|First appearance||May 8, 1993|
|Last appearance||October 25, 1997|
|Created by||Bob Odenkirk|
|Portrayed by||Chris Farley (1993-1997), Melissa McCarthy (2015)|
|Spouse(s)||Three ex-wives (first one named Linda, other two unnamed)|
Matt Foley is a fictional character from the sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live performed by Chris Farley. Foley is a motivational speaker who exhibits characteristics that someone in that position would not typically have: whereas motivational speakers are typically successful and charismatic, Foley is abrasive, clumsy, and down on his luck. The character was popular in its original run and went on to become one of Farley's best-known characters.
The character's concept was first created by Bob Odenkirk. Farley had performed the character in other comedy groups before joining the cast of Saturday Night Live. Farley named the character after one of his Marquette University rugby union teammates, who is now a Catholic priest in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights.
Matt Foley appeared in eight Saturday Night Live sketches. Each sketch typically started with Foley brought into a specific situation by someone to speak to a group. In addition to his disheveled, overweight, and unstylish appearance, he exhibits poor social skills, frequently loses his temper, disparages and insults his audience, wallows in cynicism and self-pity, and presents a negative motivational message. Foley's trademark line is warning his audience that they could end up, like himself, being "35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river!" In most sketches, whenever a member of his audience announces a personal accomplishment, Foley responds with mockery or belligerence: "Well, la-dee-frickin-da!", "Whoop-dee-frickin-doo!", or a similarly dismissive remark. The sketches usually feature Farley's physical comedy, such as the over-caffeinated Foley gesticulating wildly and leaping around.
In the character's debut, David Spade and Christina Applegate, who were playing teens supposedly in need of Foley's help, were visibly trying to stifle their laughter. Spade, in particular, spent most of the sketch with his hand covering his face. In the sketch, Farley's portrayal of Foley was so intense that he accidentally tripped and fell onto a table, crushing it. The blooper was so popular that Farley turned it into one of his best-known routines and one which he would repeat many times, both as Foley and as other characters on SNL and in film during the remainder of his life and career, sometimes injuring himself in the process.
At the end of each sketch, he is usually rushed out of his speaking location, where the people left behind huddle together and comment on him, usually bemused and frightened. Though his intended message is always ruined by his bizarre presentation, his audience typically benefits from the experience, as they do all they can not to be associated with Foley again. One departure sketch had George Foreman considering the fact he was too old and weak to continue boxing, and happening to walk by the river, where he comes across Foley's van. Foley does not go into his usual tirades, instead ordering Foreman to do all sorts of chores for him, such as grilling hamburgers, claiming the work is "for dexterity". When Foreman determines Foley is using him, he punches Foley, causing Foreman to realize he can still fight and ultimately going on to win the world championship. Foreman then recites this tale to Tim Meadows, who wonders aloud why he is cooking burgers for Foreman, only to be barked at, "You know why! For dexterity!"
Being a Wisconsin native, Farley was asked to portray the Matt Foley character at the 1994 Rose Bowl banquet. He delivered a comedic "motivational speech" to the Wisconsin Badgers football team, who were to face the UCLA Bruins that year and won the game, 21-16.
Plans for a film version with David Spade in a supporting role were shelved after Farley's death in 1997.
The character’s debut performance (May 8th, 1993) has been called one of the best segments in SNL history. The reception of the audience combined with visible stifled laughter from the performers on stage added to the popularity of the skit. Notable physical gestures from Farley included what Spade referred to as “the thing with the glasses” when Farley lifted his glasses on and off of his face commenting, “Hey Dad, I can’t see real good, is that Bill Shakespeare over there?” and perhaps the most defining gesture was one that Farley saved for the live performance when he alternated hands adjusting his trousers, grabbing the hilt of his belt with one hand and the back of his pants with the other. In the skit itself, Foley attempts to motivate two teens, played by David Spade and Christina Applegate, to get themselves “on the right track” after the family’s cleaning lady finds a bag of marijuana in their dresser. Foley’s attempt to motivate them falls short when he constantly reminds them that the only thing they will ever amount to is “living in a van down by the river!” The skit ends with Foley offering that the only solution to solve the family's problems is for him to move in with them; he leaves the house to get his things from his van and the family locks him out, finally reconciling and admitting to how much they love each other.
A later performance (February 19th, 1994) features Foley in prison attempting to motivate troubled teens in a scared straight program; he was imprisoned 3 to 5 years for non-payment of alimony (consistent with him being “thrice divorced”). Before entering the skit, Foley is introduced as “just finished a week in solitary, eating nothing but coffee beans.” Foley attempts to scare the juvenile delinquents by commenting in a slightly different manner that he “wished to dear God, that he was living in a van down by the river!” The skit followed the usual Foley routine with him falling through the prison wall instead of a coffee table, which eventually led to his and the other inmates' escape.
In the only cold open featuring Foley (April 15th, 1995), the character attempts to motivate a pair of Venezuelan teens. Foley attempts to get through to them by motivating them in their native Spanish, saying “¡Yo vivo en van circa de un rio!” The skit again features Foley mocking his audience, breaking household objects, and somehow succeeding in his motivational goals.
The character returned in the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special, with Melissa McCarthy replacing the deceased Farley. Foley appears in a Weekend Update segment with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, telling them that "being a Weekend Update anchor will not bring to you, or you, jack squat!" and breaking part of the set's desk by falling on it.
List of SNL episodes featured
- May 8, 1993 (host Christina Applegate)
- October 30, 1993 (host Christian Slater)
- December 11, 1993 (host Sally Field)
- February 19, 1994 (host Martin Lawrence)
- May 14, 1994 (host Heather Locklear)
- December 17, 1994 (host George Foreman)
- April 15, 1995 (host Courteney Cox)
- October 25, 1997 (host Chris Farley)
- February 15, 2015 (40th Anniversary Special, played by Melissa McCarthy)
- SNL Transcripts - contains scripts from most "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker" sketches in searchable database.