View attachment 45670 An elephant who could balance on the tip of a beach ball. A heedless life of the party who would do anything for a laugh, but who was almost crippled by an unshakeable insecurity. A warm, overflowing puddle of love who wasn’t above drowning it entirely in waves of booze, cocaine and heroin.
It’s not that Chris Farley was such a bundle of outrageous contradiction. It was that he exploded through every change, a big bang of limitless energy that took him from invisible point to everything in the universe at light speed.
In I Am Chris Farley, the rose-coloured documentary that finally debuts in Canada this weekend, it becomes abundantly clear that the Farley we saw on Saturday Night Live was the same man who prowled around outside the frame. And not just in his ability to flip a switch, but in his inability to not be the most charismatic, the most fun, the most everything man in the room. Farley’s life was one in which the spotlight never actually went off, and his titanic acts of crowd-pleasing were surrounded by equally large performances of self-pity and dissatisfaction, the latter ultimately ending in his death, the poisonous cocktail of drugs ultimately drowning his equally poisonous need to always put on a show.
That was, quite obviously, the spark of his success, as his friends and colleagues intimate and explain, whether in this doc or recollections like the oral history The Chris Farley Show and countless other quotes. His brothers describe him a wind-up toy: all they had to do was point him at what they wanted, and he was off. He was ultimately expelled from his high school when he exposed himself in a typing class, unable to turn down his classmates’ dare; a stage was nothing but a louder dare, and he eternally, effortlessly responded with everything he could think it was asking of him.
The stage was, realistically, his natural home, as it is for anyone whose talent lies in making every eye in the room turn to him: “Chris was never captured in either movies or TV as good as he was onstage,” one Second City director explains in The Chris Farley Show, “he was too explosive.” Rolling over his most memorable performances on SNL, his fellow actors all reveal that, as much as anything, he was playing to them, explicitly trying to break them, to get them to lose their character and reveal that they were just people, people who thought he was hilarious.
You can see it in stuff like Matt Foley, his bellowing motivational speaker: he barely glances at the ubiquitous SNL cue cards, is instead lazered in on David Spade, Phil Hartman, Christina Applegate, all but head-butting them while he berates them — and then jumping back for a twisting on-the-spot dance, or a table-flattening punctuation.
If this pure explosiveness is the stuff he’s most remembered for, and most tortured by — even in the weeks after his death, remembrances make dire note of his unshakeable belief that his appeal was in the “Fatty fall down” vein, mired between laughing with and laughing at — his friends say the truer Farley was found in his turns as an eternally awkward, self-effacing bundle of nerves, his body shrunk to a mess of sweat and stammer. You see some of it in an interview with Letterman that is strung through I am Chris Farley, every joke coming out of Farley’s mouth turned on himself, a big, dumb idiot who’s forever making life hard for the people around him.
In this conception, Chris Farley was no more Chris Farley than when he was hosting his eponymous skit talk show, mumbling out questions to Paul McCartney that almost all start with “You remember…” This was the insecurity that gave him his eternal sweetness, but also kept him from really feeling any sense of adoration or contentment, convinced him he was better off lost in a fog.
If that’s true — some people think it was another act, another way to win people over when yelling and cartwheels wouldn’t do — it was more fuel for the real overarching pull of his personality, which was to please people, to fit in. Farley’s famous Chippendale’s dance against Patrick Swayze, which several people here point to as the moment he became a star, is an incredible performance, but one even Farley was nervous about. He thought it was more making fun of the fat guy (fellow SNLers like Bob Odenkirk and Chris Rock agree, the latter going so far as to point to it as the thing that killed him).
But he couldn’t help himself: there were laughs to be had, attention to be grabbed; his self-loathing, too, could be turned on a dime, and inevitably was when it came time for another pratfall, another chance to take his shirt off, another chance to scream until he went literally red in the face.
If that tendency eventually killed him, it wasn’t always good for his comedy, either. It’s not much remembered now — certainly not by his colleagues — but Farley’s run coincided with one of the nadirs of Saturday Night Live, a catchphrase-spouting, insular frat boy zenith that was so bad it sparked a New York magazine takedown that killed a slate of SNL-related movies. Farley was the cover boy for that story, and his attitude — that essentially everything he did was funny, that you just needed to throw back the curtain and let him go — was indicative of what writer Chris Young identified as the show’s laziness. His movie career, save a few choice bit parts and the madcap (though poorly aging) Tommy Boy, was largely an exercise in wasting talent, the lowest common denominator tendencies of Hollywood meeting the permanently permeable sensibilities of Farley.
He knew that, too — it was Beverly Hills Ninja, another fattty comedy, that left him crying at its own premiere and pushed Farley off the wagon for the last time. He simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try to please people, even if those people wanted a fat man doing karate chops.It casts even the potentially rich projects he had in the works at his death — Ignatius J. Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces — in uncomfortable light. What would he have done when the tension between easy crowd-pleasing and difficultly fulfilling became too much? His history gives little reason for optimism.
Often when talking about Farley, his childlike nature, his grand naivete, is brought up as one of the best things about him. However, innocence is also the opposite of wisdom. He was someone who lacked the internal fortitude to stand back and consider the consequences of strapping on those tight black pants, crashing through that table, having that next drink or bump.
Farley was simply not the type of creature to hold anything back. He was a man who exploded through so many different states, made so many transitions, that when he finally found a side he didn’t have, the only option was to implode.
By David Berry - The National Post/Aug. 21, 2015
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