Chris Farley lived five doors down from me during my sophomore year in college at Marquette University.
Chris in real life was much like the person you saw during his term on "Saturday Night Live" or in the movie "Tommy Boy."
He was funny, physical and seemingly always wanted to put on a show. The book written by his brother, Tom, called "The Chris Farley Show: A Biography In Three Acts" is a wonderful and loving portrayal, warts and all. The Chris we knew on Eight South was much like the Chris described in Act One of his brother's book. He was still in the "big, goofy kid" stage. This was before he fell prey to the demons that would eventually claim his life. He was still so young, just like the rest of us.
Naturally, Chris was at his best if you happened to catch him at an off-campus party. His drug use is no secret, his brother does a compelling job of discussing it in the book. Alcohol was never in short supply in or around campus. After all, we were in Milwaukee and the legal drinking at that time had just been raised to 19. We had two breweries near campus, one six blocks north of our dorm. The scent in the air would shift with the wind. Chocolate coming in off the lake from the east, tanneries from the south and domestic brews [Pabst and Miller] from the north and west. Dive bars were everywhere and there was always some sort of social interaction available seven nights a week.
"Happy Hour" was a relative term. It was always five o'clock somewhere around campus.
Chris didn't need any stimulants to "perform." That was his natural gift, one he was always willing to share with anyone who wanted to watch. "Rambunctious" would a benign way to describe his behavior at times. It once resulted in about $800 in damage to the floor's lounge during a weekend when many of us were out of town. The entire wing was on the hook for the damage. "Omerta" was the norm, so no one was going to rat him out. But a few of us, myself included, went to Chris and explained to him how unfair it was for all to pay $25 or so apiece for his dislike of the wall. To his credit, he fessed up and paid for the damaged himself. His heart was usually in the right place.
Chris was immensely talented and had a true gift to do the unexpected. His handstands were always a hit in the middle of a crowd. Chris was, at heart, a typical Midwestern Roman Catholic college kid when we knew each other. Our floor was pretty tight socially. There was a group of about 20 us who would interact in different ways at different times. Chris was a large part of that, pun intended. Like so many of the other students at this Jesuit institution, Chris faithfully attended Mass. Among the other members of Marquette student body at that time was a basketball player from Maywood, Ill., named Glenn "Doc" Rivers.
When Chris joined the SNL cast back in 1990 on the same day as Chris Rock, I was surprised only because I had no idea what he had been up to since we parted ways socially later in college. His comedic and theatrical success was not a surprise. Once he began on "SNL," the comparisons to John Belushi were self-evident and obvious.
Chris was enamored with Belushi, as were so many others of our generation. The difference is he was living out his dream, carrying the mantle of Belushi on the show that would make each of them famous.
Sadly, the parallels Chris shared with Belushi carried right through to his death. Both died of cocaine overdoses at age 33.
The 39th season of "Saturday Night Live" ends Saturday night. Former cast member Andy Samberg is the host, along with a musical act named St. Vincent.
One of the long-standing indictments against "SNL" is that "it hasn't been funny in years." If had a dollar for each time I saw that posted on social media or in the comments section, I would surpass the $14 million Stephen Drew left on the table with the Red Sox.
When you think of Chris, and Belushi, yes, "SNL" isn't funny as it used to be. But that's like saying the Celtics forever will suck because they no longer have Bill Russell or Larry Bird. If you think the good old days of "SNL" were always good, I have two words for you.
[You can Google him, kids.]
The weekly reviews of the shows in this space for the past few seasons were an organic creation from a handful of blog posts about sports-related sketches. I've been an "SNL" fan since I started watching the show at age 10 back in 1975. The connection to Chris was one of life's coincidences.
This past season has been one of middling success. There were a handful of standout shows - namely the ones hosted by Andrew Garfield, Jimmy Fallon and the season-opener with Tina Fey. With the end of season 39, and of Yours Truly doing these weekly reviews, here are 10 parting shots I'll offer with the best of intentions.
1. Thin the herd: The current cast is too large and too largely unremarkable. None of the featured players who joined the cast this season has left an impact, save for Sasheer Zamata, who has demonstrated flashes of real talent when given the opportunity. Colin Jost and Cecily Strong are finding their chemistry on the "Weekend Update" desk. They show real potential. Some of the filmed sketches featuring the newbies have been outright painful to watch.
2. Go social: Fallon has taken control of the late night airwaves in part because he's able to create content that works quickly and easily on social media and You Tube. Yes, I realize Fallon's show is taped, but he has his best stuff available on social media the moment after it airs. If "SNL" wants to re-capture a young audience, it has to do a much better and more efficient job of getting its best content out to its audience in an immediate manner. Posting a few sketches on You Tube during the show might even heighten interest for the West Coast viewers.
3. Be political: "SNL" remains about the only place on broadcast TV where political humor is a staple. That's another edge the show needs to continue to exploit even further. "SNL" has evolved and become fairly bi-partisan in its political targeting. Jay Pharoah is brilliant as President Obama. Hail to the Chief.
4. Characters Matter: The recurring characters on the show have been a memorable staple since the days of the "Blues Brothers." Some of the new ones this year have been exceptional, especially "Jebidiah Atkinson," played by regular Taran Killam. He is the most versatile cast member at the moment. "Drunk Uncle" [Bobby Moynihan] is another smash. Do more better here.
5. Get the Audience Involved: Stories are legion about how certain sketches score in dress rehearsal but not in the live show. Why not take three sketches from the dress rehearsal, post them on line, and have the audience vote on line which one they like the best. The winner would be the final sketch aired that week.
6. Too much time: "SNL" has been 90-minutes long since its debut in 1975. It begins Season No. 40 in September. Not much is the same in 2014 as it was in 1975. The advertising is loaded up in the front of the show, no surprise. But much of the final 30 minutes of the show is often stale. Perhaps a trim to 75 minutes, or an hour, would force all involved to step up their game.
7. Drop the music: This is where I go "old-fart." My wife and son hate it when I talk about how the only musical acts on the show I like are Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake or an "establishment" band like Coldplay. For instance, tonight's musical guest is St. Vincent. Her most-popular song has more than 1.2 million views on You Tube. If you don't know what it is, my point here is proven. Beyond that, "SNL" is a comedy show. Musical acts often work well as guest hosts, but they have to carry enough clout first.
8. Cameos Work: Even a poor show can be saved by the right cameo. The show hosted by Jonah Hill this season was forgettable, save for an appearance by Leonardo DiCaprio. When Paul Rudd hosted, Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen and the rest of the "The Lawrence Welk Show" regulars showed up. "Breaking Bad's" Jesse Pinkman [Aaron Paul] stopped by the season-opener to help sell Obamacare. Good stuff.
9. Diversify: This isn't what you might think. Much of the "SNL" audience shares my demographics when it comes to age, that being over 40. It's time the show has at least one cast member to reflect that. There are no doubt countless comedians, character actors or writers who could serve "SNL" well who were alive when the show premiered. Everyone loves to preach young when it comes to audience demographics for advertisers. But here's a little secret, "geezers" have money to spend, too.
10. Hang in there: "SNL" is far too often an easy target. The show has endured and progressed for nearly 40 years, unheard of for a network entertainment program. When "The Simpsons" premiered in 1989, "SNL" was celebrating its 15th season. The Knights of the Message Boards would have you believe that watching it is somehow akin to an admission of cultural irrelevance. But that's why they're still on the message boards and "SNL" remains a staple of NBC's comedic arsenal and a breeding ground for acting and comedy stars.
The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist, Bay State native and Boston.Com columnist Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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