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What Chris Farley's Final Appearance On SNL Was Really Like

In the "Saturday Night Live" hall of fame, few cast members have ever shone as brightly on the show as Chris Farley. The comedian honed his craft in improv and sketch at the Second City Theatre in Chicago. There, he studied under the legendary improv teacher Del Close and brushed shoulders with future "Saturday Night Live" alums like Bob Odenkirk and Tim Meadows. It was while performing at this theatre that Farley was discovered by Lorne Michaels, who added him to the cast of the popular NBC sketch show in 1990. 

Farley joined the cast during the 16th Season of "Saturday Night Live," alongside fellow newcomers like Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Julia Sweeney, among others. This group of performers would come to define the show throughout the early-to-mid-1990s, and Farley who quickly became the show's breakout performer for his energetic and over-the-top performances. Behind the scenes, Farley was even more of a menace, conducting pranks against his fellow cast members, particularly David Spade

Sadly, Farley's comedic high was short-lived, as he passed away in 1997 after a long battle with addiction. His final appearance on "Saturday Night Live" months earlier was a grim sign of the sketch icon's premature curtain call. 

Chris Farley left SNL in 1995

In 1995, two years before Farley's final "Saturday Night Live" appearance, New York Magazine published an article titled "Comedy Isn't Funny," detailing the show's dysfunction behind the scenes. To make matters worse, Farley graced the magazine's cover, seemingly branding him as the cause of the show's plummeting ratings. The show was facing a PR nightmare, and the only solution was to clean house. "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels, whose reputation was tarnished following the article, had no choice but to completely revamp the show. 

Between 1994 and 1995, the show jettisoned almost its entire cast, including some of its biggest stars like Phil Hartman and Mike Myers, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Some cast members, like Chris Farley and Adam Sandler, were fired at the end of the season. The only cast members who would remain on the show in its next season would be David Spade, Norm Macdonald, Molly Shannon, Mark McKinney, and Tim Meadows. 

The firing of Farley and Sandler came as a shock, particularly to the actors themselves, Sandler told The Daily Beast. Throughout the next 20 years, Sandler would discuss their firing in interviews by claiming he and Farley "got mad together, pretended we weren't sad and pretended this was for the best" (via The Howard Stern Show). However, Farley's time away from the show wouldn't be that long — although his return would come with quite the price. 

Farley gets invited back to host

Farley's time following "Saturday Night Live" was the start of a burgeoning movie career. In '95 and '96, he and "Saturday Night Live" castmate David Spade starred in the comedy films "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep," both of which were beloved by audiences. Farley quickly booked more work, including the movies "Beverly Hills Ninja," "Almost Heroes," and was even cast in the titular role in "Shrek." 

However, not all of this success was appealing to Farley, who for years had struggled with his public image and drug abuse as a result of his fame. Farley was disappointed with "Black Sheep" but nevertheless agreed to it (via New York Post). At a screening of the film in New Jersey, Farley relapsed on alcohol after three years of sobriety. He returned to rehab prior to filming "Beverly Hills Ninja," a movie his close friends and family tried to convince him not to make. 

Farley returned to "Saturday Night Live" in 1996, appearing as Newt Gingrich alongside David Spade to promote "Black Sheep." Over a year later, on October 25, 1997, Farley was invited to host the show alongside musical guests The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Unbeknownst to the cast, crew, and audience at the time, this hosting gig would be Farley's last appearance on TV before he died in December 1997. It's somewhat poetic that everything came full circle for the comedian at the end. 

Farley addresses his controversy in the cold open and monologue

The opening of Chris's "Saturday Night Live" hosting debut wasted no time in addressing his struggles with substance abuse. The cold open features Tim Meadows, Farley's former Second City castmate, in Lorne Michaels' office trying to convince the producer to let Farley host. Michaels is apprehensive about letting Farley back, afraid that he'll screw up, but Meadows reassures him that post-rehab Farley is clean. The trio is also visited by Farley's sponsor, Chevy Chase, who backs up Farley's claim. 

Unfortunately, Farley's promise to Lorne doesn't last long, as the comedian doesn't show up for his monologue only moments later. Backstage, Michaels chastises Meadows and Chase. Meanwhile, Farley is in his old dressing room, where he's flirting with cast member Ana Gasteyer. Tim Meadows tries to come to the rescue as a replacement host until Michaels forces him off the stage in place of Chris Rock. Together, Meadows and Rock introduce Farley, who declares himself the "new Chris" and starts the show. 

However, despite the show's insistence that Chris could handle it, this cold open and monologue don't age well following Farley's death.

Farley joins Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri on a talk show

For his first real sketch back since being fired in 1995, Farley plays the producer of a morning talk show called "Morning Latte." The show is hosted by Tom Wilkins and Cass Van Rye, played by Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri, respectively. Ferrell and Oteri were a notable duo on "Saturday Night Live" in the late 1990s, appearing together as iconic characters like the Spartan Cheerleaders. In this sketch, Ferrell and Oteri's talk show hosts are hysterical over an anecdote of Farley's character involving an embarrassing CD purchase he made.

