During Saturday Night Live’s round-number anniversaries, you’ll see lists of the greatest sketches and the greatest cast members. (Get ready, because Season 50 will be here soon.)
My own favorite sketches and performers vary depending on what day you ask me, but I do have an absolute, 100%, no-doubt-about-it favorite single frame of SNL. It’s this one, from the musical sketch for the song Lunch Lady Land, which aired on January 15, 1994:
That’s Chris Farley on the left, and Adam Sandler on the right, by the way. And just look how happy they are.
At this point in the sketch, Sandler has launched into a power chord and Farley, after gyrating for a bit like a lingerie model in a late-80s heavy metal video trapped in the body of, well, Chris Farley, has joined in singing the next line of the song: “Sloppy joes, sloppy sloppy joes, yeah!” Farley is singing along so enthusiastically, Sandler’s mic picks him up. He’s dancing in character but singing in his own voice, as if he’s rocking out to the song in his own car with the windows up.
In this frame, two friends at one of the first jobs in their young career are obviously having so much fun that it’s hard to call it “work.” There’s a mutual appreciation for each other’s talent.
They aren’t quite hitting their stride yet: This was more than a year before the releases of Tommy Boy and Billy Madison, the movies that would make them movie stars, and more than two years before Happy Gilmore would cement Sandler as a legit box office draw. There’s something raw, amateurish, and almost innocent here.
Anyone who has known the mixed blessing of a fun, early-career job that doubles as a social circle can appreciate this relationship. When you get older, the people you work with are people you work with. When you’re 23 and working with people of a similar age, the people you work with can wind up as your good friends, too.
Thankfully, I can relate a little bit to the bond Sandler, Farley, and others from that era of SNL must have shared; just as thankfully, I can’t relate to the loss Sandler must feel. But others can.
These two united again, in a manner of speaking for another musical sketch last weekend on Saturday Night Live. It came at the end of a show that “skipped” politics, in a traditional sense. But America also has an opioid problem, and a suicide problem — issues that don’t get dealt with while Alec Baldwin is grunting his way through his latest Donald Trump impersonation. As I wrote at Medium, I wonder how many people watched Sandler’s tribute thinking about the Chris Farleys in their own lives — or perhaps more accurately, the Chris Farleys who weren’t in their own lives anymore.