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In the early 1990s the alternative rock and metal scene began to invade mainstream cinema, at first with 1991′s action-packed Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and then Cameron Crowe’s twenty-something drama Singles, set against the backdrop of Seattle’s grunge scene, but soon these would be followed by the hit comedy Wayne’s World. Adapted from a series of popular sketches produced by Saturday Night Live, the movie introduced two lovable-yet-clueless metal fans who host their own amateur TV show on public access while obsessing over women out of their league and celebrating all things rock ‘n’ roll. What could have easily been a disaster transformed into one of the most successful films of the year, launching a seventeen-year-old Queen song back to the top of the charts and bringing a new type of slang into popular culture. Over twenty five years later and Wayne Campbell remains one of Mike Myers’ most popular roles, with both the movie and its sequel gaining a new generation of devoted fans.
The origin of Wayne’s World can be traced back to the mid-1970s where Myers would often entertain family and friends at parties with his impersonation of a ‘metal head.’ Born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto in Canada, Myers had a taste for comedy and performing from an early age and his rocker alter ego, inspired by teenage metal fans he saw around his home town, became his signature character. His talents were developed upon leaving high school when he was accepted into the Second City, a theatre company based in both Toronto and Chicago that specialised in improv and comedy.
‘I was doing this character in 1981 in Canada and previous to that I was doing this character because that’s how I talked,’ Myers told Entertainment Tonight while promoting the Wayne’s World motion picture a decade later. ‘The first place I did Wayne was in kitchens at parties to make girls laugh. And then on my last day of high school my last exam was at nine, my audition for Second City was at twelve and I was hired at three.’
During his time there he was taught by Del Close, who had first joined the company in the late 1960s and, through the course of his career, would inspire such future stars as John Belushi, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, all of whom would become regular cast members of Saturday Night Live. Following several minor appearances on television, including a stint alongside children’s presenter Timmy Mallett on the popular British show Wide Awake Club, Myers landed his first break as a comedian when he was hired as part of the Canadian variety show It’s Only Rock & Roll.
Created by former Saturday Night Live writer-turned-producer Joe Bodolai, who sadly took his own life in 2011, the show gave Myers his first opportunity to introduce the character of Wayne Campbell to a wide audience. Unlike the Saturday Night Live skits, Wayne’s role on It’s Only Rock & Roll included being a guest on a fake chat show, in which he explained how handshakes have evolved over the years, as well as hosting his own segment entitled Wayne’s Power Minute. While some characteristics of Wayne would be developed during this time he remained mostly one-dimensional until Myers was invited to join Saturday Night Live.
‘Mike was doing the character of Wayne when he arrived here. We physicalised it. He met with the design department and I suggested they build a basement-as-cable show,’ recalled Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels to Spin in 1993. ‘Then we added the sidekick Garth, which he asked Dana to do. Most of the Wayne’s Worlds are written by Mike Myers. Occasionally, others have helped, but they’re primarily Mike. I thought it was good and funny and would be a hit. I didn’t think that it would be an extraordinary hit because…that’s always a surprise…certainly a pleasant surprise.’
Wayne’s World would finally begin to take shape when Myers formed a close partnership with another young comedian, Dana Carvey. At his audition for the show in the mid-1980s Carvey had performed several impersonations, one of which was of his older brother, Brad. A scientific genius from a young age, Brad Carvey would later gain acclaim as an engineer but it would be his soft-spoken voice and nervous mannerisms that Dana Carvey would use as inspiration for a new character, which he soon developed into Garth Algar, Wayne’s best friend and co-host of their own cable TV show, Wayne’s World.
‘I had been toying around with the character based on my brother Brad, which I had done a few times on Saturday Night Live in different incarnations,’ explained Carrey in a documentary on the making of the movie. ‘Brad used to fix the dryer around our house with a butter knife. He was the kid who was mechanical and we’d say, ‘Brad, you fixed the dryer and you’re only ten years old,’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I fixed the dryer with the butter knife, it’ll never break down again.’ So that rhythm of him talking like that was part of what I put into Garth. All Mike told me was that I really worship Wayne; that was my main thing, to be the guy who worships him.’ Wayne and Garth became an instant success with viewers of Saturday Night Live, not only providing humorous sketches but also tapping into the alternative rock scene. One of the more popular sketches saw Aerosmith making a guest appearance on their show, in which they joined Wayne and Garth for a rendition of the theme tune from Wayne’s World.
