By the beard of Zeus! The main cast of the 2004 film “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” took to the stage in Santa Monica on Thursday night for a reading of the screenplay as a benefit to the tutoring and literacy organization 826LA. Presented by Judd Apatow and Adam McKay, respectively producer and director of the original and the upcoming sequel, the evening was hosted by Conan O’Brien.
“826 is a great place that’s supporting young kids, with free tutoring and it helps kids learn how to write,” said Apatow during a reception before the show. “That’s what has supported me in my life is my ability to write and it helped me to find my voice and figure out who I am as a person.”
“I think folks like Judd and others really believe in the power of writing. That’s what got them where they are and we’re helping kids see the potential of writing and what they can do,” said Joel Arquillos, executive director of 826LA. He noted that the evening would raise nearly $350,000 for the group.
Introducing the event, 826 co-founder Dave Eggers also noted that when Apatow first put on a fundraiser for the group a few years ago -- he did it as a parody of fundraisers -- it brought in enough to fund the group’s storefront at the Echo Park Time Travel Mart.
O’Brien joked in his intro that only in Los Angeles would people treat screenplays as literature. (Elsewhere in Los Angeles on Thursday night, there was a reading of the script to “Tootsie” directed by David Wain with a cast that included Fred Melamud, Hannah Simone, Thomas Lennon, Michaela Watkins and Nick Kroll.)
Next, Jack Black came out to sing a comedic ballad about his dismay at not being cast in the “Anchorman” sequel, which opens Dec. 20. Then Fred Armisen came out to play guitar with O’Brien, doing Eddie Money’s “Baby Hold On,” interrupted by Black. Then Maya Rudolph joined Armisen and Black for Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town,” with Rudolph scatting the song’s famous ringing guitar parts.
Next the rest of the evening’s cast came out, with Danny Trejo, Bill Kurtis, Chris Parnell, Fred Willard, Armisen, Rudolph, Black, Christina Applegate, David Koechner, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, McKay and finally Will Ferrell joining the stage.
“It was Judd’s idea,” said McKay of the event, during the reception earlier in the evening. “And I forgot who I was talking to, so I thought yeah, we’ll get a theater with 100 seats and it will be a small thing and now look at this event. He’s incapable of doing anything small.”
“Anchorman” was of course a parody of mid-sized city television news in the 1970s, featuring the delusionally egotistical anchorman Ron Burgundy, played by Ferrell, who co-wrote the script with McKay. The sequel “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is one of the most hotly anticipated (and savvily cross-promoted) films of the season. All of this for a film that has gained popularity over the years, but was perceived at the time of its release as something of a failure.
“I remember getting a call from someone at Dreamworks on the Monday after the movie was released and his voice was shaking and he said we kind of bombed,” said Applegate during the show’s pre-reception. “So it just sort of felt like, well there goes that. And then it started to gain momentum. More even over the last few years. I’ve started to feel people really appreciating it.”
“I think the characters are beloved because at their core they’re very kind and they care about one another,” said Carell. “It’s one of those things we loved about the first ‘Anchorman’ in that no matter what, these four guys stood up for one another. As absurd as it is, there’s a built-in respect between the characters.”
Also spotted in the audience at the Eli and Edith Broad Stage venue Thursday night were writer-director James L. Brooks, Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, actresses Olivia Wilde and Sarah Chalke, Al Madrigal from “The Daily Show,” actor Paul Rust and writer Lesley Arfin.
“Usually when you watch a comedy and then it stays with you it’s not so much the jokes,” noted Rudd. “It’s the kind of throwaway lines that over time become the funniest ones.”
Indeed, among the biggest responses from the crowd were reactions to such lines as Koechner’s “Whammy,” Carell’s “I love lamp” and Ferrell’s “Milk was a bad choice.” McKay read the stage directions, including the animated “Pleasure Town” lovemaking sequence and the outrageous street fight between rival television news teams. Apatow walked onstage to yell out his single line of dialogue from the film.
“There’s a lot of freedom in the first one that I think people fell in love with,” added Rudolph. Among her roles in the reading were assorted female voices and the thoughts of a bear. Among the various voices done by Armisen was the barking of Burgundy’s beloved dog Baxter, another crowd favorite.
Just before the cast received a standing ovation, the reading drew to a close with its immortal final line – “You stay classy, Planet Earth.” Fine advice.
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus
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