Chris Farley has been gone for seventeen years, but as a figure he still seems relevant today. Still, when someone says his name, it’s easy to immediately think of his tragic death. The immediate sense of loss permeates while revisiting one of his most well-known SNL characters, like motivational speaker Matt Foley. It’s the magic of that character, and his many others that have given a specific model for many greats to follow. This is just one part of Farley’s legacy as a presence in the comedy world.
The other part is his death. Although Farley’s career was as bright as ever when he passed, the massive amount of media coverage on his drug overdose was simply unavoidable. There’s no separating Farley from his passing, and we shouldn’t. In the new documentary I am Chris Farley, the film certainly doesn’t shy away from mentioning his demons, but what’s refreshing is that Farley’s family members, including his brothers and sister, put the focus on a positive and enlightening portrait of the man behind the legend.
By holding up Farley’s legacy, the film also unmasks who Chris was at his core. A lot of the clips act as a “best of” reel, but the heart is getting to hear those who knew him best talk about Chris. Whether it’s as an awkward lightning rod of a teen in Madison, Wisconsin, or his early days as a member of Chicago’s Second City Theater, as a fan you may feel like you’re unearthing something special.
It’s hard to hear Farley’s colleagues like Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Bob Odenkirk talk about him, as the pain is still evident in their voices. Most notable is SNL’s Lorne Michaels, who rarely ever gives interviews, and who is very sentimental while speaking of Chris’s talents. These accounts put the flashing bulbs of the media aside to reveal an imperfect human and an incredible talent, who gave an enormous amount of love to those around him.
Chris’s brother Kevin Farley was generous enough to sit down with PopCrunch to speak about his brother’s legacy and the documentary, which is out in limited theaters and is available on VOD now.
PopCrunch: Why was this the perfect time to put out this documentary?
Kevin Farley: His death was pretty devastating on my family, and we went through a lot of changes on our own — my brothers, my sister, and my father. It just crushed us. Chris was my Irish Twin, basically, but as years go by it was easier for me to talk about it. I know time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it heals some. Everybody always comes up to me and says how much Chris meant to them, so I thought okay, let’s get it together and do a documentary for the fans.
PopCrunch: Aside from Chris being your brother, since you’re in the business, how did it feel to experience him at the top of his game on a professional level?
Kevin Farley: It was great! When it’s all coming in like that, it’s great. The Chris Farley business was doing pretty good for a little while. He was riding high, and he really loved being an actor. He loved show business. He used to say, “I love show business because it’s filled with crazy people.” [Laughs] So he fit right in.
PopCrunch: Your paths are completely different in the business, so did you feel like you had to move out of his shadow?
Kevin Farley: I’m kind of a mild-mannered Chris Farley, I guess, so I never wanted to follow his comic styles. I know we have the same mannerisms but I was just an actor, he was more of a performer. He was a force in and of itself, and I just wanted to be a part of an ensemble, so I wasn’t in that league. I didn’t want that either.
PopCrunch: In the film you say people come up to you to say how much you look like Chris. Is that odd?
Kevin Farley: They always look at me like they’re seeing a ghost. I don’t think I look like him, but people always say, “You look exactly like your brother.” I don’t know what people see. I have to go along with it [Laughs].
PopCrunch: One of the more interesting parts the documentary focuses on Chris’s insecurities. I always thought that was a common thread comedians shared. What are your thoughts on that?
Kevin Farley: Comedy is a high wire act. It takes a toll on your psyche to be funny. I don’t think it’s a natural state of being for a person, so it’s tough to be a comedian. It’s a very difficult way to make a living, and that’s on your psyche, but that being said you have to have a pretty healthy self-image because you’re getting rejected all the time. You’re trying to make a room laugh, which is impossible. I think if the average person thought about getting up in front of a room and making a thousand people laugh, most people would crumble under that thought. With Chris the pressure was high and he didn’t have a great self-esteem to begin with. He really struggled with it.
PopCrunch: I have to imagine making this film put people close to Chis in a vulnerable state. Were you surprised by how forthcoming his colleagues were, specifically Adam Sandler and David Spade?
Kevin Farley: Yeah. A lot of life has happened, so that helped. I do think it’s hard for these guys to talk about Chris because he meant so much to them. I really appreciated all the cats that came out. I appreciate every single one of them. I’m just very grateful that they came out for this. I think they wanted to pay tribute to their friend, and to speak honestly about him. They’re also angry that he’s not here. The fans deserve to know more.
PopCrunch: It was refreshing because the media has written so much about his death.
Kevin Farley: Well if it was up the media he would just be a guy that drank a few cases of beer every day and then died one day. Every time I read an article about him, he sounds like a guy that grew up in Madison, had a couple of cases of beer, partied too much, and then died. He did a lot of other things. I think he inspired a lot of people. A lot of people come up to me and say, “Your brother inspired me to be an actor, a comedian, or a performer,” and I think that’s his legacy.
PopCrunch: How would you like his legacy to live on?
Kevin Farley: What you see in this documentary — that’s the guy he was. When you think of Chris Farley it’s a fond memory, you remember the laughs, and that’s all he would have wanted.