Give David Spade a modicum of credit: he's offering an apology of sorts for the tasteless DirecTV commercial featuring him and the late Chris Farley in a doctored scene from their 1995 comedy "Tommy Boy."
Spade tells People that he intended the ad, which includes Farley's jacket- (and gut-) busting "Fat Guy in a Little Coat" bit, as a tribute to his friend, who, he’s sure, would have been “stoked” over the posthumous appearance. Spade added he never would have made the commercial had he known it would spark outrage – and admits to “slight shock” over the angry response.
The ad touches a nerve: It's decidedly jarring to see the youthful Farley do his desperate-to-please clown routine as a current-day Spade sits and gripes he’d rather be watching satellite TV than “tons of fun.”
When Farley played a manic, table-smashing buffoon on "Saturday Night Live" and in the movies, he projected a likeability and vulnerability that resonated with audiences – and apparently still does, judging by the reaction to the ad. You got the idea that when he beat himself up for asking stupid questions during his celebrity talk show skits on "SNL," he was working out genuine self-esteem and insecurity issues on live television.
Farley’s death a dozen years ago may be ancient history in the entertainment world, but his and Spade's movies live on, thanks to cable TV. We got another reminder of Farley's lost talent after the recent death of Patrick Swayze spurred repeated showings their classic "SNL" Chippendales dance-off.
Watching that clip is bittersweet. The DirecTV ad is just creepy – and it’s far from the only case that raises questions about using dead celebrities’ images.
Michael Jackson, after all, is on the big screen in concert rehearsal footage shot shortly before his death barely four months ago. TV pitchman Billy Mays, who died three days after Jackson, keeps turning up in commercials. DirecTV’s ad last year featured footage from “Poltergeist” with Heather O’Rourke – the “They’re baaack” girl who died in 1988 at age 12 – and went over the line.
Perhaps the best-known dead-celebrity commercial stunt is Fred Astaire's dance with a vacuum in 1997 – the year, incidentally, 33-year-old Farley died.
While Astaire's commercial co-star was a Dirt Devil, Farley's was the star of "Joe Dirt," Spade, a guy who was his buddy on and off screen. It's a strain on the brain to look for deeper meaning in slapstick fare like "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep," but what passes for plot in both films is Spade's character trying to save Farley's blustery, accident-prone, misfit character from himself.
Spade fails in the movies, to often-hilarious effect. In the commercial, his failure to protect his pal isn’t worth a chuckle.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.