Off the Wall with "The Roxbury Guys":
Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell of SNL
Will Ferrell of Saturday Night Live sits down in front of a group of
journalists in a New York hotel room, waiting for someone to ask something,
anything.. No one does. He looks around at the inquisitive but not inquiring
faces, develops a look of vulnerable bravado, holds his head up proudly and
announces, "I've been alcoholic for twelve years."
If so, it's another case of better living through chemistry, as he and
comedic co-conspirator Chris Kattan have just parlayed a sketch without words
into the latest SNL/Paramount feature, "A Night at the Roxbury."
Indeed, the silk-suit wearing, head-bobbing "Roxbury Guys" began
when the duo performed at the Groundlings and were at a Los Angeles club,
spotting one particular voyeur leaning against a bar. "He was dying to be a
part of the scene," Ferrell explains, "but he'd try and try, and come
up with nothing. He was really out of his element--a dorky fish in glitzy
Ferrell, I mention to him, has perfected the "deer in the
headlights" look that is so prominently and humorously portrayed in the
film. Perfectly on cue, he stares off at some not-so-fixed point in space and
slowly, agonizingly, explains of his character, "I kind of picture--every
word you say--he has to visually picture it."
All great comedy teams are pictures in contrast. The six-foot three-inch
Ferrell has a sort of comedic Vulcan mind-meld with the very different Chris
Kattan. The considerably shorter performer is a sort of horseradish to Ferrell's
"I like to move. I'm restless," he makes clear upon his arrival and
his laser-like focus makes you think he may hop up on the table and do jumping
jacks to unwind. Then, he uses the "I" word, one he has no doubt heard
all his life.
"I have an intensity." He complains about not getting the girls in
high school because of it. "Is intensity unappealing?" he asks,
staring at us with bulging, pleading eyes. A journalist assures him with a quiet
murmur that he is, indeed, appealing. Kattan thanks him but his appreciation is
fleeting. "All the compliments are coming from the wrong guy. They're
coming from a MAN, in the first place. Which would be the RIGHT guy?" He
looks over at a rotund, red-headed, male journalist from Brazil and bats his
eyes at him. "I wish it was this guy," Kattan coos.
"The Guys" have names now. In the film, Steve Butabi (Ferrell) and
his brother Doug (Kattan) live in the home of their Beverly Hills silk flower
manufacturing dad from Yemen (Dan Hedaya). Their aspirations go no higher than
getting into the famous Roxbury, using a car accident with lawsuit-phobic
Richard Grieco, playing himself with a terrifying hairdo, to gain entry.
Director John Fortenberry, who cut his teeth editing for Lorne Michaels'
Broadway Video and counts among his credits the spot-on, Madonna mockumentary
"Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful" with Julie Brown, used a variety of
hotspots. They included the ornate Mayan Theatre downtown, the Sunset Strip's
Billboard Live and Whisky a Go Go and "a crappy Hollywood club" which
Fortenberry diplomatically refused to name.
The challenge of developing a silent sketch into a script fell to Kattan,
Ferrell and their longtime writer Steve Koren, who collaborated cross-country
while writing for "Seinfeld." Kattan, with an extra dollop of
intensity, admitted, "We were writing the show (SNL), which is like finals
every week, while we were writing the film."
But there was a certain liberation in having little source material to guide
script development. Fortenberry attested to his concerns. "We didn't know:
how much mousse do we keep in their hair? Do we keep it in New York or Los
Angeles? Do they have accents?"
There would have been no "Night at the Roxbury," however, without
Amy Heckerling. The writer-director of the film "Clueless," which
garnered her Best Screenplay Award from the National Society of Film Critics,
fell hard for the loveable losers she saw on Saturday Night Live. The petite,
pretty, perky producer summed up her feelings on the Butabi's this way.
"They hit on girls. Everybody says no. But they stay happy and they don't
get mad at the girls. 'You wanna' dance? You do? You don't? It's okay.' And it's
just so good-hearted. I mean, it's just sleazy--but good-hearted, which is a
She created a potent producer combo working with Lorne Michaels, Grand Poobah
of SNL, who gave notes on the set early in production and then turned things
over to Heckerling and Fortenberry. One of the film's most imaginative creations
is the Butabi brainchild, the Inside-Out Club, which features interior decor on
its exterior and a street scene inside. Heckerling admitted she had always
wanted to design her own apartment that way and brought in "Clueless"
production designer Steven Jordan to accomplish the herculean, totally backward
One of the most impressive aspects of the film is a dance sequence in which
Ferrell and Kattan bounce two scheming gold-diggers off their gyrating bodies
like human pinballs. They prove adept at thinking on their feet (and torsos),
creating moves that seemingly cover everything from break-out to jujitsu.
Kattan and Ferrell have an improvisational shorthand that is undeniable. Says
Kattan, "The only reason why the sketch went well was the fact that we knew
how to play off each other without looking at each other, and bouncing the
words, things like that."
He harkens back to The Groundlings days, when their teamwork included two
hyped-up AT&T operators with too much java under their belts, tag-teaming
wary customers to buy their long-distance service. In the film, as on t.v., the
Butabi's verbal exuberance is often punctuated with hand slaps and the
simultaneous chant, "Score!" But the sense of brotherly habits is
brought out in "Roxbury." Two memorable moments include Ferrell
jamming a red licorice stick down the throat and nose of the sleeping Kattan.
Later on, in preparation for their club-hopping, the two boys of Yemeni
persuasion suffer for their beauty, ripping off their back hair with long strips
of packing tape. You can imagine them doing it on a weekly basis.
The film incorporates other compatriots from the late night institution.
Colin Quinn portrays the vicious toady Dooey, working for the rich Mr. Zadir (an
uncredited, oily Chaz Palmintieri.) And SNL's Molly Shannon plays Emily
Sanderson, who is all over Ferrell like a cheap suit, with lascivious facial
expressions and plans for marriage.
While SNL emanates from New York, the Roxbury Butabi's are purely a Southern
California creation. This reporter was the only one in attendance from the
Southland. So, when Ferrell was asked where he is from, he tried to give a
definition to Newport Beach. "I grew up in Orange County, which is kind of
a strange, conservative, you know, perfect little community. Tract homes.
Greenbelt. Huge porn industry."
Ferrell took a stab at a Sports Information major at University of Southern
California, before throwing in the announcer towel and moving back behind the
Orange Curtain. He did standup comedy and later, the Groundlings, ignoring the
path of his father, a musician who worked with The Righteous Brothers.
It's hard to say whether Kattan followed in his father's footsteps,
considering his dad was the voice of one of the blue cartoon character Smurfs.
What Chris did get was a love of silent films, from the Keystone Cops movies his
Then, there are the things Kattan didn't get. He grew up on remote Mt. Baldy
(near Pomona, CA) and his parents were divorced by the time he was two. Mom
re-married a Zen psychoanalyst who hung with the likes of Leonard Cohen, Alan
Watts and Carlos Casteneda. As a four-year-old, Kattan recalls, "I just
want to run around and play frisbee and fall down. And nobody was there to watch
that or care about that."
They're watching now. The guys who were invited to audition for SNL in 1995
have found themselves on the cover of "The Rolling Stone" and in their
first feature. Ferrell is in the currently lensing "Superstar" in
Toronto with Shannon, the Nixon-era "Dick" and the Ben
Stiller-produced "The Suburbans." Someone asks if the latter is a
"It's a comedy," asserts Ferrell. Then, he gets that faraway look
in his eyes again. "With an intense rape scene."