When Saturday Night Live kicks off its 27th season this weekend, it will do so without its most popular character: President George W. Bush. In fact, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have led producers to put the kibosh on political humor altogether.

"I think in some ways we've seen Bush transform into a real leader," Dubya impersonator Will Ferrell tells TV Guide Online. "There's also a collective spirit at Saturday Night Live that this is not the time to make fun of anything political or topical. We're very sensitive to that and we're going to have to play it by ear.

"Frankly," he adds, "there's only one topic that's on anyone's mind right now, so our first shows are going to be more light-hearted and character-based."

That said, Ferrell believes that the long-running sketch comedy can provide an important public service during this difficult time. "In the end, people still want to laugh," he offers. "Hopefully, that will be a road that will help us get back to normal. That's kind of our job; that's what we do. Hopefully, we'll do it well enough to help get everyone back on their feet."

Well, Ferrell certainly is doing his part to cheer up the country. In addition to SNL, the funnyman is teaming up with Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Colin Quinn and George Wallace for a Oct. 8 comedy benefit at Carnegie Hall to aid the ongoing relief effort. (For tickets, call 212-247-7800.) Additionally, he hopes to further cheer up the country with his new big-screen comedy Zoolander (opening Friday), based on the wacky, dim-witted male model Ben Stiller created for the VH1 Fashion Awards.

"The ultimate thing is to play someone who gives you the license just to act crazy," says the comic actor, who portrays an egocentric fashion designer in the pic. "It's completely freeing, and that's when you can have the most fun."