Biography of Chris Farley that reports memories of
those who knew him best brings forth a multi-dimensional portrait of the
late comedic actor.
“Live From New York,” the oral history of Saturday Night Live reported and
compiled by James Miller and Tom Shales, while interesting to comedy or
SNL fans, gave a very piecemeal, scattershot view of the various eras of
the show, falling into the trap to which such works are prone.
(If you’re not sure what is meant by “oral history,” it’s an entire book
where the story or biography is told through a succession of quotes by
those who knew the subject or participants in the events, with very
little additional prose exposition).
With a much narrower focus, “The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts,” by Tom Farley Jr. (Chris’ older brother) and Tanner Colby,
succeeds where “Live From New York” didn’t, and that is at building a
cohesive and compelling narrative through its compilation and choices of
quotes from colleagues such as David Spade, Chris Rock, Tim Meadows, Tom
Arnold, Charna Halperin (of Chicago’s ImprovOlympic theater), and Lorne
Michaels himself. Farley’s brothers, Tom Jr., John and Kevin (currently
a working actor with credits including “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), also
offer significant insights, stories and contributions.
Brick by brick, or quote by quote, the authors build a biography of
Farley that brings out so many aspects of his life and performances --
the joys, the heartbreaks, the tragedy and the charitable and religious
sides of Farley that he kept quite quiet and personal during his life.
Through reminiscences by Farley’s brothers, his friends as a child,
teenager and young man, the authors paint a vivid, layered picture of
how Farley found his way early to comedy and entertaining, and how much
it was all he lived for -- to the point that being on SNL was his only
goal and most important pursuit, and everything else in his life, like
college studies (although he eventually finished) or holding down a job,
would fall by the wayside. The stories of Farley getting fired from just
about every business up and down the street near the Second City theater
in Chicago are just one hilarious memory the authors present.
More stories -- of Farley being funny in private, public and on SNL --
help show the reader the uniqueness and contagious enthusiasm of this
performer. Just to name one, during a screening of “Mighty Ducks 2” for
the SNL cast because Emilio Estevez was hosting, when a takeoff of the
song “Whoop There It Is” plays, Farley gets up and starts slapping his
own bare ass in time to the music.
But it’s really the combination of all the tales of Farley’s wild humor
with more little-known stories of his good deeds, helping homeless
people and sick children, in part through St. Malachy’s Church in New
York -- which also figured in his efforts to battle his own addictions
-- that elevate “The Chris Farley Show.” This biography makes the reader
feel his humanity and feel for him as he suffers relapses and goes down
the wrong paths that end up taking him to his sad fate.
The colleagues in his life who cared for him, quoted at length, with
their points of view, give readers the feeling that they are there as
these events happen. David Spade, his co-star in “Tommy Boy,” had become
less close with Farley for various reasons, exacerbated by a mammoth
relapse after Farley had logged about three years sober, and this comes
through, as does the fact that Spade still loved him and was concerned
for him. Chris Rock offers numerous key insights, notably that Farley’s
famed “Chippendales” sketch, while hilarious and classic, contributed to
his complexes about only being seen as a fat clown and nothing more.
With “The Chris Farley Show,” readers will really feel the highs and
lows of the man’s life, with such a “you are there” feeling to its
documenting of the events that the book should go down as primer for
sensitive and thoughtful celebrity journalism.