I recently watched the episode of Saturday Night Live that Chris Farley hosted in October 1997. Inviting Farley to host at the time was a somewhat controversial decision because Farley was on a downward spiral at this point that would eventually lead to his untimely death.
As for my experiences with Chris Farley, I originally never had a special attraction to him when I used to watch old episodes. Perhaps, I was just used to thinking of the heavy-set guy as a stock character and not the main star. My fascination grew, however, as I began reading about how amazing of a performer he was from other sources.
In Jay Mohr's book "Gasping for Airtime", the former SNL recurring player of two years clearly thought he was the most talented member of the cast. He devotes a whole chapter to Chris Farley. The introduction:
"Chris Farley was the most beautiful person I have ever met. You wanted him around all the time. You craved his presence...."
Coupled with other pieces of high praise I heard about the late comic star, I gradually began to shift my focus on Farley whenever I saw an old SNL rerun.
The most obvious thing one can say about Chris Farley is that he followed in the transition of fat comedians who were unaware of their girth. The Chippendales sketch is an example of Farley acting so gleefully free in spite of his girth. In the book co-written by his brother Tom, Chris Rock says that the Chippendale's Sketch might have been pigeonholed Farley too much in the "fat guy falls down" type of sketch.
The way I see it, there were two basic components that defined Farely's comedic skill set and he simultaneously played both masterfully. He had a consistent intensity. In whatever sketch he was in, he went full-force with the character. On the flip side of that coin, he had a charming Midwestern affability buried underneath. He was essentially a sweet and naive kid and that would come across even as he would erupt into a hysterical fit.
I think one of the reasons Farley drew so much curiosity and the book written about him was such a fascinating read, was that he was an elusive figure. Chris Farley might have had a consistent screen persona but you never felt like you really knew him. He would not be a likely candidate for the Weekend Update chair. In fact, it dawned on me as the opening credits were rolling that Chris's monologue would be the first time I've ever seen him addressing the camera and the audience as himself.
In a highly anticlimactic turn of events, Chris's monologue was averted in place of a sketch where he (as a character, not himself) gets distracted by Ana Gasteyer (whom he seduces), Tim Meadows attempts to take over hosting duties, and Lorne Michaels decides to get Chris Rock to come in last minute. At the end of the sketch, Chris Farley shows up and goofily does the requisite "We've get a great show/ ____ is here/Stick around" lines. It was pretty much the least amount of involvement a host could have for his own monologue.
For a show that's supposed to center around him, Farley hides himself pretty well too. The second sketch of the night is a parody of a morning talk show where Farley plays Gellman to Will Ferrell's Regis equivalent and Cheri Oteri's Kathy Lee equivalent.
He's inserted into a Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon) sketch and doesn't appear at all in a Martha Stewart sketch.
Because popular demand wouldn't have had it any other way at the time, Farley got to do the motivational speaker sketch and the premise was ramped up to new heights with the sight of Matt Foley on a stationary bicycle in the gym. In the same vein, the Bears superfan character is given an update wherein Coach Mike Ditka has relocated to New Orleans and Chris' character refuses to accept it.
All in all, some interesting stuff.