The sketch grows increasingly awkward as Farley's producer, Ted, tries to match the energy of Ferrell and Oteri's characters, chimes in that he also met Will Smith over the weekend. They seem unfazed by this news, still cracking jokes about his humiliating CD story. The sketch also contains an iconic Cheri Oteri moment as she emphasizes Ferrell's Italian translations: "Affection! Abundance!"

What really makes the sketch, however, is Farley's somewhat subdued performance. It's refreshing to see the comedian playing a character who seems almost frustrated with how over-the-top he has to be to earn the affections of these naive daytime talk show personalities. 

Farley dances with Mary Katherine Gallagher

Molly Shannon joined "Saturday Night Live" in 1995, replacing Janeane Garofalo mid-season (via Vulture), and remained on the show during the dramatic overhaul prior to the 21st Season of the show. This meant that her and Farley were only ever on the cast together for half of one season. Fortunately, the two got their chance to shine together when Farley returned to host. In the second sketch of the night, Shannon reprises her iconic character Mary Katherine Gallagher, an unpopular Catholic school girl. 

The sketch takes place during a dance at St. Monica's Catholic School. Farley, playing a student named Mickey, asks the school's nuns (played by Ferrell and Darrell Hammond) to dance with him, as he doesn't have a date. Mary Katherine Gallagher, on the other hand, fawns over Shaun O'Neill, played by Jim Breuer. When Mary's crush rejects her, she finds herself being asked to dance by Mickey. After Farley's character sees her stick her hands under her armpits and smell them (her character's frequent habit), Farley quips, "How lucky can one man be!"

This is certainly one of the cuter sketches of the night and an excellent showcase for both Farley and Shannon. Fortunately for the latter, Mary Katherine Gallagher would continue to be one of the breakout characters of the late 90s, eventually earning her a feature film in 1999 titled "Superstar." 

Matt Foley returns

It wouldn't be an episode of "Saturday Night Live" hosted by Chris Farley without an appearance by the motivational speaker Matt Foley. According to Ranker, the character originated at Second City and was developed by Bob Odenkirk based on an improvisation by Farley. The original sketch, featuring David Spade, Phil Hartman, Julia Sweeney, and Christina Applegate, is often lauded as one of the greatest sketches in "Saturday Night Live" history

Farley reprised the character many times while he was on the show, although this appearance would be his last time donning the iconic glasses and checkered jacket. In this iteration, "Matt Foley at the Gym," Foley is hired as a motivational speaker for a spin cycle class, screaming at the participants (played by Will Ferrell, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, and Jim Breuer) as he rips his pants and rants about living in a van down by the river. 

The biggest laugh from the audience in this sketch comes when Matt Foley needs to take a break to hydrate. He pulls out a coffee pot from his duffel bag and douses himself in coffee, which drips all over him and his clothes. After Shannon's character complains, he spits out coffee and shouts, "Shut your pipehole, missy!" Even Tim Meadows, who plays the usual spin cycle instructor, breaks from Farley's line reading here. Though this sketch isn't as iconic as Farley's first foray with the motivational speaker (or even the Venezuelan version), it's enough of a crowd pleaser for the audience. 

Farley is absent from Weekend Update

Fortunately, Farley gets to follow up his messy Matt Foley performance with a brief break. Following the sketch is a "Weekend Update" segment of the show, hosted by Norm Macdonald. Norm's tenure on "Saturday Night Live" was no stranger to controversy, particularly following the highly-publicized O.J. Simpson murder trial. Unbeknownst to Norm, the Farley-hosted episode would be one of his last appearances on "Weekend Update" before he was fired, though he'd later return to host in 1999

As usual, Norm's jokes during this episode were divisive. When one joke bombs, Norm quips, "Try to laugh anyway, because it helps Farley have a little rest." The segment also features an appearance by Tracy Morgan, on his second season, who promotes himself as the show's "Other Black Guy." 

Sadly, Norm's firing would come to pass only a few months after this episode. According to "Live From New York," a book about the oral history of "Saturday Night Live," Lorne Michaels was told to fire the "Weekend Update" anchor by NBC president Don Ohlmeyer at a dinner that took place the same night as Farley's funeral. Norm remained an iconic stand-up comedian following "Saturday Night Live" up until his recent passing in September 2021. 

Tina Fey's first sketch makes it to air

Following the "Weekend Update" segment, Farley introduces the show's musical guest, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who perform their song "The Impression That I Get." Afterward, Farley returns to perform in more sketches. One such sketch finds him cameoing on "Goth Talk," a talk show hosted by Chris Kattan and Molly Shannon as goth characters. 

The subsequent sketch, however, is a historic moment for "Saturday Night Live," though audiences wouldn't know it at the time. The sketch centers on a daytime talk show hosted by Ana Gasteyer, with her guest, played by Cheri Oteri, complaining about her problems raising her baby. The baby in question is predictably played by Farley, who serves as a force of chaos on the show and its audience. It only gets more absurd when Tim Meadows enters as a child doctor, only to have both of his arms ripped off by a manic Farley-baby. 

