As his parochial grade school’s official class clown in Madison, Wis., Chris Farley was always getting in trouble with the nuns.
One day, his mother was called in for a conference. The shaken youngster was sitting between his mom and Sisters Claris and Angelica, when one of the nuns said, “Mrs. Farley, the children at school are laughing at Christopher, not with him.”
Later, after his father arrived home, young Chris received the inevitable “whupping” that accompanied each of these parental trips to school, but he did not learn his lesson. And is he glad.
Farley, whose new film “Black Sheep” opened Friday and earned an estimated $10.25 million to become the top box office draw, says he harbors no ill will toward the nuns who missed the point of his early shenanigans, but he would love to return to Madison to wave a few canceled movie checks in their direction.
“Hey sister, want a new gymnasium?” the comic actor said with the glee reserved for someone contemplating sweet revenge. “Who’s laughing at whom, now?”
Once the kidding subsides, however, Farley, 31, says he really holds no grudges and confesses that he was a troublesome kid who probably deserved the whuppings.
But he said he couldn’t help himself, not since he learned in the third grade that making other kids laugh was more fun than studying.
“I’ll never forget that first laugh, as weird as that might sound,” he said.
“The nun came over to my desk to yell at me for something and I said, ‘Gee, your hair smells terrific,’ like in that commercial.
“Well, all the kids laughed hysterically, and it was like a revelation. It must have been a revelation because I remember it so vividly.
“I also was overweight my whole life, and making people laugh was a great defense mechanism. I made them laugh before they could call me fatso.”
Nobody’s calling him fatso now, but they are laughing. They laughed during Farley’s early stint with the Second City improvisional troupe in Chicago, they laughed during his five-year stay with “Saturday Night Live,” and they laughed at his first starring movie role in last year’s hit “Tommy Boy.”
They probably will laugh at his next film, in which he plays the title character in “Beverly Hills Ninja.”
In “Black Sheep,” Farley is once again teamed with “SNL” buddy and “Tommy Boy” co-star David Spade. And, once again, the team hits on a familiar theme: Farley is out of control, and Spade is instructed to keep a lid on him.
This time, Farley is the loose-cannon brother of gubernatorial candidate (Tim Matheson), who is persuaded by aides to assign someone (Spade) to keep the wayward brother under control. Yes, it could be subtitled the “Billy Carter Story” or the “Roger Clinton Story.”
“It does sound a lot like Billy Carter, or even Roger Clinton, doesn’t it?” Farley mused. “But this is an election year, so the timing is pretty good for a story like this.”
Growing up in a college town, Farley said he was influenced somewhat by the politics of his surroundings. That led him to the anti-establishment humor of John Belushi, Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd, all of whom Farley said he idolized as a teenager.
“Those guys were radical, and I loved their humor,” Farley said. “Once I got over the dream of playing professional football (he played nose guard and center in high school), I dreamed of being John Belushi.
“That’s why I went the Second City-‘Saturday Night Live’ route. I wanted to follow him.”
There are some who believe that Farley is the obvious successor to Belushi’s no-holds-barred type of physical humor, but Farley said he is going to great lengths to make sure that he does not follow completely in Belushi’s footsteps.
Apparently one person trying to guide him on the correct path is Lorne Michaels, the legendary “Saturday Night Live” creator who produced “Black Sheep.”
“Although I love this kind of comedy, sometimes I feel trapped by always having to be the most outrageous guy in the room,” Farley said.
“In particular, I’m working on trying not to be that guy in my private life. Lorne told me that that’s what killed Belushi more than anything else, that inability to turn it off in his private life. He couldn’t take the mask off that Bluto character.
“I’m learning more and more to take off the mask, but it’s always a fight. But that’s one of the reasons I try to inject some heart into all my movies.
“It can’t be flat-out comedy all the time.”
Farley said that after his next two comedies he would like to do a drama along the lines of what Bill Murray did in 1984 with “The Razor’s Edge.”
“I did nothing but drama while I was at Marquette University, and I enjoyed it,” he said. “Whether the audience will accept me in a dramatic role remains to be seen.
“If they don’t accept it, that’s OK. I understand and I’ll abide by their wishes,” he said. “I signed on as the clown, and by golly, I’ll keep my end of the bargain if that’s what the people want.”