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The universe of cursed Matt Foley figurines

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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Back in 2017, the Madison Mallards issued a Chris Farley bobblehead that absolutely mangled the beloved Madison native’s likeness. The promotional souvenir took a cue from Farley’s Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker character on Saturday Night Live, complete with a little plastic van, but the head and face were just…not recognizable as Chris Farley, or as a parody of same. The blue plaid sport coat and green tie (and van) give it away, but the proportions are all off, which is kind of unfortunate given Farley’s gift for physical comedy, and especially the swivel motion he used to adjust his bulk throughout the Matt Foley sketches. 

Indeed, comments on the Mallards Facebook page memorably described it as looking like many other things and people, my favorite being “Harry Caray with brown hair.” If you missed that particular Mallards game, you can apparently buy this prized plastic abortion for $85 on Amazon.

My colleague Chris Lay roasted the Mallards at the time—sure, it’s just a plastic novelty item, but even so, a Madison institution could do a little bit better by a tragically departed native son. But this week, the folks in the Mallards front office can sleep a bit easier, because commemorative Matt Foley figurines can somehow get worse. 

Lay alerted me this week to an eBay auction set to end Friday for a Matt Foley action figure. The package is kind of great: the backing card features a classic shot of Farley (as Foley) berating a teenager (played by David Spade, in one of the few moments of the sketch where Spade isn’t on the verge of breaking character). The package also proclaims that it “Includes collapsable table!”—an inspired touch. The figure itself looks like a slumped-over Mr. Incredible, Foley’s plastic-rimmed glasses devolving into more of a domino mask. I know that action figures can take some creative license, but it does seem like the shape of Farley’s head and cannonball gut are beyond the limits of today’s plastic-molding technologies. I can also understand why it would be tough for a plastic toy to capture the comic nuances of the Matt Foley character’s strained, wide-legged posture.

And it turns out that Matt Foley has inspired still more cursed figurines. One, made right here in Wisconsin, is a little better in terms of girth but has a finish that resembles damp claymation. It appears that at some point, NBC was selling an officially sanctioned bobblehead with an even bigger head than seems reasonable for a bobblehead. It’s less the face of a weirdly enraged fat guy than the grin of someone getting compressed air pumped into his cheeks. The absolute worst example I’ve found is also from an official merchandising tie-in: An SNL edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game, released, as best I can tell, in 2004. All the game pieces are tiny figurines of noteworthy SNL characters, including Foley. Image-search though I might, I can’t find a single photo of this thing that doesn’t horrify me. Here’s a close-up. Perhaps it’s the wear and tear of many a gleeful evening of both trivia and pursuit, but did someone open up the Ark of the Covenant in front of that thing? We cherish Chris Farley for his charm and surprising vulnerability. Please, novelty plastic-thingy makers, stop giving us nightmares.



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New this week:

Grant Phipps talked with UW Cinematheque’s Zachary Zahos for an in-depth preview of the film program’s spring lineup.

Journalist Elizabeth Lang explores the politics of street art in Madison.

Steven Spoerl previews the expanded 2020 edition of FemFest.

More events of note in this week’s calendar.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Hardcore outfit No Question has released its second EP, Internal Bleeding. The Wisconsin State Journal reports on artists working with youth at the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center. Meat Puppets have announced a June 5 show at the High Noon Saloon. Femmestival, a new food and art festival, comes to Garver Feed Mill on February 23.

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March 5: Kayo Dot, Psalm Zero, Telechrome. Communication, 8 p.m. Tickets available now, discount for Tone Madison Sustainers

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