TMR Book Review: The Chris Farley Show, A Biography in Three Acts

farleyBest known for his Saturday Night Live characters “Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker” and “The Fat Chippendale Dancer”, as well as the film, Tommy Boy, TV and film actor Chris Farley died three days before Christmas, 1997, much too young at the age of thirty-three.

Published in 2008, The Chris Farley Show, a Biography in Three Acts, by Chris’s brother Tom Farley Jr. and Tanner Colby, takes us through Farley’s life through the eyes of family and friends in a very interesting, interview format.

Dozens of people are interviewed, including childhood friends from the affluent Wisconsin community where Farley grew up, members of his large Irish Catholic family, who he also was very good friends with throughout his entire life, several alumni of both Second City, SNL, and many co-stars of the three, number 1 box office movies that Farley starred in, Tommy Boy, Black Sheep, and Beverly Hills Ninja.

The book is set up in three sections. The first covers his years growing up, his formative years at summer camp, going to Marquette, and starting at SNL. The second act covers his departure from SNL and his movies, while the last act covers his last couple of relapses.

In the first section, we see that he learns very early in life that comedy is a curtain that he can use to hide behind his insecurities, of which he has many. He struggles to make his father happy, and struggles with weight issues from early in childhood. As he grows older, these insecurities grow with him. But he learned very early that the one talent he had was putting people at ease and making them laugh, and he did it well. So he did it often.

Nick Burrows, guidance counselor:
Every time you’d walk down to the cafeteria, packed full of three-hundred kids, all you had to do was listen for the roar of laughter and you’d know where Chris Farley was sitting. As I remember, Chris didn’t really tell jokes. It was just who he was. He was just funny, being himself. People just liked hanging around him. I was his guidance counselor, and I liked hanging around him.

Farley didn’t get into acting until he got to Marquette University, but once he got the bug, he got it hard. Like anything else for people with an addictive personality, once they find something they can latch on to, they go full bore. Farley did just that and quickly found himself in Chicago as a star on Second City.

From there, it was on to Saturday Night Live, where he was a natural.

ROBERT SMIGEL, writer/coproducer SNL:
I was a coproducer as well as a writer, and so I got to go with Lorne [Michaels] to Chicago to scout the Second City show. Hiring Chris was probably the easiest casting decision Lorne’s ever had to make. In all the shows I scouted before or after, I’d never seen anybody leap out at you from the stage the way Chris did. Lorne hired him the next day.

By his fourth show, he was a national star. You know the one. That was the show where he did the fat Chippendale dancer with Patrick Swayze. He stole the show, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Farley quickly became a fan favorite on SNL, bringing his characters like “Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker”, and “The LunchLady” to life. His blundering portrayal of a talk show host, named “The Chris Farley Show”, who berated himself for asking famous guests insipid questions, was more real to life than people ever knew.

The following is an expert from a Saturday Night Live transcript from the skit, The Chris Farley Show (which is where they got the title for this biography), where he is interviewing guest host Paul McCartney:

Chris Farley: Oh, Do You.. you remember when you went to Japan.. and, uh, and at the airport they arrested you ’cause you had some pot, and.. it made all the papers, and everything..?

Paul McCartney: Well, to be honest, Chris, I’d kind of like to forget all of that.

Chris Farley: [ smacks himself harder ] IDIOT!! That’s so stupid! What a dumb question!!

Paul McCartney: No, no, no, Chris. I get asked that all the time in interviews. Maria Shriver asked the same question last week.

Chris Farley: Really? [ pause ] Did you know that she’s married to Arnold Schwartzenegger?

Paul McCartney: Yeah. I’ve heard that.

Chris Farley: Did you see “Terminator”?

Paul McCartney: No, I missed that one.

Chris Farley: That was a pretty awesome flick. [ pause ] O-kay.. remember.. you remember when you were with The Beatles, and you were supposed to be dead, and, uh, there was all these clues, that, like, uh, you played some song backwards, and it’d say, like, “Paul Is Dead”, and, uh, everyone thought that you were dead? That was, um, a hoax, right?

Paul McCartney: Yeah. I wasn’t really dead.

Chris Farley: Right. I think we.. I think we got time for one more question. Uh.. remember when you were in The Beatles? And, um, you did that album Abbey Road, and at the very end of the song, it would.. the song goes, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”? You.. you remember that?

Paul McCartney: Yes.

Chris Farley: Uh.. is that true?

Paul McCartney: Yes, Chris. In my experience, it is. I find, the more you give, the more you get.

Chris Farley [ ecstatic, starts to point at Paul and mouths “AWESOME!” ] Well, that’s it for this week’s show. Thank you, Paul McCartney, thank you, for being one of the greatest.. of rock.. I mean, a living legend. And uh, a legend of rock and roll.. and.. just thanks for being on the show, and.. [ smacks himself even harder ] GOD DANGIT! That sounded stupid! I knew I’d screw up!

Paul McCartney: You did fine, you did fine, Chris.

Tim Meadows. co-SNL cast member and friend:
That’s how he acted whenever he was around someone he admired. Until he got to know you, he really was that guy – shy and asking a lot of dumb questions but not wanting to be too intrusive.

Farley’s descent into alcohol and drugs is well documented in The Chris Farley Show, as is his many, many attempts at recovery. What this book leaves is with is a sad tale of a gifted artist who had many close friends and family members who cared about him deeply and loved him very much. A story of a loving, giving individual who was taken from us much too soon.

What The Chris Farley Show also does is puts aside any doubt that Farley had a death wish, or tried to kill himself, or didn’t love and cherish his life. According to all accounts he knew how lucky he was to be where he was, and he never forgot it.

He simply had a sickness that he couldn’t get his arms around, and it ultimately got the better of him.