Even if you've never settled in to watch a full episode of Saturday Night Live, there are so many sketches which have become major touchstones in pop culture that you've probably seen or heard about them over the years. You've seen at least a little of Wayne and Garth. You've become acquainted with Maya Rudolph as Donatella Versace, Beyonce, and Kamala Harris. And you have, almost certainly, seen snippets of cast member Chris Farley and then host Patrick Swayze as they audition to be Chippendales dancers. But, former SNL writer Robert Smigel recently had to defend Farley's legendary Chippendales sketch.
Robert Smigel, who was known for his "TV Funhouse" cartoon shorts on Saturday Night Live and is most famous for voicing Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, appeared on The Howard Stern Show and was asked about the well-known sketch. Apparently, some people have not been happy about it during the intervening years, and while Smigel said he thinks it's a great sketch, he was "in a debate about it" recently, as some people think it led to Chris Farley's death. Here's what Smigel told Stern:
They wrote Chris Farley's book, which was everyone kind of weighing in on Chris' life and what happened to him. I think somebody in the book said, 'That sketch was the first step in killing him.' Because [their idea was that] he had, like, no respect for himself by doing that sketch...What was amazing about that sketch, and what people forget, is that Farley was incredibly nimble, he was an athlete, and he danced incredibly well in that sketch, actually.
I've seen the Chris Farley / Patrick Swayze Chippendales sketch many times over the years, and it has never occurred to me that anyone would have had any serious problem with it. From what Robert Smigel discussed with Howard Stern, though, the thought of some has been that Farley, who did not look anything like your standard Chippendales dancer, doing a sketch (which you can still watch online) where he disrobes and gyrates alongside Swayze (who absolutely did look like a typical male exotic dancer) was a sure sign that Farley felt bad about himself and was ready to demean himself for millions.
Sadly, Chris Farley died of a drug overdose in 1997 at the age of 33, only a couple of years after leaving SNL behind and embarking on his film career, and there are some people who seem to think that the Chippendales sketch (which aired on October 27, 1990) was an early sign of trouble for one of SNL's biggest stars. As you can see from watching him beside Patrick Swayze, however, Smigel is correct that Farley did what many would call a fantastic job of showing that he could move basically just as well as Swayze, who had been an actual professional dancer.
Smigel went on to explain why he thinks so many people really love the sketch, adding:
He had this fantastic energy and, in a way, it was a very empowering sketch. I think that's what people felt the first time they watched it. Like, 'Look at this guy go!' And be completely proud and unashamed. Just going for it, you know? He was an amazing physical comedian...He was the most explosively funny person [in the cast then]. I think most people who worked [on SNL] at the time would agree with that.