What makes this sketch such an important moment for "Saturday Night Live" is not just the audience's reaction to Farley mutilating an adult man on live TV. This sketch has the distinction of being the first sketch written by Tina Fey to get on the air (via Newsweek). The future "30 Rock" star was a newly-hired writer in the 23rd Season and would go on to make history on the show as head writer, "Weekend Update" anchor, and six-time host

A reprisal of the Super Fans

One of Chris Farley's most popular recurring sketches during his time on the show was as a member of the Chicago Super Fans. Farley co-starred with Mike Myers, writer Robert Smigel, and George Wendt, with other guest stars including John Goodman, Dan Aykroyd, and Joe Mantegna. The characters were often seen in some kind of pub or sports bar, conversing about their favorite football team, "Da Bears," and their head coach, Mike Ditka. 

When Farley hosted in 1997, the Super Fans returned for a pre-taped sketch revolving around Mike Ditka's real-life departure from the Chicago Bears to join the New Orleans Saints. Smigel, Wendt, and Myers all make cameos as the Super Fans grip with their crumbling lives following the loss of their beloved Ditka. Farley's character, Todd, has chosen to reject reality and believes that it's 1986. Fortunately, Todd is finally able to accept reality after receiving a phone call from the real Mike Ditka. 

The only current cast member of "Saturday Night Live" from that time to appear in the sketch is Will Ferrell, who plays Todd's doctor. It's a great final showcase for one of Farley's most memorable recurring sketches. At the same time, a bit where Farley's character suffers a heart attack does come across as hard to watch. 

The episode received mixed reactions

Despite Chris Farley's episode being a welcome return for the "Saturday Night Live" legend, audiences could tell that the comedian was in a worsening condition. His voice throughout the episode was noticeably hoarse after dress rehearsal, which wasn't helped by his appearance as characters like Matt Foley which required him to strain his vocal cords even harder. "One SNL a Day" points out that Farley appeared to be sweaty and out-of-sorts throughout many of the sketches, though some appearances later in the night showed that he had regained some of his stamina. 

In several books detailing Farley's life, like "Live From New York" and "The Chris Farley Show," Farley's condition backstage was delved into. Norm Macdonald criticized the decision to put Farley on an exercise bike in the Matt Foley sketch and claimed he tried to stretch out that episode's "Weekend Update" to give him time to rest. 

In future reruns of the episode, the cold open and monologue were cut out of respect for Farley. Understandably, the episode is not easy to swallow anymore, especially for those who knew Farley well. In the hours after Farley's death, "Saturday Night Live" writer Al Franken stated that he had found elements of the episode "disturbing." 

Chris Farley passes away in December 1997

On December 18, 1997, Chris Farley was found dead in his Chicago apartment after overdosing on drugs and alcohol. Farley was only 33 at the time, and yet his death wasn't a shock to his close friends and family. in "Live From New York," Bob Odenkirk and Chris Rock describe the last times they saw Farley, feeling like his fate was inevitable. Others, like Robert Smigel, described the immense guilt they felt over not being able to help their friend through his struggles. 

E! News reported that Farley's funeral was held two days before Christmas, with guests including Chris Rock, Lorne Michaels, and Dan Aykroyd. David Spade, Farley's frequent collaborator in TV and film, didn't attend the proceedings. Later, during a Reddit AMA, he explained that he felt too emotionally distraught in the aftermath of his friend's passing. In spite of Farley's tragic passing, his legacy in the world of comedy remains untouched. Many of Farley's friends and collaborators appeared in a documentary film, "I Am Chris Farley," which was released in 2015. 

In retrospect, many of those same collaborators have expressed their distaste for Farley's career trajectory. One of Farley's most famous sketches, "Chippendale's," has been criticized by former "Saturday Night Live" writers and cast members for psychologically damaging Farley's self-image. Even Robert Smigel regretted adding the coffee table-smashing at the end of the original Matt Foley sketch (via The New Yorker). 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Adam Sandler pays tribute to Farley in 2019

One person who has continued to spread the good word about Chris Farley is Adam Sandler. The two were close-knit on the cast of "Saturday Night Live," appearing together in sketches like "Herlihy Boy" and "Lunch Lady Land." However, unlike Farley, Sandler waited a long time to return to host the iconic late-night sketch show. He finally made his hosting debut in 2019, reprising some of his iconic characters like Opera Man. The real big moment of the night came at the very end of the show, right before the cast said good night.

In the late 2010s, Sandler went on a massive stand-up tour with Norm Macdonald, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Nick Swardson. Throughout the tour, he filmed his first comedy special in years, "100% Fresh," which ends with a song Sandler sings as a tribute to Farley. Sandler reprised the song on the very stage where he and Farley made some of the best comedy of the 1990s, despite the criticism they received from NBC higher-ups

The song is equal parts hilarious and heart-warming, and the moment was described by the cast and crew on the episode as a tearjerker for the audience. Sandler even struggles to get through it at some parts. Still, it's a touching moment to remind audiences just how powerful of a presence Chris Farley was and how underappreciated he may have been at the time. It's lucky that we have comedians like Sandler still around to carry on Farley's outrageously funny legacy.