I Am Chris Farley Directed by Brent Hodge & Derik Murray Spike TV
Air Date: Monday August 10th, 2015, 10pm
I watched Spike TV’s documentary I Am Chris Farley that premiered last night. I laughed so hard I was crying. Then I actually started crying. Chris Farley has been dead nearly 20-years, but the impact he had on people my age has been an incredibly lasting legacy. I was 8 when Farley and a young crop of would-be megastars joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. Along with Chris, there was Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, etc. My parents used to record SNL on VHS, and we’d watch as a family over breakfast Sunday mornings. It was a staple of my childhood. Folks older than I grew up with Murray, Aykroyd, Chase, and Radnor. My friends and I had Farley and the gang.
Spike’s documentary is incredibly thorough, featuring interviews from all the people you’d want to see from his childhood, through his rise to fame, to his unfortunate and all too early end. His brother Kevin (who looks and sounds scarily like him) introduced things. Farley was born in Madison, Wisconsin. His father owned an asphalt company, and he and his brothers would work for him. There are amazing parallels between his workings for his father, and the plot of his first film, Tommy Boy in 1995. He attended Marquette University, where he started taking improv classes. We get interviews interspersed with his acting coaches, rugby teammates (one is a priest now), and fellow comedians/actors. From Marquette, he went to Chicago with friend Pat Finn to join Second City, the comedy group that produced some of the greatest SNL alums, including John Belushi, of whom people were reminded of in Farley’s presence.
Farley dominated Second City, and we get to see footage of him doing routines we’d see and love on SNL in the future. Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker debuts at Second City and people would show up just to see that sketch! It’s onward to SNL. Almost no one is left out in the interviews. Cast members like Myers, Sandler, and Tom Arnold; writers like Bob Odenkirk, Fred Wolf, and of course show creator Lorne Michaels. Farley took the show by storm when he got there in 1990. The first one that drew notice was the hilarious Chippendales sketch alongside Patrick Swayze. They delve into his close friendships with the Spade/Sandler crew, but the real Chris Farley was probably closest to the one who was the host of The Chris Farley Show, where he’d awkwardly interview A-listers like Paul McCartney. “Remember when you were with the Beatles? That was awesome.”
More sketches are dissected (the best ever is the Matt Foley one with guest host Christina Applegate). We move on to his all-too-brief film career with Tommy Boy at the start in 95. Throughout the documentary, we see nearly his whole appearance on David Letterman to promote it. Of course, his life of excess is covered thoroughly. They don’t really pull punches. They deeply discuss the duality of his life and personality. His friend Pat Finn recalls how he did everything to excess (from friendship to alcohol to “other stuff”). Castmates and writers discuss his eating and drug use. They tried to warn him. He was in and out of rehab throughout. At the end, Chris Farley, responsible for some of the legit greatest and funniest moments in TV history, died at the age of 33, in December of 1997. He had guest hosted SNL just 6 weeks earlier.
This was essential viewing for any Farley fans, fans of SNL, or just people who want to laugh and maybe cry. He was so damn funny. And you can truly see the impact he left on those closest to him; his family, his friends, and his fans. In fact, one can argue those three groups are one and the same, in regards to Chris Farley.
I Am Chris Farley will replay on Spike TV, Thursday night, August 13th at 11:00pm ET. Tommy Boy and Black Sheep are streaming on Netflix.