We’re Never Going To Know The Real Chris Farley

It’s a little weird to use a GIF as a metaphor, but the above moving image seems like it pretty much sums up Chris Farley, running non-stop like a “Maniac” to get laughs while the world tries to throw water in his face to make him slow down. But what do I know?

As we do with all of our fallen idols, Farley’s brief life will be memorialized with a documentary (you may have noticed the trailer yesterday) that will punch viewers in the heart while unpacking the life and career of a man over the course of a couple of hours. A somewhat futile act.

I’m gonna guess that you, like me, didn’t know Chris Farley. To us, he was this loud and energetic force who had some good moments on Saturday Night Live and on the big-screen before his hard-partying ways led him down the same path as his idol, John Belushi. Stories about Farley have only allowed for the embiggening of the myth about his voracious appetite for all things, and his ceaseless need to fill a room with laughter.

“Chris Farley was like a child. He was like an 8-year-old. One time, when he was f*cking rip-roaring drunk in Chicago, he was tossing furniture around his apartment, actually picking it up and throwing it like 10 feet. It was scary, man. Then, all of a sudden, he turned to me and said, with complete innocence, “Do you think Belushi’s in heaven?” I didn’t know what to say. ” — Bob Odenkirk, SNL writer

“Farley once stuck his ass out the window of the 17th floor at 30 Rock and took a sh*t. Another time, in front of 20 or 25 people in a very crowded writers’ room — mixed company, women, men — Farley came in naked. He has his dick tucked between his legs, and he was doing Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs. He took a golf club and shoved it about three inches up his ass, then pulled the golf club out and started licking it.” — Fred Wolf, SNL writer

Those are two of my favorite Farley stories from Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s incomparable SNL oral history, Live from New York. I don’t love them because they’re funny; they’re not. They’re f*cking horrifying. I love them because they’re so unvarnished and without bullsh*t. It’s actual insight into the man’s way, sans context and motivation.

Every person who dies gets elevated — “A great man, a loving man, a saint,” — but few are outed for sh*tting out a window, and, let’s be honest, there aren’t that many “great” people or “saints” in the world, and Farley probably wasn’t one, either; law of averages and all that jazz. There’s no real harm in just being an alright person, though. Especially when you brought so much laughter into people’s lives. But that’s easy to say when you didn’t experience the man, only the parts that Lorne Michaels thought were funny.

I suspect that this documentary will include the usual insights into Farley’s early life, his perceived and expressed motivations, the good times, the bad times, the sad times, and both a few more stories that don’t feel like bull and a few that probably will. In the end, though, the myth, our affection for the man, and even our understanding of who he was may swell a little, but not enough.

It’s the same thing that happened with Kurt Cobain and Montage of Heck. The material was penetrating, but we can only drill so far into someone’s psyche and life after they’ve gone. When it comes to the artists who moved us before leaving us with only memories and questions, these documentaries often re-illuminate those memories, slightly re-frame them, and offer vague answers and educated guesses. There’s value to the whole thing, but not enough to keep these documentaries from being a little frustrating because Farley and Cobain are truly and totally lost to us. They’re holograms now.