Tom Farley reflects on growing up with famous brother Chris

September 26, 2017

Growing up with Chris Farley wasn’t always lots of laughs. The boyish humor that rocketed the Madison native to screen stardom rankled the older brother who found himself the unsuspecting victim of many pranks and jokes.

Speaking to the Baraboo Young Professionals group Thursday, Tom Farley said he found his little brother annoying, and years later was vexed to see Chris’ exasperating antics rewarded with fame. It took years after his brother’s fatal drug overdose for Tom to understand the lesson Chris was trying to teach.

As kids, Tom toed the line, while Chris comically tripped over it, eliciting more laughter than punishment. As a child, Chris would pepper his big brother with repeated questions at bedtime. “Remember this? Remember that?” Years later, Chris turned this maddening routine into a famous bit on “Saturday Night Live,” bashfully asking Paul McCartney banal questions about the Beatles.

“Those are what I call my ‘bitter years,’” Tom Farley said.

At the time, Tom held a corporate job on Park Avenue. When Chris needed to show a director the type of person he had in mind for a stiff character in his film “Black Sheep,” he called Tom to the set. “That’s life with Christopher,” Tom said.

As he wrote the best-selling book “The Chris Farley Show” more than a decade after his brother’s 1997 death, Tom came to understand there was a lesson in Chris’ jabs and pranks. Even though he wasn’t on television or the big screen, Tom was playing the roles of the dutiful son and the corporate climber. “Christopher was just saying, ‘Tommy, be yourself,’” Farley said.

His brother was an expert at doing that very thing. The comedy sketches that made him famous on “SNL” were based on things Chris did in daily life. The Chippendale dancer routine? Tom Farley had seen his brother rip off his shirt and take over the dance floor at a bar years earlier. “He was never not Chris Farley,” Tom said.

Tom ran the Chris Farley Foundation for 15 years, and today helps nonprofit groups with marketing. On Thursday he encouraged the Baraboo Young Professionals group to remember its Wisconsin roots. “There’s something really special about who we are and how we do things,” Farley said. “It’s going to be the biggest factor in your success.”