Certain characters from Saturday Night Live have become especially memorable and manage to remain a widespread cultural reference years and years later. These types of rare SNL signature characters often possess the dynamite combination of having been written from a unique perspective and performed by the only person who could pull it off.
Dana Carvey as the Church Lady, Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher, Bill Hader as Stefon, and Kristen Wiig as Target Lady were all characters who were over the top and yet still representative of types recognizable to the audience. There was also a certain magic to how each of these cast members morphed into the character with full commitment that left the audience howling with laughter.
Chris Farley’s performance as motivational speaker Matt Foley can certainly be considered one of his career highlights, as well as one of the most popular and acclaimed sketches in SNL history. Foley is a larger-than-life dysfunctional man who has fallen on hard times and is, of course, “living in a van down by the river.”
It’s peak Farley as he barrels onto the set, flails his arms wildly, screams life advice at teens, and then trips and collapses onto the coffee table. It’s such brilliant physical comedy that every other cast member in the scene cannot contain their laughter from the moment Farley enters. Here’s the full story on "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker."
The Sketch Was Written By Bob Odenkirk From 'Breaking Bad' & 'Better Call Saul'
These days, Bob Odenkirk is perhaps most well known for playing Saul Goodman on the hit series Breaking Bad and its spinoff, Better Call Saul, but he actually began his career at Saturday Night Live, where he was a writer from 1987 to 1991.
Prior to being hired at SNL, Odenkirk studied with improv legend Del Close in Chicago and attended “The Players Workshop of the Second City.” It was there that he met SNL writer Robert Smigel, which led to a writing job on the hit sketch series.
Odenkirk Returned To Chicago’s Second City Theater In 1990 When Chris Farley And Tim Meadows Were Performing There
While SNL was on summer hiatus in 1990, Odenkirk returned to Chicago to write and perform in the Second City Mainstage show called Flag Smoking Permitted in Lobby Only or Censorama. At the time, future SNL cast members Chris Farley and Tim Meadows were Second City performers.
It was during this time that Odenkirk first crafted the Matt Foley character, specifically for his pal Chris. Foley was written as a trainwreck of a man who works as a motivational speaker to scare teenagers into turning their lives around.
Odenkirk Took A 'Go-To Voice' Farley Had Been Doing For A Football Coach And Built A Character Around ItPhoto: Saturday Night Live / NBC
Odenkirk revealed on The View that he had heard Farley do the Foley voice in a different Second City sketch, then went home and wrote Foley alone in his apartment. Even though Farley didn’t write the sketch, he did come up with many of the elements that made the character so memorable.
“He had done a voice like that in an improv sketch, he was like a coach... and it was just a go-to voice for him,” Odenkirk said. “And I went and wrote this thing about a guy living in his van down by the river and he just [slayed] it every night. It was an amazing thing to see.”
‘Matt Foley’ Was The Name Of A Pastor Who Was Farley’s Real-Life Friend And Classmate At Marquette
The Foley character was named after one of Farley’s rugby teammates at Marquette University. Farley would name characters after friends he spotted in the audience, but this one happened to stick.
The real-life Foley went on to become a Catholic priest in the suburbs of Chicago and would preside over Farley’s funeral in 1997. "Most of us, we're much more complex than people portray us to be," Father Foley says in the 2015 documentary I Am Chris Farley. "There's the public persona and then there's the person you know as a family member and a friend. Chris was that character people think he was, but he was not that character all the time. He also had a reflective side, a spiritual side, and a very caring side."
Farley called Foley hours before the sketch first aired in May 1993 to give him a heads-up. "Matt Foley is going to be on tonight,” Farley said. “You've got to watch it.”