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His Show

Biography of Chris Farley that reports memories of those who knew him best brings forth a multi-dimensional portrait of the late comedic actor.

Live From New York,” the oral history of Saturday Night Live reported and compiled by James Miller and Tom Shales, while interesting to comedy or SNL fans, gave a very piecemeal, scattershot view of the various eras of the show, falling into the trap to which such works are prone.

(If you’re not sure what is meant by “oral history,” it’s an entire book where the story or biography is told through a succession of quotes by those who knew the subject or participants in the events, with very little additional prose exposition).

With a much narrower focus, “The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts,” by Tom Farley Jr. (Chris’ older brother) and Tanner Colby, succeeds where “Live From New York” didn’t, and that is at building a cohesive and compelling narrative through its compilation and choices of quotes from colleagues such as David Spade, Chris Rock, Tim Meadows, Tom Arnold, Charna Halperin (of Chicago’s ImprovOlympic theater), and Lorne Michaels himself. Farley’s brothers, Tom Jr., John and Kevin (currently a working actor with credits including “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), also offer significant insights, stories and contributions.

Brick by brick, or quote by quote, the authors build a biography of Farley that brings out so many aspects of his life and performances -- the joys, the heartbreaks, the tragedy and the charitable and religious sides of Farley that he kept quite quiet and personal during his life.

Through reminiscences by Farley’s brothers, his friends as a child, teenager and young man, the authors paint a vivid, layered picture of how Farley found his way early to comedy and entertaining, and how much it was all he lived for -- to the point that being on SNL was his only goal and most important pursuit, and everything else in his life, like college studies (although he eventually finished) or holding down a job, would fall by the wayside. The stories of Farley getting fired from just about every business up and down the street near the Second City theater in Chicago are just one hilarious memory the authors present.

More stories -- of Farley being funny in private, public and on SNL -- help show the reader the uniqueness and contagious enthusiasm of this performer. Just to name one, during a screening of “Mighty Ducks 2” for the SNL cast because Emilio Estevez was hosting, when a takeoff of the song “Whoop There It Is” plays, Farley gets up and starts slapping his own bare ass in time to the music.

But it’s really the combination of all the tales of Farley’s wild humor with more little-known stories of his good deeds, helping homeless people and sick children, in part through St. Malachy’s Church in New York -- which also figured in his efforts to battle his own addictions -- that elevate “The Chris Farley Show.” This biography makes the reader feel his humanity and feel for him as he suffers relapses and goes down the wrong paths that end up taking him to his sad fate.

The colleagues in his life who cared for him, quoted at length, with their points of view, give readers the feeling that they are there as these events happen. David Spade, his co-star in “Tommy Boy,” had become less close with Farley for various reasons, exacerbated by a mammoth relapse after Farley had logged about three years sober, and this comes through, as does the fact that Spade still loved him and was concerned for him. Chris Rock offers numerous key insights, notably that Farley’s famed “Chippendales” sketch, while hilarious and classic, contributed to his complexes about only being seen as a fat clown and nothing more.

With “The Chris Farley Show,” readers will really feel the highs and lows of the man’s life, with such a “you are there” feeling to its documenting of the events that the book should go down as primer for sensitive and thoughtful celebrity journalism.




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