Long ago — Oct. 27, 1990, to be exact — the great minds behind Chippendales had a problem: They needed to hire a new male stripper. After a five-hour audition and three callbacks, the choices came down to two promising young men: Adrian, a chiseled hunk of man with abs that wouldn’t quit and an enviable mullet, and Barney, an overweight schlub who perhaps would have made a better Santa Claus than an erotic dancer. With two candidates for just one job, there was only one solution: a dance-off to the strains of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend.”

And dance they did — Barney defying his unmitigated corpulence by matching Adrian bicep flex for bicep flex, crotch pump for crotch pump. Chippendales had never seen such a display before. As one executive put it: “They’re both so great — I can’t decide between them.” Another: “This is the part of the job that I hate.”

Of course, Chippendales’s dilemma was completely fictional — and completely ridiculous. But, like Chevy Chase’s pratfalls as President Gerald Ford or Tina Fey’s turn as GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the Chippendales dance-off between hunky Patrick Swayze and roly-poly Chris Farley was downloaded directly from “Saturday Night Live” into the American psyche. And after Farley’s untimely death by drug overdose in 1997 at age 33, the Chippendales sketch became a monument to Farley’s genius — a coda for a master of physical comedy preserved on videotape seven years before he succumbed to his unsustainable lifestyle.

But now, as the nation reviews Farley’s legacy with Spike TV’s documentary “I Am Chris Farley,” which aired Monday night, the Chippendales sketch has taken on tragic tones. Yes, Farley was funny partly because he was fat — and, as he craved the attention that came with the laughter, he couldn’t beat the food and substance problems that ultimately killed him.

“Although I love this kind of comedy, sometimes I feel trapped by always having to be the most outrageous guy in the room,” Farley said in 1996. “In particular, I’m working on trying not to be that guy in my private life.”

Farley failed spectacularly at this. Every character he played seemed ready to burst, and the comic was not inclined — or perhaps too scared — to play against type.

“Among Mr. Farley’s best-known TV characters,” The Washington Post noted in his obituary, “were the flabby, bare-chested Chippendales dancer whose jiggling gut spilled over his waistband; a Chicago Bears super-fan who after downing beers and greasy bratwurst would pound on his chest in a faux heart attack; and Matt Foley, a bespectacled motivational speaker who struggled to keep his pants up and ended his speeches by smashing the furniture in a froth, his blond hair mussed.” Farley “played comically sweaty, tightly wound characters who worked themselves and their girth into a frenzy,” the paper noted.

As revealed in “The Chris Farley Show,” a biography published in 2009, Farley even had a name for his trademark style: “Fatty falls down.”

“It worked really well, but it inaugurated this trend of Chris being really clumsy and falling down a lot,” Robert Smigel, an “SNL” writer, said in the biography. “It was to Chris’s detriment, and the show’s.”

But the problem was bigger than the cyclical downturns of late-night sketch comedy: Life sometimes imitates art — especially when an artist proves successful. Though Farley’s father was morbidly obese — he weighed more than 600 pounds at his son’s funeral, and died a year later — the comedian embraced the body that his eating binges kept large. On “SNL,” he played fat guys who, often, were a bit slow on the uptake. In “Tommy Boy,” his most successful film, he was a dim-witted, bighearted guy with a physique to match. In “Black Sheep” and “Beverly Hills Ninja,” the demands on his method weren’t much different. In what was considered a possible career game-changer near the end of his life, he spoke with playwright David Mamet about playing Fatty Arbuckle, the legendary comedian accused of rape in the 1920s.

Farley was not the type to, a la Robert DeNiro or Christian Bale, transform himself. Some said this was bad.

“That was a weird moment in Chris’s life,” former “SNL” cast member Chris Rock said of the Chippendales sketch, as the New Yorker recounted in its review of “I Am Chris Farley.” “As funny as that sketch was, and as many accolades as he got for it, it’s one of the things that killed him. It really is. Something happened right then.”

The New Yorker recounted a particularly tragic exchange: “Sarah Silverman remembers Farley once asking the ‘S.N.L.’ writer Jim Downey, in a childish voice, ‘Hey, Jim? Do you think it would help the show if I got even fatter?’”

Farley would, of course, escape “SNL” with bright career prospects. But the man who so admired John Belushi — another drug casualty at 33 — seemed all too determined to follow Bluto to an untimely end. No one — not “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels, not frequent collaborator and friend David Spade — could stop him.

“By last summer he’d been in over his head for years, doing coke and heroin and mushrooms and pot, and drinking booze and eating too much,” Erik Hedegaard wrote in Rolling Stone in 1998. “. . . Mostly he was an equal-opportunity abuser. Almost everyone knew it, and almost everyone — among them Michaels, Spade, [Dan] Aykroyd, his pal Tom Arnold and his manager, Marc Gurvitz, from Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which had also once managed Belushi — tried to get him to help himself. He was in and out of weight-loss centers and drug-rehab clinics. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous meetings. But none of it took. Eventually he’d slip and take that one drink, say, that led to more and to worse.”

The end was unsurprising: Farley’s brother found him dead in the doorway of his apartment. The comedian met his end after a binge, at least part of which he shared with a stripper. As one columnist put it: “the least-surprising premature death of a celebrity in show-business history.”

In a 1999 interview with Playboy, a devastated — but somewhat bitter Spade — blamed Farley.

“I tried to give him the old ‘It’s not worth it’ and ‘Come on, you shouldn’t be partying so much,'” Spade said. “He would always sit and listen to the lectures. He’d nod and agree. I thought I was so smart and that I’d articulated my case well, then he’d turn around and do whatever he wanted. I realize he played me.”