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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 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 to the top of the charts and bringing a new type of slang into popular culture. Over twenty 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.
During his time there he was taught by Del Close, who had first joined the company in the late 1960s and, during 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 the 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 involved 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, where he soon formed a close partnership with another young comedian, Dana Carvey.
During 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.
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 them 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 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 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, including a performance of his new single Feed My Frankenstein.With Myers and Carvey heading the cast, support came 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 resulted in Myers casting him in supporting roles in the first two of his 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 whom Wayne falls instantly love with.
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 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, whose prior experience as a comedienne included playing gun-happy Sgt. Kathleen Kirkland in the Police Academy series, played 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. Following an appearance in Jackson’s 1988 hit Moonwalker, DiLeo was 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, though, 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. Due to several takes in an effort to get the scene perfect, Myers began to complain that his neck was starting to hurt, while Carvey was unable to remember the lyrics to the song and instead attempted to mime along. For days after the scene was shot, neither Myers or Carvey could move their necks properly and so were forced to continue filming while keeping their heads still. Despite this, the experience of making Wayne’s World remained a positive one for all involved.
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, however, 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 it 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.
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 album 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 a sexy girl and 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, which saw Myers, Carvey and Carrere reprising their roles, while Christopher Walken would replace Lowe as the antagonist.
In the second film the duo attempt to host their own festival, dubbed Waynestock, which ends with a performance from Aerosmith. Following an appearance in character at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, Carvey has since expressed interest in making a Wayne’s World 3, yet Myers, who later enjoyed success with the Austin Powers and Shrek movies, dismissed the idea. Regardless, in February 2015, to mark the fourtieth anniversary of Saturday Night Live, Myers and Carvey made their long-awaited return to the show in character to celebrate ‘Top Ten Things About SNL.’ Two decades on from the release of Wayne’s World and the characters remain among Myers’ most successful creations and continue to entertain generations of metal heads and movie fans.