CONAN O' BRIEN, writer:
by Tom Farley, Jr., and Tanner Colby,
Authors of The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts
When Chris first got to the show, I met him hanging
out in the conference room outside Lorne's office. He was dressed kind
of like a kid going to a job interview. We chatted for a bit. I liked
him right away.
From the day he arrived at Saturday Night Live,
Chris Farley was already suffering comparisons to the other outrageous,
larger-than- life figure in SNL history: John Belushi. When Chris
died seven years later, eerily, at the same age as Belushi, those
comparisons became gospel. In truth the two men shared far more differences
than similarities. Still, in life and in death, Chris has borne the
accusation of trying too hard to follow in Belushi's footsteps -- an
accusation with varying shades of truth. Yes, Chris looked up to and admired
his predecessor, but whatever influence Belushi's ghost had on a young Chris
Farley paled in comparison to the truly dominant forces in his life: his
father, his family, and his faith. As far as drugs and alcohol went, Chris's
bad habits were very much his own, seeded in his DNA and showing up at keg
parties long before Belushi's demise. And if Chris followed Belushi in more
positive ways, he was hardly alone.
I came in and out of that conference room several times during the day,
and Chris was still waiting. Lorne would do that to you, make you wait a
long time. At the end of the day, I was feeling bad for him, so I said,
"Hey, kid. I'll show you around the studio," and I led him on kind of a
mock tour where I pretended to be in charge of everyone. Chris fell in
and started playing along with me. After that I left and went home. I
came back to work the next day, and Chris was still waiting outside
He had this energy, even when he was sitting there waiting for his
meeting, rocking back and forth in his ill-fitting sports jacket with
his tie all pulled off to the side. He seemed really earnest about doing
the show. You just had the feeling that he was going to be a lot of fun
and he belonged here. It was like the show -- and I don't mean this to
sound condescending -- but it was like the show had been given this new
golden retriever puppy.
In the comedy epidemic of the twentieth century, John Belushi was Patient
Zero. The twin blockbuster successes of Saturday Night Live and
National Lampoon's Animal House fundamentally changed the landscape of
being funny. Movie studios began churning out huge blockbuster comedies
like Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop. Stars like Eddie
Murphy, Mike Myers, and Jim Carrey beat a well-trod path from sketch-comedy
cult status to Hollywood fame and fortune. Second City and ImprovOlympic
grew from regional theaters into multiheaded corporate enterprises, churning
out hundreds of aspiring comedians every year and spawning scores of other
schools and venues across the country. Chris Farley and his friends were the
first generation born into and weaned on that era. Their reverence for it
and obsession with it was the common denominator that bound them together.
It all began in 1975 when producer Lorne Michaels assembled the original
cast of SNL and took to the air live from New York every Saturday night.
Following his departure in 1980, producer Dick Ebersol took over the show.
Ebersol presided over some difficult years but also cultivated the stardom
of Eddie Murphy and assembled the all-star cast of Billy Crystal,
Christopher Guest, and Martin Short.
In 1985, Lorne Michaels returned. The show needed new direction, and he
needed a job. After a rocky start, he went back to the drawing board in 1986
and assembled the cast -- Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn,
Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Victoria Jackson, and Weekend Update anchor Dennis
Miller -- that would breathe new life into the show. Mike Myers came aboard
in '89, but otherwise no visible changes where made, or needed, for the rest
of the eighties.
Then, in the fall of 1990, a slow transition began to take place. Nora Dunn
and Jon Lovitz left; Chris Farley and Chris Rock entered. Far younger than
the established cast, the two became fast friends and soon found themselves
sharing an office. Farley and Rock were the only performers added that fall.
Tim Meadows, Chris's Second City cast mate, would come on board at
Back in the writers' room, Jim Downey, a freshman writer in SNL's early
years, had assumed the reins of head writer and producer. At the core of the
writing staff was a group that had led the resurgence from the show's
mid-eighties nadir: Robert Smigel, Jack Handey, Bob Odenkirk, and Conan
O'Brien. Meanwhile, Tom Schiller, Al Franken, Tom Davis, and Marilyn Suzanne
Miller -- also veterans of the show's original writing staff -- had all come
back for an additional go-round. Added to that was a very young team of
stand-up comedians -- Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Rob Schneider -- whose
age and sense of humor would ultimately bring about a generational shift at
the show. Both on camera and off, SNL found itself with a varsity
squad and a junior-varsity squad. It was an odd mix of talent, but it worked
well. For a while.
