long and gossip,