5 things we learn about Chris Farley in a new documentary
Chris Farley, the beloved ‘‘Saturday Night Live’’ cast member, died at the same age as his idol, John Belushi: 33.
A&E’s new ‘‘Biography’’ documentary about Farley, which premiered Monday and is available online, explores the life of the charismatic comedian. In it, friends and family members cover the familiar material about Farley’s struggle with addiction, as well as his lifelong worship of fellow ‘‘SNL’’ comic Belushi. But they also describe Farley as a comedic force who had always been uproariously funny, even as an improv amateur.
‘‘Chris Farley: Anything for a Laugh’’ revealed a few other tidbits about the Wisconsin-born and -bred performer. Here are five:
1. The one person Farley wanted to make laugh
Farley was incredibly close with his father. They had ‘‘an intense relationship,’’ said one of Farley’s brothers. ‘‘Dad had a lot of influence on Chris. Like anytime you see him doing a character, it’s a version of my dad.’’
The brother added, ‘‘And he used to always say: ‘The only person I’m trying to make laugh is Dad at home.’ ’’
2. His Marquette University days
Farley, who played rugby and took acting classes at college, lived in a student house during his time at Marquette University in Wisconsin. And the students who currently live there claim that the place is haunted; during a visit from Farley’s former classmate Pat Finn, the residents said they had ghost stories.
‘‘While we watched Chris Farley videos of him on ‘SNL,’ or ‘Tommy Boy,’ the beds have shaken,’’ one student reported. ‘‘His spirit is still here.’’
During their senior year, Finn said Farley insisted, ‘‘We gotta focus up. We gotta start writing comedy.’’ The first night they tried, Farley wrote down ‘‘airplane food’’ and the pair went silent for one minute. ‘‘Comedy is hard,’’ Farley then remarked.
3. The making of ‘Tommy Boy’
The movie that turned into a cult classic was originally called ‘‘Billy the Third: A Midwestern.’’ But because ‘‘Billy Madison’’ had just come out, they had to change the title. Lorne Michaels came up with ‘‘Tommy Boy.’’
‘‘At first, everyone hated it, didn’t understand it,’’ director Peter Segal said.
The movie showcased the real-life dynamic between David Spade and Farley. ‘‘Lorne said, ‘You guys are funny around the office, try to make a movie out of that,’’ Spade recalled. Spontaneous jokes between the two wound up in the script.
One day, the costars were in wardrobe. ‘‘Chris comes out in that iconic tweed suit jacket, and he said, ‘David, does this suit make me look fat?’ ’’ Segal recalled, to which Spade replied, ‘‘No, but your face does.’’
They ended up shooting ‘‘Tommy Boy’’ while Farley and Spade were actively appearing on ‘‘SNL.’’ Although the shoot was grueling, Farley was clean and sober throughout the process. ‘‘I think when we left, the old demons started coming back,’’ the director said.
4. He was a great dancer
While Farley’s physical comedy often lent itself well to bits involving him throwing his body onto a collapsing table, the comedian had grace. And his dancing ability was on full display in one iconic ‘‘SNL’’ sketch. Before performing in the ‘‘Chippendale’s Audition,’’ he called up Charna Halpern, ImprovOlympic cofounder, telling her he was scared.
‘‘Well, they’re making fun of the fat boy,’’ he told her, according to Halpern. ‘‘And I said, ‘Chris, you are light on your feet, you’re a fantastic dancer. Just be the best you can be.’ ’’
In the sketch, Farley seductively moved next to the muscular Patrick Swayze. But the sketch worked because Farley could actually dance, several of his comedic friends noted in the ‘‘A&E’’ documentary. He had some training, too; Farley took ballet classes in college.
5. He performed charitable acts frequently
Farley’s Second City improv friends said that he’d always refuse payment for charitable shows organized by the theater, instead insisting his cut go back to the charity. Farley was a devout Catholic, who regularly attended Mass (although during his college days, it would often be in the evenings ‘‘because Sunday mornings got a little tough sometimes,’’ Finn said).
His churchgoing continued during his ‘‘SNL’’ days, and while living in New York City, he’d visit nursing homes and volunteer at soup kitchens. Al Franken, who wrote for ‘‘SNL’’ while Farley was a cast member, told a particularly emotional story about a boy, very sick in a pediatric ward, whose favorite ‘‘SNL’’ member was Farley. Franken arranged a visit, and Farley then decided to visit the rest of the children there. After a day of making the kids laugh, Franken and Farley got onto the elevator and cried.
But few knew of his volunteerism during his lifetime, including his brothers (one said he didn’t know about it until much later).