Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Farley Embodied the Comedy of Excess

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Farley Embodied the Comedy of Excess

Article excerpt

Some people are comedians -- and some people are comedy.

That is, for some people comedy isn't what they do, it's what they are. Chris Farley was comedy.

I'm not being pejorative. Tennessee Williams referred to his writing as being wed to the very pathos of his life; he couldn't "clean up" his life without jeopardizing the brilliance of his art. I don't mean to elevate Farley's work to the level of Williams', but there is a similar dynamic, and I note it with a certain amount of awe and a sense of the tragic.

Now Chris Farley is dead. At this writing, I haven't heard the autopsy report, but I have a pretty good idea of what he died from. Chris Farley died from excess. The genius of his comedy was in its excess. The excess of his voice, his actions, his attitude, his energy and, of course, his weight.

Some have suggested that the success of David Letterman's humor is in his willingness to engage in carefully measured contempt toward himself, his medium (late night television talk shows) and his audience (those who frequent such shows). Farley's humor was of the same sort -- absent the careful measure. Indeed, in his case, because the very character of his comedy was excess, moderation was out of the question.

But there was more than excess at work. There was an unabashed crudeness of excess. His comedy hinged on this: excess without excuse, flamboyance without flair, consumption without constraint.

So what is so funny about excess at its most frenetic extreme? Wouldn't we have laughed at less? Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, Farley's humor was accurate. Whether we can consciously admit it or not, frenetic excess rings true to our experience. His comic portraits did not so much reveal our alter egos (the persons we wish we were) as they unveiled our hidden egos (the persons we are, even though we deny it). …

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