Another celebrity to cameo in this episode was Tom Hanks, who by this point had enjoyed tremendous success at the box office with the hit comedies Big and Turner and Hooch. Hanks’ role on Wayne’s World was as Garth’s cousin, Barry, who works as a roadie for Aerosmith and was responsible for bringing the legendary group onto the show. Another sketch saw a Top Ten Babes of All Time ending with Myers kissing Madonna during a spoof of her controversial promo video Justify My Love. In a later episode, Garth criticised the latest Nirvana video Heart-Shaped Box; ‘What is that all about? A guy gets crucified, a kid wears a KKK outfit, some fat lady has organs painted on the outside of her body and Kurt Cobain sings that he wants to eat her cancer when it turns black. Ohh, that is really pleasant!’
A decade earlier Saturday Night Live had made the successful leap into feature films when it adapted one of its sketches The Blues Brothers for the big screen. Starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and featuring cameos from James Brown and Ray Charles, the movie became an unexpected hit and helped to launch the careers of its two stars. While Wayne’s World was merely based around a public access cable show its potential to appeal to the alternative rock scene in much the same way as Bill and Ted was hard to resist. And so producer Lorne Michaels and Mike Myers sat down to discuss the best way to bring the skit to movie audiences.
To assist with the screenplay Michaels turned to husband-and-wife team Bonnie and Terry Turner, staff writers from Saturday Night Live and the group began to brainstorm, bouncing ideas back and forth until the basic concept for a Wayne’s World movie took shape. Like most big screen adaptations of TV shows the characters would have to leave the confines of their familiar environment, in this case when their show is purchased by a sleazy network producer. At the same time Wayne becomes infatuated with the singer of a local rock group and soon a love triangle forms, with both men fighting for her affection.
When it came to choose a director Michaels turned to an old friend. Penelope Spheeris had already shown her passion for music through her acclaimed documentaries The Decline of Western Civilization, which explored the Los Angeles punk scene of the early 1980s and its sequel The Metal Years, a journey through Hollywood’s hair metal scene. While a behavioral psychology student at the University of California, Los Angeles, Spheeris turned to directing with two short films, one of which, I Don’t Know, first displayed her interest in alternative lifestyles by documenting a relationship between a lesbian and a drag queen.
This continued through her early feature films Suburbia, The Boys Next Door (featuring a pre-fame Charlie Sheen) and Hollywood Vice Squad. Due to her experience with both actors and musicians Michaels felt that she would be the perfect choice to direct Wayne’s World. Having already interviewed Alice Cooper for The Metal Years Spheeris was able to bring in the rock legend for a cameo, which would include a performance of his new single Feed My Frankenstein. Cooper had already gained some acting experience from his supporting roles in both John Carpenter’s cult horror Prince of Darkness and as the abusive father of Freddy Krueger in the critically-reviled slasher sequel Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
‘I always liked to think that Lorne gave me the gig to do Wayne’s World because of two things: one, he felt guilty that he never gave me any of the films on Saturday Night Live and the other was that I had just done Decline II, which is about headbangers,’ Spheeris would later tell D Magazine, ‘and Wayne and Garth mistakenly considered themselves headbangers. I don’t know! And then a lot of shitload of luck. I was forty-five years old when I got to do Wayne’s World, you know?’
With Myers and Carvey heading the cast, support would come from both established stars and newcomers. Having almost ruined a promising career when a video tape of him having sex with two women, one of them later revealed to be only sixteen-years-old, was leaked to the public in 1989 Rob Lowe was cast as unscrupulous television producer Benjamin Kane. Wayne’s World would help re-launch his career and Myers would later recruit his comedic talents once again with the first two Austin Powers movies. Following modest success with daytime soap General Hospital Tia Carrere landed the role of Cassandra, the singer of Crucial Taunt, a popular rock group on the local circuit and the object of Wayne’s affections. Support came from Ed O’Neill, best known as hapless shoe salesman Al Bundy in the hit sitcom Married with Children, Lara Flynn Boyle (Twin Peaks), Kurt Fuller (Ghostbusters II) and comedian Chris Farley, as well as a cameo by Robert Patrick, who reprised his role as the lethal T-1000 from the action blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, released the previous year.
