There’s a new documentary out called “I Am Chris Farley.”
I haven’t seen the movie, and probably never will.
You see, I am Chris Farley.
Chris Farley–the subject of the new documentary–is white, fat and dead.
Chris Farley–the author of this essay–is black, runs a couple miles a day to avoid obesity, and is very much alive.
This Chris Farley wants his name back.
In the age of social media, names matter. Establishing an identity before someone else grabs it is important. @KanyeWest is a brand name. @KanyeWest73 is just jumping on the bandwagon. You know that line from the theme song of the sitcom “Cheers”? “You want to go where everybody knows your name”? The web is the opposite of “Cheers”–nobody knows anybody’s name, not for certain. Nobody knows if the person they’re communicating with is really who they say they are, or if they really know what they’re talking about. When you have a name that people recognize and respect and can verify, it elevates you above all the folks who are Tweeting and Instagramming and Facebooking, because it gives your opinions some credibility.
As a journalist, novelist and film producer I’ve spent a lot of time building up my name–only to see it taken away by someone I never met.
I knew I was going to have trouble with the other Chris Farley the first time I went to meet Chris Rock back in the early 1990s. Both of them were serving as cast members at “Saturday Night Live,” and I was working across the street at Time magazine and had to see Rock for work. The security guard at the desk downstairs at 30 Rock didn’t believe me when I gave him my name and things quickly devolved into a “Who’s on First” routine. “You’re not Chris Farley,” the guard declared to me.
Not long after that, I accidentally got a script in the mail for a big-screen version of the “SNL” sketch “Coneheads.” Someone had been trying to send it to the other Chris Farley and it wound up at my apartment instead. The script was terrible, so I figured I was doing the other Farley a favor by not passing it on. Not that I had his address. He was already so famous, it was unlisted.
But when the other Chris Farley died of drug overdose in 1997 at the age of 33 part of me died too. The jokes I used to get from office receptionists and switchboard operators and reservation takers at restaurants–”You don’t look like Chris Farley!” “Isn’t Chris Farley white?” “Isn’t Chris Farley dead?”–began to fade away with his memory.
You know what? Maybe I will see “I Am Chris Farley” after all. I used to feel threatened by the other Chris Farley. We all have the feeling that no matter how hard we’re working, we’re not doing as much as we could with our lives. When somebody who shares our names becomes more famous, it feels like proof that we’ve failed do as much we could have with what we were given. If someone with the same name managed to make it big, what’s my excuse?
The other Chris Farley has been dead for almost 20 years now, and maybe, with this new movie, it’s time to let go of this weird competitive feeling I’ve always had with him, and to be thankful for the things that have gone right in my life. If I had shared a name with another celebrity comedian, one who was a little less white and a little more alive, things might have been even more confusing.
I’m sure glad my name is Chris Farley and not Chris Rock.
Check out my new novel “Game World.”