Chris arrived in New York in October. His older brother, Tom, had lived in
the city for many years, and together they found an apartment for Chris on
Seventh Avenue, just north of Times Square and right around the corner from
the show's Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. The canyons of midtown Manhattan
were a striking contrast to the cozy comforts of Chicago's Old Town, but
Chris soon discovered the Carnegie Deli, St. Malachy's Church on West
Forty-ninth Street, and a fine Irish pub called The Fiddler's Green, all
within a small walking radius. He had made his home again, scarcely able to
believe what that new home was. As many latter-day SNL writers and
performers have said, anyone who works at the show is a fan of the show,
first and foremost. And Chris was surely that.
ROBERT SMIGEL, writer/coproducer:
I was a coproducer as well as a writer, and so I got to go with Lorne to
Chicago to scout the Second City show. Hiring Chris was probably the easiest
casting decision Lorne's ever had to make. In all the shows I scouted before
or after, I'd never seen anybody leap out at you from the stage the way
Chris did. Lorne hired him the next day.
JIM DOWNEY, head writer/proclucer:
There was so much buzz about Farley that our checking him out was almost pro
forma. It was kind of automatic.
LORNE MICHAELS, executive producer:
I'd had something of a concern that maybe he was too big, personality-wise,
to play on television. Theatrically, he was sort of playing to the back of
the house. But after we saw him, there really wasn't much doubt.
Lorne invited me to be in on his meeting with Chris. Chris showed up, and he
was in full altar-boy mode, lots of "yes, sirs" and bright-eyed alertness.
He was so transparently on his best behavior that you kind of had to laugh
and wonder if it was inversely proportional to his worst behavior. Lorne
talked about the show and what would be expected of him, and Chris just kept
sweetly nodding his head in agreement. Lorne had been told, at that point,
about Chris's problems. I don't remember exactly what he said, but he told
Chris, in so many words, that it wouldn't be tolerated. He even said
something to the effect of "We don't want another Belushi."
It wasn't presented to us that Chris had any sort of problem, just that he
was still a little young and liked to party too much.
All the cast and writers were sort of strolling in over the course of that
first week. Chris immediately gravitated to this younger, newer crowd of
writers and actors: Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, and David Spade. They were
coming on as writers. The only two new cast members were Chris and Chris
Rock. They got all the press.
DAVID SPADE, cast member:
I had done four shows as a writer/performer. Then it was summer break, and
when I got back Farley and Rock came on as featured players. Sandler came
about six months later.
I met Chris the first day, walking over from the Omni Berkshire, where SNL had
put us up. I saw him downstairs, and I'd heard about him. We talked and then
we walked over to 30 Rock together. I thought he was funny. He was a nice
Wisconsin dude, a genuine, sweet guy. I was out from Arizona. I'm not really
a bad guy. We just gravitated to hanging out all the time and stayed buddies
MARCI KLEIN, talent coordinator:
I first met him the day he started. He was wearing this English driving cap
and looking very Irish. He was very quiet and deferential, very nervous,
like I was the person in charge or something, which I thought was funny,
because I wasn't. He would get so nervous; that was one of the things that
was really charming about him.
CHRIS ROCK, cast member:
We both got hired the same day, which was probably one of the greatest days
of my life. We were the new guys, and they threw us together. The funny
thing was that everyone was worried about me -- I lived in Brooklyn
and didn't want to move to Manhattan, because I couldn't park on the street
and I couldn't get a cab. I said it in the Live ftom New York book:
Two guys named Chris both get hired on the same day and share an office.
One's a black guy from Bed-Stuy and one's a white guy from Madison,
Wisconsin. Now, which one is going to OD?
The above is an excerpt from the book The
Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom
Farley, Jr., and Tanner Colby. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned
reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread,
occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to
the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2009 Tom Farley, Jr., and Tanner
Colby, authors of The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts
Tom Farley, Jr., author of The Chris Farley Show: A
Biography in Three Acts, and Chris's older brother, is president
and managing director of the Chris Farley Foundation, which educates young
people about substance abuse and addiction. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin
Tanner Colby, co-author of The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in
Three Acts, is former head writer of The National Lampoon
Radio Hourand coauthor of Belushi: A Biography. He lives in New
For more information please visit www.chrisfarleyshow.com