Saturday Night Live veteran Brian Doyle-Murray, whose younger brother Bill Murray had also been launched by the TV show, was cast as the owner of an arcade franchise who agrees to sponsor Wayne’s World in an effort to promote his own company. Colleen Camp, the best known for portraying gun-happy Sgt. Kathleen Kirkland in the Police Academy series, was cast as his clueless wife. Following a career as Michael Jackson’s manager Frank DiLeo played record executive Frankie Sharp, known in the music industry as Mr. Big. After an appearance in Jackson’s 1988 hit Moonwalker DiLeo was then cast as Tuddy Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic Goodfellas. He would return to the role of Frankie Sharp in Wayne’s World 2.
Despite having worked on television for several years, Wayne’s World would be Myers’ feature debut and his inexperience soon showed. He had no knowledge of where he was expected to stand during a scene or how to check what time he was due to arrive on set, yet through the support of his co-stars he adapted to the new routine relatively quickly. Carvey, meanwhile, had already acted alongside screen icons Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the 1986 comedy Tough Guys and so was prepared when it came to working on a film set. Due to a restricted budget and filming schedule Spheeris did not have the luxury of multiple takes and so was forced to assess after only one or two attempts whether or not the performances of her actors were sufficient.
The cast were allowed to improvise, however, with one sequence in which Wayne pulled his underwear between his cheeks and sang ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ proving especially memorable. The most famous sequence of the movie, but one Myers was reluctant to film, saw Wayne, Garth and their crew singing along and head-banging to the Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody while driving through the city. ‘Me and my brother…we’d drive down the Don Valley Parkway listening to Bohemian Rhapsody,’ Myers told Rolling Stone. ‘We would time it to enter the Toronto city limits when the rocking part would kick in. I was Galileo! three of five. If I took somebody else’s Galileo! or somebody took mine a fight would ensue. It’s just something that I always back-pocketed. Wayne’s World was my childhood. I knew only to write what I knew.’
But nobody knew exactly what to expect when they finally saw the finished movie. Myers was horrified; while he had envisioned Wayne’s World to be a fun and hilarious rock comedy, upon viewing the film he was crushed to discover that it simply wasn’t funny. Yet Michaels, who had more experience than his young actor, tried to convince him that he was being too cynical and that audiences would respond well. Critical opinion was divided, with some understanding the characters, while others dismissed it as dumb. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times awarded the movie three out of four stars, in which he said, ‘I walked into Wayne’s World expecting a lot of dumb, vulgar comedy and I got plenty, but I also found what I didn’t expect: a genuinely amusing, sometimes even intelligent, undercurrent. Like the Bill and Ted movies, this one works on its intended level and then sneaks in excursions to some other levels, too.’
Spin’s review of the film was also positive; ‘Wayne’s World rules because, like public access itself, it shadow-boxes with the very category of the real, capturing the strange realities that emerge when television is placed in the hands of people whose only relationship with media is consumption.’ David Denby of New York Magazine was a little more critical with his opinions; ‘Everything gets repeated about thirty times and no one changes or develops. What can you do with skit characters in a feature film? Myers and Bonnie and Terry Turner, who wrote the screenplay, decided to just stretch things out. The plot they’ve concocted is halfhearted.’
It would not only be the movie itself that would perform above everyone’s expectations as the accompanying soundtrack would produce three hit singles; Bohemian Rhapsody, Carrere’s cover of the Sweet classic Ballroom Blitz and Feed My Frankenstein. Having already reached number one in the UK charts when the song was first released in 1975, the use of Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie would not only spark off a host of imitators (including the 1993 spoof Loaded Weapon 1) but also took Queen back to the top of the charters seventeen years later. Myers would return to the world of Queen over two decades later when he was cast as a fictitious label executive in the award winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in which, somewhat ironically, he criticises the song that in some ways had actually launched his career.
Another track not included on the album but featured in the movie was Ugly Kid Joe‘s Everything About You, which entered the Top Ten in both the United States and Great Britain. While the TV sketches had been developed at a time when hair metal was at its peak, by the time of the movie’s release grunge had become the dominant genre, yet the sountrack would boast such ’80s bands as Cinderella and BulletBoys, while other artists to feature were Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Much like Bill and Ted before them, Wayne’s World‘s influence was so strong on popular culture that many of its phrases became everyday language for fans, such as ‘schwing!’ when acknowledging an attractive girl or using ‘not!’ at the end of a sentence to contradict the previous statement. The success of the movie guaranteed a sequel and the following year Paramount released Wayne’s World 2, in which the duo attempt to host their own festival, dubbed Waynestock. Almost three decades on from the release of Wayne’s World and the characters remain among Myers’ most successful creations and continue to resonate with new generations of metal heads and movie fans.