Will Ferrell appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday night and the two reminisced about their time together on SNL. Among the stories was the infamous “Cowbell” sketch where Ferrell and Fallon play members of the band Blue Oyster Cult with Walken as their manager.
The sketch is a parody of VH1’s “Behind The Music” show and follows a fictional studio session during the recording of Blue Oyster Cult’s classic rock hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. Walken plays a super-producer “Bruce Dickinson” while Chris Kattan, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Parnell, and Horatio Sanz play the members of the band. Will Ferrell plays cowbell player Gene Frenkel who Walken becomes enamored with.
After every take, Ferrell’s performances become increasingly over the top which leaves his bandmates exasperated. Walken can’t get enough of the cowbell, much to the band’s chagrin, and keeps telling Ferrell he “needs more cowbell”. At one point he utters the famous phrase “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”
It’s one of the most famous sketches in SNL history and, to some people, Christopher Walken’s best work. Ferrell attended a play Walken was starring in and the actor let him know that the sketch still haunts him to this day.
“Here’s the crazy thing. I go to see Christopher Walken years later, in a play. I say hello to him backstage and he’s like, ‘You know, you’ve ruined my life,’” Ferrell said, imitating Walken’s signature voice. “‘People during curtain call bring cowbells. The other day I went for Italian food for lunch, and the waiter asked if I wanted more cowbell with my pasta bolognese.’ I think he’s really mad at me.”
Fallon and Ferrell point out that the actor has been in classic movies that include “Pulp Fiction” and “The Deer Hunter” but many people only know him from that infamous sketch.
You can watch the full clip below:
The cowbell sketch originally aired on August 8, 2000 and was one of the first videos from SNL to go viral on the internet.
How the Cowbell Sketch Came to Be
One of the most iconic SNL sketches of the past 20 years almost didn’t make it on the air. The goofy, surreal idea came from Will Ferrell, who wrote the sketch with playwright Donnell Campbell and told Rolling Stone that he got the idea from listening to the classic rock song.
“Every time I heard ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,’ by Blue Öyster Cult, I would hear the faint cowbell in the background and wonder, ‘What is that guy’s life like?'” explained Ferrell. “I held on to it for, I think, three months, until Christopher Walken was the host, and rewrote it for him. His odd rhythms fit so perfectly. He gave it that special sauce.”
Ferrell maintains that while the sketch may look goofy on the surface it’s much deeper than people realize. “To the less-observant eye, the sketch was an excuse to let my belly hang out and wear tight ’70ss clothing,” said Ferrell. “But it really was about the exuberance of a guy who was given the green light to really express his art. Even though it’s funny, it was rooted in something real.”
The sketch reached full-on cult status by 2005 as the video made its rounds on the internet and on the popular “Best of Will Ferrell” SNL DVD. So much so that Ferrell reprised his role as Gene Frenkel during a Queens of the Stone Age performance after during a 2005 episode of SNL.