Friday, February 1, 2013


In going back through some of the posts I made when I started this blog, one of them reminded me of a story I’ve mostly kept to myself for nearly 2 decades. It’s been long enough now, I think, that it deserves to be shared with a wider audience. FWIW, I’m not sharing this, nor did I relate the earlier tales, out of any desire to say “See how cool I am!” Anybody in meatspace who knows me or knows the entertainment business would know better. As anyone inside it knows, the "Glamour" in this biz is going into the 10th hour of a till-sunup shoot at 3AM just off of Skid Row in the rain in January, happy the weather has stifled the smell of urine-soaked pavement, but mindful of dodging the newly rehydrated homeless guy turd nuggets. The "Magic" is when the really nice lady from accounting comes by on Thursday with the shoebox full of paychecks. Rather, I share them simply because what is cool (which certainly isn’t moi) is a lot of what goes on under the canvas at the circus, especially when it’s stuff the audience seldom if ever sees.

I was one of the people who worked on the last complete film Chris Farley ever worked on. He didn’t have an attitude, and was pretty much the person you saw in every movie or TV show he played in, larger than life, over the top funny, and just a giant barrel of comedy trying to find an excuse to get loose. While we were friendly, I wasn’t by any means friends, close, distant, or otherwise, with Chris Farley, just one of the employees in the same entertainment factory he was working at, but for a few weeks I had the privilege – and it was a privilege – to see him close-up doing something he clearly enjoyed very much, which was making people laugh. In Chris’ case, that meant any way possible, using whatever means necessary, short of actually setting his hair on fire. A friend of mine in show biz once gifted me with the phrase, when explaining the mechanics of funny, “Commit to the comedy.” Chris didn’t just commit to the comedy, he belly-flopped into it, from the high dive board. And metaphorically screaming “Yehaa!”all the way to impact. And I’m here to tell you, it was a sight to behold.
There were several well-known and notable comedic actors on the film, but Chris Farley was the big draw. During one stretch of filming, we had no Chris for a week or so. Consequently, the atmosphere tended to become a little more focused and driven, and hence tense, during the eventually noticeable absence of the biggest clown in our class. We were working long days, 14, even 16 hours or more sometimes. Mind you, we always got the work done, but Farley would always be performing for the only audience he had, the cast and crew, and it always lightened the mood.

So come the day when he’s back on set for the first time in a week, I’m sitting next to the sound mixer. That way, I know what’s going on, because he does, and since he’s never going to be in the camera shot, and thus in the way, neither am I. Next to me is sitting the publicist, in between shepherding interviewers, video crews, etc. For the moment, with no one else demanding his time, he’s catching up on some paperwork. So is the mixer. I’m reading a book, just off set and ready, but minding my own business.
The scene we’re working on has the entire cast and crew “inside” of a faux log cabin built on stage. The three of us are “outside” across from the porch. Upon which, on this day, is waiting Chris Farley, clad in a set of custom-made frontier buckskins. He’s standing on the porch, listening at the door for his cue, whereupon the script has him fling open the door and deliver his entrance line, “The Spaniards are approaching!” or words to that effect. It’s daytime, but we’re indoors, simulating night, so only the interior of the cabin is lit. Outside is relatively dark.

Except, over the top of my book, I catch sight of the biggest, whitest double moon I’ve ever seen. I nudge the publicist, who starts snickering, and the mixer, whose jaw drops, and then he tells the microphone boom man over their sound intercom “You’re not going to believe what you’re about to see!”
Farley hears his cue, flings open the door, and absolutely nails his line, dramatic and deadpan.

Except, as he opens the door, his hand lets go of the pants he was holding up, and they hit the floor the same moment the door slams open. And Chris is totally commando from the waist down, in front of the entire cast, director, and the rest of the crew.
The immediate and sustained galestorm of laughter almost shakes the cabin down. And of course, the longer everyone laughs, the seriouser Chris looks. Without pretending to notice he’s sans trousers. He just stands there and basks in the glory of 70-80 people with tears in their eyes, snot, coffee, and whatnot coming out of their noses, and their sides aching, completely broken up by Chris’ entrance. The director can’t even get out the word “Cut”, and the cameras roll on. After almost two minutes of no one being able to continue, the AD says, “Okay, welcome back Chris, going again, everyone back to starting positions.” And slowly, still tittering, the crew quiets down for another attempt to shoot the scene.

Natzsofast. This is Chris Farley, and he isn’t done with us yet. The three of us outside are, once again, the only witnesses to his personal prep for Dramatic Entry Line, Take Two. The mixer leans over and cues the boom man, “Get ready. This time it's...more.” Even as the scene performed inside rolls along.
Chris hears his cue, again the door swings open, again he delivers the line perfect, with exquisite timing. And he doesn’t drop his pants.

Because on this take, he’s removed every shred of clothing, and stands there again, this time as naked as the day he was born, only much larger. This time, the laughter is louder, more raucous. Other actors are pounding the table where they sit trying to get control. “What?” asks Chris. “What’s so funny??” And after an even longer period with no discernible ability to control themselves, the door is closed, finally blotting the image of Naked Chris from everyone’s minds long enough to start to regain a measure of self-control, and everyone gets ready for Take Three.
Chris hears his cue, but after two strikes, everyone inside is poised for God knows what when the door swings open the third time. And Chris, dressed properly, once again delivers his line perfectly. And half the cast cracks up anyways, expecting something even worse than Naked Chris, but taken aback by the lack. “I can’t work like this!” one of them shouts. “Cut!” says the director.

And finally, on the fourth take, everybody settles down, and we start making movies again. And we’re having a good time the rest of the day, and the rest of the movie.
And that’s the way I would choose to remember a very gifted and funny man.

No comments: