The Story Behind The Farley-Spade Classic That Could’ve Been

Senior Editor
02.06.16 36 Comments
When I started rewatching Black Sheep on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, it quickly became apparent that this piece would be more of a post-mortem than a straight-up appreciation. The movie certainly has its rabid fans (one of those weird things you learn from being on the Internet too much), and while I could never be an unabashed cheerleader, Black Sheep has a few moments worth appreciating: Chris Farley putting his fist through a capsized voting booth to pull out an old lady. Gary Busey telling David Spade “I can go to your momma’s and start a small fire in her panties.” Most of the police car-filled-with-nitrous-oxide scene (a totally pedestrian bit on paper, but so much more when mixed with Farley/Spade chemistry).

For the most part though, it was a failure. Not a commercial failure, mind you, Black Sheep‘s lifetime gross was only about $200,000 less than Tommy Boy. But posterity doesn’t care about that stuff. Black Sheep was so transparently an attempt to recapture the magic of Tommy Boy that watching it is bittersweet. It makes me nostalgic for David Spade and Chris Farley as a team, but feels so tone-deaf about what made Tommy Boy great (or at least intensely likable) in the first place, that you wonder if Tommy Boy was a fluke.

I don’t want to believe that, so instead I thought we might try to understand what went wrong. Black Sheep had Chris Farley and David Spade at the peak of their careers, plus Gary Busey and Penelope Spheeris, the director of Wayne’s World. As David Spade says in his recent memoir, Almost Interesting, “it should’ve been a slam dunk.” Even looking at it 20 years later, I agree.