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mrmando

Matt Foley (SNL): breakaway table or not?

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It's probably beneath A&F to even bring this up, but here goes.

In the classic Saturday Night Live sketch that introduces Matt Foley, the infamous motivational speaker portrayed by Chris Farley, there's a moment where Farley trips and falls on a coffee table. Until that point it appears to be a fairly normal coffee table, with a light cherrywood stain. Under the impact of Farley's bulk, however, all four legs collapse and the tabletop shatters into at least three pieces.

A meme going around the Net (you can find it on Wikipedia) alleges that this stunt was unplanned, and that Farley accidentally fell and broke a prop table. Indeed, the next line he delivers ("Whoops-a-daisy ... we'll just have to clean that up later") sounds like an ad lib. And if anyone produces corroborated, documented evidence for this meme, then I'll meekly accept it as the truth.

But until then ... no way, man. That looks like a breakaway table to me. A person of Farley's size might crack an ordinary coffee table by falling on it, but he certainly wouldn't reduce it to splinters, nor would he spring up completely unharmed.

Here's the episode ... what do you think?

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Having built breakaway props for theatre productions, I can tell you that this table is definitely not real, and most likely a combination of actual wood pieces (mainly the legs) and a tabletop made of industrial cardboard, covered with a stick-on woodgrain adhesive paper. If you watch closely as Farley gets up, you can see that the back of the table top appears to be bending upward, which would happen with a thick sheet of cardboard, but not plywood or hardwood. To do this trick in a theatrical production, I would connect the legs and top with pieces of dowel, just long enough to keep the piece stable, but short enough that the prop would fall apart upon impact. The cardboard tabletop could be cheaply and quickly replaced as needed, depending on the damage. But it's surprising how durable the tops could be.

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