BOOK REVIEW | "THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW: A BIOGRAPHY IN THREE ACTS" BY TANNER COLBY AND TOM FARLEY, JR.
photo by nacrowe
i've already made explicit my love for comedian CHRIS FARLEY and his all-too brief career (check out that article HERE), but after reading this loose oral biography THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW: A BIOGRAPHY IN THREE ACTS (VIKING, 2009), co-written by his older brother TOM FARLEY JR and compiling quotes from his friends, family, colleagues, childhood acquaintances and peers alike what becomes apparent was his complex humanity that far transcended his public persona.
what struck me about this book was not the stories of his kindness towards strangers or even the revelation that he was a vulnerable, deeply empathetic person that drew strength from his catholicism. no what struck me about this book was his relationship with his father. in my estimation this book is not about CHRIS FARLEY, it is about TOM FARLEY SR and CHRIS FARLEY. TOM was an academic standout who graduated from GEORGETOWN and was a rising talent with within the WISCONSIN GOP, even knowing then-SENATOR JOSEPH MCCARTHY. he was destined to become a lawyer but shortly after beginning law school had two heart attacks a promptly moved back to WISCONSIN and supported his family by running a company that paved roads for the local government. his job was basically to take people out to restaurants and schmooze them over lunch/dinner. he'd do this several times a day throughout WISCONSIN depending on the clientele.
in essence, CHRIS (much like his brothers) adored his father and sought to please him throughout his career. CHRIS' only ambition was to be on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, the show whose member JOHN BELUSHI was a favorite of his father. throughout this narrative of his life, CHRIS made fateful decisions based on the flawed logic of his father. whether that be delusions about whether or not they both had a problem with food or alcohol (both were alcoholics that were morbidly overweight). even when he got to 600 pounds, his father held psychological sway over CHRIS, who wouldn't lose weight as a means of solidarity with his father. even creative choices that were detrimental to his career, and against the advice of peers, agents and his own better judgement, were made by the outsized influence of his father. for one, he did BEVERLEY HILLS NINJA (SONY PICTURES, 1997) not because of the quality of the script but because TOM had convinced him to take the money.
to me this makes sense given that they had an IRISH-CATHOLIC clan mentality and again, for CHRIS his goal in life was to make his father laugh. its just tragic that he didn't get help because his generosity and sense of humor was inclusive and such a positive force in an unseen number of people's lives. there was a vulnerability to his work. a humility. this was a sad painful book to read if only because he was such a singular talent that was beloved by his peers at every step of his career and to this day he is still such a beacon of unbridled joy.
the fact that he self-destructed so spectacularly and was such a lonely figure is heart-wrenching. selfishly, like so many others i would have loved to see the DAVID MAMET-directed "FATTY" ARBUCKLE biopic that was in development at the time of his death. what an apt project.
anyway, this book was beyond compelling and well-worth seeking out if you are interested in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or the history of AMERICAN COMEDY. its a tragedy that is so GREEK Its uncanny. what a sad, sad story.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
man i still miss CHRIS FARLEY. watching his stuff still makes me laugh.
its between him and NORM MACDONALD for my favorite comedians of all-time. i can't choose.
this might come off as tone deaf or unsympathetic, but normally when a celebrity passes on i am not that affected by it on a personal level. don't get me wrong, i have compassion for the family of the deceased and the suffering they must be going through. but i don't usually take the next step and feel personally affected. i didn't know them personally. i can't think of another celebrity i had such a strong reaction to upon learning of their demise. not even KURT COBAIN or later PHIL HARTMAN and OL' DIRTY BASTARD. FARLEY still stands out to me as uniquely american tragedy, as our culture promotes narcissism through empty capitalism, but never checks the dark underbelly of consumer culture that defines our self-image.
to me FARLEY's passing was different. his death from a speedball overdose in 1997 happened during my middle school years and it bummed me out. sounds selfish, i felt like something was taken from me when he died. like we were all deprived of his brilliance. dude was so vivacious and full of life, he just seemed like a force of nature in his performances which were so intense it had an almost kinetic energy that just sucked you in from its sheer force of will.
it is so tragic to know now that his performances were fueled by pain and insecurity. being overweight and seeing his father ridiculed growing up for his weight issues in rural WISCONSIN just breaks my heart. what really gets me is the idea that the gift for which he was celebrated for, his humor and larger-than-life personality, was born out of a desperation for feeling like a social outcast due to his stature. his acting out a way of gaining attention and notoriety and at its base, love and adoration. the feeling that his frame made him unlovable.
that idea still makes me sad. that his gift was his curse. being celebrated for your sublimated creative expression of deep unbridled pain and social anxiety.
i love the guy 20+ years later and i still miss him even though i never knew him. dude was a legend.
R.I.P. CHRIS FARLEY.