One of the most well-known motivational speakers doesn’t exist. One of the most famous speakers in the world is a spoof character called Matt Foley created by Saturday Night Live and Chris Farley. Matt is a horrible motivational speaker; he clearly doesn’t have his own life together, is thrice divorced, and famously lives in a van Down By The River.
While attending the National Speakers Association meeting — a place where the best speakers in the world gather to network and learn — I decided to get my camera out and asked some of my peers what they thought about this fictional character. Do they feel threatened by Matt Foley? Insulted? Do they think it’s funny? Why is this fictional character famous years and years after the SNL episode was last aired? (Sadly, Chris Farley has since died.)
Check out the video here:
Of course, the reason the SNL sketch is so funny is that it is based on truth. Any comedian will tell you that the funniest material is material that contains strong elements of reality. Let’s admit it… There are a ton of motivational speakers who suck. They speak on everything from motivation to goal setting to wealth building… Yet they cannot rub two nickels together. Don’t get me wrong… There are motivational speakers out there who are total rock stars. I’m just saying that there are at least an equal number of motivational speakers who are anywhere from mediocre to horrible.
And our audiences know it. If there weren’t any blowhard, miserable, unsuccessful, poverty stricken, lame motivational speakers, the late night Chris Farley material would fall flat.
(By the way, when I’m part of an audience watching a motivational speaker I’m always curious about that speaker’s back story. I want to know if they’re doing well in the world and simply sharing their struggles and journey with us, or if they are a Matt Foley style fraud. Aren’t you?)
I was completely surprised there were so many professional motivational speakers who don’t know about the Saturday Night Live sketch. They have never heard of the Down By The River dude. To me this shows a complete absence of awareness of American pop culture. Yes, to be honest, this sketch is pretty old. (Foley first appeared on SNL in 1993). But if we trust in Google… And who doesn’t?… Many people are still searching for information, video, and details about the fictional speaker. There are numerous YouTube posts of Matt Foley. And if they’re searching for it and posting him, that means there is — even now — a ton of interest in this fake speaker.
What’s the Point?
For me the message is clear: most Americans have doubts about motivational speakers. They wonder if motivational speakers are more than just blowhard ambassadors of ineptitude. Which means that if I’m going to be a motivational speaker one of the first jobs I have with any client or any audience is to let them know that I am not like Matt Foley. I need to speak truthfully about what I know and don’t know … And I need to be authentic.
When I am watching a motivational speaker I don’t need them to be wildly successful. They do not need to have climbed a mountain, run a Fortune 500 company, or made a fortune from scratch. All I need is for them to be authentic, present a real person, and share with me actionable ideas about how to improve myself.
What do you think?
Is Matt Foley funny? Why? What do you look for in a motivational speaker? Leave a comment below! We want to know what you think!
If you’re looking for a motivational speaker for your event who does not live down by the river that I hope you will consider booking me.
Here’s the first Down By The River Sketch:
And one more video of Chris Farley as a funny motivational speaker
Another Down By the River Blog post about Matt Foley / Chris Farley
What do YOU think?
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Well, I did already get a chance to comment in the video – but since I never miss the chance to put in my two cents (I am a motivational speaker after all) I will comment again.
1. The bit is funny. And the reason it is funny is two fold. One, because there is truth to it. Many motivational speakers don’t walk their talk. Secondly, because this comedy bit meets the definition of funny: something we don’t expect. We laugh when we see a truth turned upside down – or when something we expect is flipped. For example, we laugh at a Sunday School teacher who cusses like a sailor – or a football player who sleeps with a night light. We expect motivational speakers to have their act together. So when Chris Farley comes out looking like something the cat coughed up – well, we laugh. Because most motivational speakers look polished – at least on the outside.
I don’t mind the comedy bit. Even though it used to get more Google attention (not seeing it now that Google made some changes at the beginning of the year) it never really took business away from me. So I don’t feel threatened one bit.
And you can knock motivational speakers all you want – but go look at how many people are searching for motivational speakers every year.
I’m just saying. Job security ain’t bad these days.
What fun to be a part of your project, Brad.
My wife, introvert that she is, has a hard time relating to over-the-top motivational speakers. They’re like one-hour energy that dissipates as soon as they walk off the stage. I think that’s what Chris Farley was lampooning.
The best motivational speakers invite us to tap into our own intrinsic motivation. The right word or phrase at the right time lights us up. That’s the challenge as a motivational speaker–to invite everyone in the room, introvert or extravert, to discover and fire up their own desires. Not an easy task.
I miss Chris Farley and loved the Matt Foley character because it was both hilarious and made me cringe ever time I saw it. On the funny side, there is a complete misalignment of his life and his message which makes a great humor recipe — but on the cringe side, there is an element of speaker who plays to the highest aspirations of everyone without offering a single tool, solution or idea on how to make that happen. These “warm bath” sessions (make you feel good in the moment and cold an hour later) do our industry a disservice but even worse, they do the same for our audiences. I became a motivational speaker shortly after that skit was born because it didn’t deter me from the drive to help others live better lives. It also put into perspective that speakers are not superheroes, saviors or perfect examples of anything – we are flawed, stumble often, but it’s in that tempering that makes our messages relevant in the real world. That connection to reality also ensures we avoid the Matt Foley syndrome. I remembered someone told me “take what you do seriously, but never take yourself too seriously” and I do my best to live that mantra. I think Matt Foley reminds us (both audiences and fellow speakers) to do just that!
Ok, I was one of those who had not yet seen the Chris Farley video…so thanks for sharing! I enjoyed the comments that the “real” motivational speakers made because the ones who talked about authenticity were exactly right. Like Jay above, my husband can handle an “over the top” motivational speaker for about 2 minutes before he tunes out. The reason? Because he hasn’t been able to connect with any authenticity coming from the platform. It’s easy to spot when it’s missing. Brad, I love that you have tackled this with so much humor and humor rocks! Keep it up.
Any motivational speaker who shouts at me even for the first :0:0:30 has me racing to the back door. This has some funny moments, and yet, I hope none of the motivational speakers we know and love are close…well, come might be.
Good luck with all your motivational humor, Brad. Keep up with the trends for the rest of us who don’t watch t.v. or go to bed before SNL.
Enjoy the weekend.
I think Chris Farley made all of us take a look at the hackneyed motivational speaker stereotype and shout, “NO!” Because he was so over-the-top I hope it made everyone take a second look at speakers today and realize that the profession is just that…a profession…an honorable one. You are right Brad, authenticity is what it is all about. Chris Farley’s lack thereof really brought that point home, in a fun and impactful way.
A fun look back at Chris Farley and his comedic talents. He will be missed. A few takeaways for me – 1. The highest form of humor is to be able to laugh at ourselves. It’s fun to be able to exaggerate the cheesiest in the profession and smile. 2. Authenticity, vulnerability and humility are the qualities that make the speakers in this profession the most effective. Thanks for sharing, Brad.
Loved this, Bradley! Good stuff!
Brad, a speaker making fun of every stero-typed image and phrase used by motivational speakers would rock. Oh wait, Joe Malarkey has already done that.
Matt Foley worked because he was an exageration with whom everyone could identify on some level, and he owned the bit. They parody presidents and celebrities. We should feel honored … and get over it.
He would be great at announcing the POTUS is entering the House of Representatives for the SOTU Adress