At first glance, you might think that everything you need to know about Chris Farley could be written with a dull crayon on the back of a used paper plate—and it essentially was, in the tabloid frenzy following his death: fat, clumsy, loud guy who OD’d like his hero Belushi. Farley’s shtick, as expressed in five seasons of Saturday Night Live and three No. 1 films, was massively simple: He was the fattest of the fat, loudest of the loud, sweatiest of the sweaty, drunkest of the drunk. His comedy consisted almost exclusively of pratfalls and nudity and shouting. To many, he epitomizes arguably the worst era of SNL: the catchphrase-addicted, innovation-free, post-Myers, pre-Ferrell frat-house nadir of a once-mighty institution. The Farley canon, as he left it when he died in 1997 at age 33, is tiny and tainted: the discordant bellowing of Cindy, his fry-eating Gap Girl; his virtuosically incompetent celebrity interviews on “The Chris Farley Show”; Matt Foley, his supremely unmotivating motivational speaker who lives “in a van down by the river.” While even the most skeptical comedy snob must acknowledge, in Farley’s best work, glimmers of something great—a mastery of the algorithms of physical comedy so fresh and weird it seems to border on genius (cf. Foley’s gyroscopic belt-hitching)—every brilliant move tends to get washed out by lazy waves of thoughtless pandering.
The Chris Farley Show—a new biography by Farley’s older brother, Tom, and a former biographer of Belushi, Tanner Colby—shows that Farley’s simplicity was in fact a tremendously complex construct.
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