Saturday Night Live has produced some of the finest comedic teams in cinematic history, and one of the greatest is definitely the personal and professional relationship forged between Chris Farley and David Spade. It’s easy to lose sight of the true Farley — the man behind the mania — between his untimely death and his larger than life screen and stage presence. While Farley and Spade worked well with others and on their own, there was something about them that worked best together. Between Spade’s snarky deadpan and Farley’s earnest lunacy, there was something about it that just worked. Due to their long hours sharing an office at 30 Rock, a genuine friendship was forged between the two, as well. With the upcoming release of the documentary I Am Chris Farley, people are once again revisiting the void that Farley left behind and how he affected those who knew him best, and few knew him better than David Spade, who’s celebrating his 51st birthday today.
Spade, Farley, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock all started their tenure at Saturday Night Live in 1990, ushering in a new era of talent. The stories that come out of that time together paint a vivid picture of the man who Farley was… child-like, free from inhibition, kind, and never willing to shy away from a joke (even if he ended up with sh*t in his hand). During his Reddit AMA, Spade tells the origin of the classic “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” bit from Tommy Boy:
“Chris was always doing that bit to me at work. We shared an office, and you had to walk through our office to get to Chris Rock and Adam Sandler’s office. So these 2 microscopic offices were back to back, and Chris’ desk was behind mine, and he didn’t really know how to write, or read really (kidding!), but he would come in bored, because I would have to write my sketches to try to get on but they would always let him on. So he would get behind me and be bored, everyone would write him sketches, and he would say “Davey… turn around,” and I said “iff this is Fat Guy in a Little Coat, I’m not turning around, it’s not funny anymore.” And he would say “No, i’ve got a whole new thing I’m doing.”
And then I’d turn around, and it would be him in my Levi jacket, and he would say “Fat guy in little coat! Don’t you give up on it!”
If you ask anyone who worked with Farley, the opinions are seemingly unanimous: He was a force of light and hilarity. In their uncensored history of Saturday Night Live, Live From New York, Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller spoke to many of the writers and cast members about Farley’s impact on the show and its environment. Adam Sandler said it best:
“Farley was on a whole other level. It was not even a question of who we all loved and thought was the funniest. When he walked into the room, that was it.”
In the book, it’s clear that Farley was popular with many of the writers and cast members due to his desire to please and commitment to the craft. Sometimes, his personal demons would bubble to the surface and people would get a glimpse of the insecurity behind the jokes, but that was apparently just Farley. While he got on with the whole cast, there was something in particular about his friendship with Spade that was lightning in a bottle. Lorne Michaels realized that, and decided to use it creatively. According to Spade in Live From New York:
“Chris was my best friend in the cast. I was close to Adam Sandler and Chris Rock too, but Chris and I always had a real good time together. Tommy Boy was Lorne’s idea to make something based on how we are in real life, how we fight, how we laugh, and how we act. So we tried to make a movie to reflect a little of that; it was great.”
Last month, in an interview with Howard Stern, Spade was asked why he was drawn to Farley, and he made it clear that their movie partnership would have gone on beyond Tommy Boy and Black Sheep had circumstances been different. He also echoed the sentiment of many when he said that part of what drew him to Farley was how nice he was. In a business inhabited by cynics who are willing to cut anyone down to get a laugh, it’s clear that Farley’s niceness was one of the things that made him unique.
“We started from the first day we walked over together, and then we just gravitated… he’s from Wisconsin and just a nice guy, and I was new there and I gravitate to talent, whether it be girls or guys. Talented people fun to talk to and be around. And he’s in comedy, which is great, and everybody there had something really cool about them.”
While their public friendship has had the usual ups and downs over the years (a particularly ill-advised DirecTV ad comes to mind), it’s clear that Spade still has a special place for Farley in his heart. On the 20th anniversary of Tommy Boy, he posted this picture to his Instagram account:
Im told that today is the 20th anniversary of Tommyboy. Aside from that making me older than f*ck i have to say thanks to everyone who saw it and has said nice things about it over the years. I was very lucky to be in this movie with one if the all time funniest mother f*ckers the late great chris farley. Its hard to read but on the poster it says ” david, lets stick together! Signed by chris. We gave each other autographed posters as a joke back then. Now i see it in my office and skim over it because if i think about that for more than 5 seconds ill start bawling. Like now. As chris would say. What a pussy #RIP
There was a bit of an uproar at the time of Farley’s death, because Spade did not attend Farley’s funeral, saying that he “could not be in a room where Chris was in a box.” As anyone who has lost a close friend knows, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. You just carry on, and try to honor your friend in the best way possible. As he explains in his AMA, I think it is safe to assume that Spade is doing that as well as he can.
“Well, I have to say, I think about him all the time. We had such a good time for so long, and we were crammed together for so long, that we did have our squabbles, but I think people misunderstood me not going to that funeral, it was nothing about that it was just too… emotional, and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. But I still hear songs, of all things, I know it sounds stupid, but there are songs that I hear, and they remind me of him. And just different situations. And I see his brother Kevin a lot, and he reminds me of him, and makes me laugh, because the whole family has the same mannerisms in some ways. But overall, just good thoughts.”
With his 1,000-mile-an-hour lifestyle, it was never going to end well for Farley. Only the good die young, as they say. While fans will never see what should have been a long and fruitful comedy pairing, the impact that these two had together should never be discounted.