I was fortunate enough to attend an industry reading of The Fatman Cometh: The Life and Death of Chris Farley on February 28th, presented by Shortened Attention Span at the Players Theater. Written and directed by Charles Messina, this piece was performed by Alan Pagano as Chris Farley and Carlo Rivieccio as Kip Kaplan, his manager. The tragic comedy takes place in Chris Farley’s dressing room in Studio 8-H at the Rockefeller Center NBC Studios during the last few years of his life. (The real Chris Farley, photo above).
Capturing Chris Farley’s comedic existence in a one-hour play is no easy task. But this hilarious yet compelling performance successfully delivered a powerful exposé of the man behind those iconic characters we still quote today.
The story is delivered through outrageously funny dialogue between Chris Farley and his manager. The two actors had the audience laughing from the beginning when Pagano made a grand entrance as Farley’s infamous Chippendales character. He performed that legendary striptease with such precision, the audience cheering and applauding as if Farley himself was on stage. Pagano successfully transformed himself into Chris Farley, emanating his energy and charisma without missing a single facial expression or mannerism.
Some of Farley’s most memorable characters made an appearance in this play, including Matt Foley, the over-the-top motivational speaker, Todd O’Connor, an obsessed Bears fan, and The Lunch Lady, all of them executed brilliantly. But perhaps the most captivating was the depiction of the real Chris Farley—a vulnerable young man, struggling with his weight, idolizing John Belushi, trying to please his Dad and make people smile. “Are they laughing at me or with me?” he repeatedly asks his manager.
The performance gained depth and intensity as Chris’s battle with drugs and alcohol is revealed, a battle he ultimately loses. The laughter subsides and the audience watches as this seemingly happy comedic genius exposes his darker side and finally crumbles under pressure of imminent stardom, but not before leaving an everlasting mark on pop culture.
Chris Farley’s prayer before going on stage was cleverly incorporated into the play. Prior to each performance during his five years at Saturday Night Live, he would kneel down on one knee, cross himself and pray to God that in his final hour, He would say to him: “When you made my people smile, you made me smile.” Now fourteen years after his death, he continues to make people smile and laugh, though with a tinge of sadness because they are no longer laughing with him. Chris Farley’s story toes the fine line between laughter and tears, and so does this play.