Whenever actor/comedian Kevin Farley steps onstage, he has to admit one thing almost immediately: Yes, he is Chris Farley’s brother.
There’s no denying the family resemblance between Kevin and his beloved Saturday Night Live star brother, Chris, who passed away in 1997 after a decade-long comedy career that included timeless characters and hit movies like Tommy Boy.
Born a year after Chris, Kevin frequently refers to his brother as his “Irish twin.” Together, they were the eldest two of four Farley brothers born in Madison, Wisc., where they endured many long Midwestern winters together, often copying their dad’s distinct mannerisms for laughs.
“We didn’t have a lot of entertainment options, so we entertained ourselves, and I think a lot of our comedy came from that,” Kevin Farley told Revue. “We had a big house growing up and it was the boys down in the basement. So a lot of times we would just try to make each other laugh down there, and that’s what was so fun about it. (Our) sister Barb had her own room, and her own section of the house, but we were treated like animals.”
After growing up laughing together, Kevin followed Chris to Marquette University, where he took his father’s advice and majored in business. From there, he followed Chris down to Chicago where his brother had already started making a name for himself at the famed Second City Theatre.
“I think I just followed Chris because it seemed like a lot more fun than business,” Farley said.
In those days, Kevin worked at the Chicago Board of Trade during the day and took classes at Second City at night. There, he saw not only his brother’s rise to stardom, but also the beginnings of many great comedians’ careers, including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert.
As part of the Second City’s travelling troupe, Kevin Farley went around to colleges, sharing his love for improv theater and sketch comedy while still cutting his teeth onstage.
“I loved the whole lifestyle,” he said. “Because I love improvisational theater and I love sketch comedy, Second City had a really huge influence on me back then. ... It’s kind of where I started and I just never stopped.”
He quickly entered the world of comedic acting, landing roles in his brother’s hit movie Black Sheep and the popular Adam Sandler flick The Waterboy before later joining MTV’s boy band parody, 2ge+her, in 2000. Starring as the character Doug Linus, Kevin did an MTV movie and subsequent series chronicling the group’s music and misadventures.
“I loved my boy band era,” he said, citing the role as his favorite of his career. “I really had fun playing that character with those guys. We came up with two albums. We had dance routines, and we had a nice little run on our own TV show.”
Since then, he’s appeared on such TV series as Just Shoot Me!, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hawaii Five-O, Drunk History and others. His latest projects include the indie comedy Crowning Jules and the upcoming Frat Pack.
In 2015, he also co-executive produced the feature-length biographical documentary I Am Chris Farley about his brother’s life. Looking back on his brother’s legacy now, 20 years after his passing, Kevin said he’s surprised by how much it keeps growing.
“I think his humor was timeless because he was kind of a clown,” he said. “Just the kind of humor he was doing was very different from anyone else’s. The physicality of it all, and the yelling and the screaming and the unique characters. He used to say he only did one character at different volumes, but if you look closely, they’re very different.”
Kevin Farley’s own comedy is very different from his brother’s as well, and he only recently entered the world of stand-up about five years ago. Finding his voice onstage at places like The Comedy Store in L.A., Kevin can’t help but bring out some classic Farley mannerisms, but his act is his own.
“There’s no shortcut for stand-up,” he said. “You have to just do it, or don’t do it, and that kind of process I really enjoy. Every time I’m onstage, I learn a new thing or I see a new bit that I want to do, and that’s the process of stand-up that I’ve really started to enjoy. I get a thrill every time I do a show.”
Kevin Farley: Relay for Life Fundraiser for the American Cancer Society
Back Alley Comedy Club, 1531 W. Sherman Blvd., Muskegon
Jan. 12 & 13, $27 (Friday fundraiser and show), $17 (Sat. show)
shermanbowlingcenter.com, (231) 755-1258