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At one point, Ferrell goes on a tangent, based on nothing in the script, about how lonely his Thanksgiving was at the lighthouse. "My guests weren't pleased," he says. "And by 'guests' I mean two squirrels and an owl who came in through a broken window." McKay loves it, instantly fleshing out the pathetic tableau: "Two squirrels, a filthy store mannequin, a statue of Thomas Jefferson, and a bucket full of kelp."

"Adam will come up with these weirdly constructed, specifically strange descriptions of things," says Rudd. "He's the best comedy writer I've ever seen." Like Rudd, Christina Applegate – who plays Ron's soulmate and professional rival, Veronica, in both films – has no improv training, which originally made her feel out of place in the Anchorman universe. "Adam would say, 'Christina, do what you want,' and I'd say, 'I don't know what that means!'" she recalls. "But he sets a tone of 'Let's just play. You're never judged.' If you come up with something shitty, they're not like, 'Boooo.'" Carell says that the bedrock to good improv is listening. "You can have all of these rules and little tricks that they teach you to try and help you with improv," he says, "but ultimately you can't have any of that stuff in your mind when you're doing it."

As takes accumulate, crew members double over, or press their palms to their mouths. "Adam is the funniest on-set director who has ever lived," Apatow tells me later. "When I direct a movie, I'm lifting jokes that people said in rehearsal, I've got lines in mind I want to try – Adam can just watch the scene and pitch 25 perfect jokes off the top of his head." After a bit, the masturbation gag turns a corner, toward the voluminous orgasm that Mrs. Butterworth inspires in Ron. It's here that Koechner, his back to the camera, starts trembling uncontrollably with laughter. McKay presses the button on his mic, says it's OK, we won't see Koechner's face in this shot. The take continues.

"Talk about a river of ejaculate," Ferrell says.

McKay: "It was as if someone shot a bucketful of paste with a shotgun."

Ferrell: "It was like somebody dumped a bucket of corn chowder into an industrial fan!"

Rudd's eyes start tearing up. McKay, not missing a beat: "It was like someone gutted a shark over a marble floor."

Ferrell, bellowing: "It was like goddamn Krakatoa in my pants!"

Carell is convulsing. The take is a goner. But Ferrell is having too much fun to stop. "Now I know what those sad villagers in Pompeii felt like!" he says. "Except, instead of hot lava raining down, I rained down frothy ejaculate!"

An assistant runs out a Kleenex for Rudd. "Is this for my eyes or for my nose?" he asks, wiping at his face. After a few more takes, it's lunchtime. "That was a lot of laughing," McKay says. Rudd and Koechner approach him. "Carell lost it – that's a rarity," Rudd says happily. "It's hard today," says Koechner. "Even if you know a joke's coming, the way Will does it gets you – he's throwing knuckleballs every time."

McKay nods. "I tell people that directing Will in a movie is like renting a Maserati," he says.

A short while later, Ferrell comes over, curious if he was consistent in his phrasing between two takes, which would make editing easier. "When I said 'man butter,' was that the right term?" he asks. McKay consults with Cate Hardman, the script supervisor. "I worked on The Help," Hardman tells me, grinning. "They don't go off-script in The Help."

"It was supposed to be 'man milk,'" McKay tells Ferrell.

Ferrell grimaces. "It's OK," McKay says. "If we want 'man milk,' we can loop it later."

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