The Day The Funny Died
Recently, I realized that the anniversary had passed. Then, when I did the math, I realized this had been a real anniversary. The actual date was December 18th, 1997. That means that this would be fifteen years. The internet was not quite advanced or as prevelant as it is today. Now, you hear about some one famous drying practically before they die. Everyone is trying to get the jump. It seems unthinkable that you would not realize that a celebrity is dead until after they are already buried. So, it was actually nine days afetr a celebrity died. People tend to think of me as being a guy that is pretty up on things. But, honestly, I did not know that Chris Farley had died for nine days. The circumstances of me finding out was pretty unusual as well. Ole Miss had gone to a bowl game that year. They were playing Marshall University (featuring quarterback Chad Pennington and wide receiver Randy Moss.) It was called the Motor City Bowl. I was visiting a friend of mine in North Little Rock named James Bodine.
The next day, the Minnesota Vikings were facing the New York Giants in a playoff game. I received the call in the middle of the game. The plane was leaving Detroit for Memphis. I would practically have to leave immeadiately and try to get to Memphis in a few hours to pick up my wife from the airport. It was a really good game so I started listen to it on radio driving essentially the straight shot from Little Rock to Memphis. That was when they started talking about the shock of the news. Chris Farley had died and been buried. I was kind of on a Christmas break. Literally, the news struck me so hard that I had to pull over on the side of a freeway for about ten minutes to absorb it. Seemingly by a miracle, the Giants ended up beating the heavily favored Vikings by one point in those playoffs. I had a myriad of thoughts about the death. I remembered reading a piece he had done for Sports Illustrated talking about growing up going to Badgers games in the University of Wisconsin. I remember him talking about how big his Dad was and how much trouble they had lifting the casket. I remember an especially sad Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher in which Merv Griffin asked Fraley “Are you alright young man?” The lgitimate concern on the face of Griffin was heart breaking.
I remember I had read about a project that Farley was attached to. I only really remembered it because the name was so odd. The name of the movie was called Shrek. I remembering wondering what a movie called Shrek could possibly be about. I remember thinking that an animated movie with Chris Farley would be kind of a kick. The project that I was really sad about was one that I read about in Entertainment Weekly. Chris Farley wanted to do a serious biopic of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. He described it as a dream project. I remember that as being a movie I wanted to see. I had high hopes for Farley. I was hoping that he would escape a seemingly inevitable fate. Later on, I would see a Saturday Night Live skit in which Farley would put his head on Phil Hartman’s shoulder. Later on, that clip would be nearly impossible to watch because it was so sad to me.
I often think of when I was growing up. I had two favorite shows (for lack of a better word). I loved Saturday Night Live and I loved WWF wrestling. I really wanted to grow up to either be a wrestler or to be on Saturday Night Live. It is one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ things. WWF wrestlers in the 1980s and Saturday Night Live performers are some of the most high risk and cursed in their respective industries. Many don’t live to be fifty. My dream was always to sat “live from New York..” I learned when I studied the lives of wrestlers and SNL performers that I wasn’t able to devote my life completely to those pursuits. It is people like Farley who gave their lives to those dreams. Farley loved Saturday Night Live more than anyone. Farley loved the era that I loved. Farley loved the original raw 1970s crowd. The not ready for prime time players that I saw only on reruns on MTV and cherished and imitated. Now, there are people that would call me a humorist. There are people that read my words and see them as funny. I have spent my life studying comedy. I had spent my life studying lives. I can run with a joke. I also know that comedy comes from a deep place that can occassionally destroy you like it did with Farley or Belushi. I also know that I do not have it in me to give completely on that level. There are times in which I did.
In this world of the internet, I am allowed to have a daily audience. I am allowed to write for humor sites and make people laugh. My nearly constant stream of ideas that I always seemed to have in me now has an outlet. I like to think of it as being part of the Comedy rebels back in the seventies trying to master the new medium and the comedy outlets they provide. I have a real dedication to writing and real dedication to comedy. It comes from a place I cannot describe. It comes from a need. I just hope that it does not overtake me. I can’t really stop it in any way. I don’t know where it is all going but it is anniversaries like this that really make me think, in a good way.