The cinematic classic Tommy Boy hit theaters on March 31, 1995. Do the math and that mean the timeless Chris Farley (RIP)/David Spade road trip comedy is just about — yes you guessed it — 20 years old. Twenty is a nice round number, the perfect type of number for a wholly essential Internet list.
Thankfully the local Target still carries physical media. For the small price of $4.75 — less than a pack of dental floss — I secured the “Holy Schnike Edition” Blu-ray, with director’s commentary from Peter Segal and an hour’s worth of special features to cull 20 illuminating fun facts for your nostalgic pleasure.
So grab your little coats, break out the ketchup Popsicles, crank up the Carpenters and for the love of god, don’t call housekeeping.
Tommy Boy’s original working titles were terrible: Let’s make an educated guess and say Tommy Boy wouldn’t have found success under the name, “Billy the Third: A Midwestern” — its original title. As luck would have it, Saturday Night Live honcho Lorne Michaels also oversaw Billy Madison in production at the same time, necessitating the change. Other names considered included “Fat Chance” and “XL” before settling on Tommy Boy. They made the right choice.
Midwestern, eh?: At times Tommy Boy feels like a classic slice of Midwestern Americana. Tommy and Richard’s quest to save the Callahan family brake pad factory begins in Sandusky, Ohio, and takes them across the Rust Belt to places like Davenport, Iowa and Flint, Mich. Turns out most of the movie was shot in Ontario, as in Canada. The Toronto skyline also doubles at Detroit, albeit with a road sign tossed in.
Farley-ism: Segal says on the commentary track the expression “Holy Schnikes” came straight from the mind of Farley, which seems reasonable.
Evening at the Improv: Something that should come as no surprise is the level of improv used during the filming. One big takeaway from the commentary and special features is how much of the movie was based off interactions between Farley and Spade or devised on the fly.
Such as this:
Singing along with “Superstar” by the The Carpenters on the radio was born out of an idea from Spade’s personal life, while Farley made up the entire “Burning Alive” failed sales pitch himself. Said Spade in the special features, “As long it didn’t mess with the scene and the set and where you had to move the cameras too much.” Spade said they were allowed to add jokes.
Brian Dennehy, who plays Big Tom Callahan, improv-ed his pre-wedding speech to Farley on his own, too.
Shrek connection?: Take this for whatever grain of salt it’s worth, but Segal says people involved in the production of Shrek said they modeled the Shrek/Donkey dynamic off Farley and Spade. [Update: Turns out Farley recorded audio for Shrek before his death.]
Farley did his own stunts: A game performer, Farley did his own stunts and performed all the physical comedy in the movie himself. This included falling through a table, rolling around in the mud cow-tipping and taking a 2-x-4 to the face from Spade. Segal says during the 2-x-4 scene, Spade actually hit Farley with the non-padded part of the board. Maybe you’ll notice the mark, not here, not here, but here.
Quick Work: Dan Aykroyd, who plays Zalinksy (the man who makes car parts for the American working man, because that’s who I am) filmed all his scenes in two or three days. Segal says Aykroyd thanked him for ” introducing me to a new generation,” afterward via a signed movie poster.
Brothers gotta hug: The original premise for Tommy Boy focused on the relationship between step brothers Farley and Rob Lowe, who appears uncredited in the film because he was under contract filming The Stand.
Clean living: According to Segal on the commentary track, Farley, who sadly died in 1997 aged 33 of a drug overdose, was clean and sober throughout the filming. Segal notes Farley was “focused on the work. He really wanted to prove something.”
Deer aren’t easy to film: One of the movie’s best gags — the seemingly dead deer waking up in the back of Richard’s classic car, based off a real-life 911 call — was nearly impossible to capture on film. Most of the shots of the “deer” are either the legs of a goat or a grip dressed up in a deer costume writhing around since the animatronic model the filmmakers bought proved worthless. In order to film the shot of the deer on the roof of the car the filmmakers gave one of the classic GTXs to a deer wrangler, who promptly told them deer couldn’t be trained. That meant leaving food on top of the car for a month in an isolated paddock and hoping the deer would eventually feel comfortable enough around the car to stand on it, as it does for about one second which you see in the completed movie.
