Actor and comedian Will Ferrell and Craig Pollard, founder of a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing college scholarships to cancer survivors, spoke to a packed crowd at Bovard Auditorium on Monday night.
Ferrell and Pollard, both alumni of USC, came to speak as representatives of Pollard’s nonprofit, Cancer for College, for which Ferrell serves as a celebrity spokesperson. The two met during their time as students at USC when they were members of the same fraternity, Delta Tau Delta.
The discussion, moderated by David Belasco, co-director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and a professor in the Marshall School of Business, focused on Pollard’s process of creating his non-profit and the progression of Ferrell’s career.
“Everyone here has been affected by cancer, and everyone here has laughed at a Will Ferrell movie,” Belasco said to introduce the speakers.
After battling cancer twice — once at the age of 15 and again at 19 — Pollard came up with the idea of starting Cancer for College as his senior year project while attending the Marshall School of Business. In 1993, he held a golf tournament fundraiser in his backyard, and Cancer for College awarded its first scholarship of $500. Ferrell, a good friend of Pollard’s, has remained supportive of the organization throughout his comedy and acting career.
“I still have a copy of check Will gave me in 1992 for 50 bucks,” Pollard said.
The organization has now given approximately $2 million in scholarship funds to more than 2,000 students. The non-profit continues to hold an annual golf tournament in San Diego, which Ferrell hosts, and sells a sunscreen endorsed by Ferrell, for which all proceeds go to the charity.
“Craig came to me and said, ‘You’ve always dreamed of owning your own lotion company,’ and here we are,” Ferrell said. “It sells really well, and it works. It’s not just a stupid thing.”
The talk also touched on highlights of Ferrell’s career as an actor and comedian. Ferrell said that Pollard was often one of the few people in the audience during his first stand-up comedy gigs in the Los Angeles area.
Belasco related various aspects of the field of entrepreneurship to Ferrell’s struggles as a comedian before being cast on Saturday Night Live. Belasco also showed one of Ferrell’s preliminary audition tapes for the long-running NBC sketch comedy show in which he was asked to improvise a sketch using cat toys as props.
“There I was in that laughless void playing with cat toys and in my mind, I was thinking, ‘This is over,’” Ferrell said.
According to Belasco, Ferrell’s determination to succeed in the often-tedious entertainment field mirrors his most outstanding quality on stage.
“That is your most distinguishing characteristic: the risk. You are willing to do anything and humiliate yourself,” Belasco said.
Ferrell also discussed his experience as a student at USC. He acknowledged that times spent joking with his friends as a student prepared him for a career in entertainment.
“It’s not like you have a source or a confidante you can bounce ideas off of when it comes to comedy. You really just have to believe it,” Ferrell said. “In a way, my time here at school was a stage.”
The trailer for Ferrell’s new film Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, was played before the start of the program, in addition to various clips related to Ferrell’s career at USC and as an actor. After a clip of a class taught by Belasco in which former USC head football coach Pete Carroll described a football practice that Ferrell attended, Carroll joined the discussion via Skype for a few moments to voice his support for Cancer for College.
Ferrell also joked about his athletic ability, in addition to voicing his support for, and impersonating, interim head football coach Ed Orgeron.
According to Ferrell, Pollard did not let his battle with cancer prevent him from taking advantage of all the social and academic opportunities that USC had to offer.
“All of us as his friends had no idea. He kind of kept all this to himself,” Ferrell said.
Cancer for College has begun to expand its services to providing scholarships to students dealing with health problems other than cancer after Pollard contracted a bacterial infection in 2006, which resulted in the amputation of both his legs. Cancer for College gave its first scholarship to an amputee later that year.
Ferrell joked with Pollard about his tendency to avoid bringing attention to his own medical issues.
“I had no idea you don’t have two legs. I just realized that now,” Ferrell said jokingly.
Pollard said that he hopes to expand Cancer for College to become a $10 million foundation in five years, and that working in the non-profit field has helped him realize his passions in life.
“It’s not about what you have, it’s about the people you love and its about making a difference in the world,” Pollard said.
Ferrell concluded the event by dressing up in full Trojan regalia and leading the USC Trojan Marching Band.
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