Twenty years later, Tommy Boy doesn’t feel exceedingly dated: Aside from the lack of GPS on cell phones which would have made Tommy and Richard’s road trip all that much easier, the movie doesn’t feel that old. One of the kids who makes fun of Tommy on his date in the sail boat wears an original Team USA Basketball hat, which although dated, would likely fetch over $100 on eBay in 2015. If you look closely the M&Ms that fall into Richard’s car engine don’t include the color blue, which didn’t appear until late 1995.
Fat Guy in a Little Coat wasn’t always a song: Tommy Boy‘s best remembered, most enduring moment — Farley busting through Spade’s little coat — was originally a simple sight gag and born of the duo’s natural interactions off-camera. They went back and re-shot the scene to include Farley singing the song at the prompting of editor William Kerr. Segal notes that someone told him the Navy’s Top Gun flight school at one point used the song often during exercises.
The deleted scenes were deleted for a good reason: There is one really noxious deleted scene involving Lowe’s (underwritten) character where he is out by the pool looking in the mirror and using hair spray — I know, right? The scene ends with him taking a lighter to the hair spray and aiming it at a yapping dog. Painful.
Rosanne was supposed to play the Waitress in the Chicken Wings Scene: Scheduling conflicts kept it from happening. Given Rosanne’s mostly faded relevance over the two decades, maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing in retrospect.
Get me a rewrite: From my best guess, Tommy Boy went into production with about 30 pages of script, a March 31, 1995 release date, a flimsy, ever-changing premise and not much else. I’ll infer that that pitch centered on Farley and Spade’s chemistry … and went from there, meaning a lot of improv as aforementioned. Bear in mind the early-90s were a fertile time for SNL-related movies — how else to explain “It’s Pat” being put to film? As someone says in the special features about Michaels, “These two are funny, write something for them.”
SNL writer Fred Wolf came in to help, writing up about 60 pages of script — uncredited. (The script is credited to Bonnie and Terry Turner, of Third Rock from the Sun and That 70s Show fame.) Segal says they were writing scenes every night during shooting and that they didn’t have a firm ending when they began filming, either. During the commentary he relates the old Robert Evans line, “Second act tragedy equals third act magic,” and how they tried to tie everything together as best they could.
Critics mostly hated it: Roger Ebert gave Tommy Boy one star, writing “No one is funny in ‘Tommy Boy.’ There are no memorable lines.” The late film critic astutely observed in his review, “Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring each other that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them.”
The film made $32 million at the box office, but found a new life at the video store and cable rotation.
Setting the right tone: Something that strikes about Tommy Boy two decades later is that it’s not entirely vulgar or full of gross out jokes or curse words. Yeah the pool scene features a bunch of masturbation jokes, but given the reputations of Farley, Spade and SNL at the time, Tommy Boy mostly feels tame, if not quaint. There are even some treacly, sappy scenes between Tommy and his dad to balance out the comedy, including the ending with Tommy alone on his sailboat in the lake talking to his late father.
Farley and Spade filmed Tommy Boy and SNL at the same time: Shooting for Tommy Boy began in September, 1994 which meant Farley and Spade flew back and forth from Toronto to New York to appear in Saturday Night Live. According to Spade, they took a “private jet” shooting Tommy Boy on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. They’d fly back to New York for the SNL read-through and then back to Toronto that night to shoot the movie Thursday. They’d then go back to New York for SNL Friday and Saturday. “It worked for about a week,” Spade says in the special features.
The breaks to do SNL actually helped the producers, giving them time to write more scenes.
Farley drank A LOT of coffee on the set: Spade says Farley consumed copious amount of cappuccino during filming, throwing out the number at 27 cups consumed on the first day of shooting. Bo Derek said Farley drank three before a scene. Spade, meanwhile, ate a lot of tuna fish sandwiches.
Farley and Spade got in a fight over Rob Lowe: This anecdote from the special features is actually pretty hilarious. In the special features, the cast and crew talk about how both Farley and Spade became enamored with Rob Lowe. One night Spade and Lowe went out for drinks without Farley, leading to tension the next day.
Julie Warner says the duo would often fight on the set, with many ending via Farley sitting on Spade.
Presuming you’re not one of the critics who despised the film in the first place, Tommy Boy is tremendously re-watchable if you find yourself with a couple spare hours and are able to locate a physical copy or good stream.