From its pre-‘SNL’ beginnings to courting Nirvana for the sequel – some tidbits on the legendary comedy in honor of its 25th anniversary
For a comedy that was shot on a modest budget in 34 days, and then dumped into theaters on February 14th, 1992, by a skeptical Paramount Pictures, the film – based on a popular Saturday Night Live sketch, featuring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as basement-dwelling, babes-obsessed dofusses – has shown remarkable endurance. People who came of age in the Clinton era can still quote long passages of dialogue. Say “Not!” almost anywhere you go, and folks will giggle knowingly; start humming the instrumental breakdown near the end of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and watch a legion of passerbys start banging their head in unison. There’s something about these amiable goofballs that still makes fans stand up and go “schwing!”
So as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World, here’s an assortment of trivia and behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the boys from Aurora, and the film that told the inspiring story of their brush with TV fame.
1. The character of Wayne Campbell originated on the CBC.
In the “Extreme Close-Up” featurette on the Wayne’s World DVD and Blu-ray, Myers talks about how he came up with Wayne’s laid-back voice and stooped posture when he was still a preteen in Scarborough, Ontario, inspired by the long-haired, casually cool older kids he’d see at parties. The young comedian first started doing the character in 1987 on the CBC variety series It’s Only Rock & Roll, where he appeared in little “life lessons” videos titled “Wayne’s Power Minute.” When Myers joined the cast of Saturday Night Live as a featured player in January of 1989, he brought some of the material he’d developed in the Toronto comedy scene, including the German TV parody “Sprockets” and the affable metalhead that he’d been playing off and on for over a decade.
Once he was on SNL, Myers soon figured out a fresh way to repurpose Wayne Campbell: make him the host of one of the strange local public-access cable shows that he’d seen on prior trips to the United States. He convinced one of the most popular cast members of that era, Dana Carvey, to join him as Wayne’s best friend and co-host Garth Algar. In a 2013 reunion of the Wayne’s World cast and crew sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Carvey confessed that the only direction Myers gave him before their first sketch was, “Garth loves Wayne.” They appeared together for the first time in a Leslie Nielsen-hosted episode on February 18th, 1989 – almost three years to the day before their movie would open – as the final sketch of the night. An enthusiastic audience and viewer reaction allowed for an encore, and then another … and the rest is history. “Wayne’s World” soon became one of the recurring-sketch anchors of early 1990s Saturday Night Live; between 1989 and 1994, the show featured the characters 19 times.
2. Carvey based Garth on his genius brother Brad.
Though Garth was initially just Wayne’s dweeby disciple, Carvey helped flesh him out over time, making the sidekick more specifically into a kind of shy savant who was surprisingly adept at drumming and tinkering. In “Extreme Close-Up,” the comedian says that these mad-scientist skills are his affectionate tribute to his older brother Brad, an accomplished engineer who helped develop the hardware for the then-popular editing program Video Toaster. (In Wayne’s World 2, Dana wears a VT-branded shirt as another nod to his sibling.)
According to Carvey, Brad could “fix the dryer with a butter knife,” and whenever he or his parents would marvel at some amazing thing he’d done around the house, he’d just flash a tight smile and quietly mutter, “Thanks.” That became the foundation for Garth’s pinched facial expression and soft, monotone voice. The actor has admitted though that the movie made him regret ever coming up with the character’s exaggerated overbite – because when he had to hold it for longer than a five-minute late-night comedy sketch, he ended up with sore jaw muscles.
3. Director Penelope Spheeris was chosen because she knew metalheads – and worked fast.
You couldn’t be blamed for being surprised at seeing Penelope Spheeris’ name show up in the credits back in 1992; at that point, the director was best-known for the seminal L.A. hardcore documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and the classic punks-run-amuck cult movie Suburbia. But she actually had a history with Saturday Night Livehoncho Lorne Michaels, having served as the producer on the short films comedian Albert Brooks made for the show in the mid-Seventies. She has said that Michaels hired her for two reasons: because she’d just made the Decline sequel. which featured about the kind of hair-metal rockers that Wayne and Garth would’ve loved; and because her experience in documentary and underground filmmaking meant that she knew how to work fast.
Nevertheless, in a recent interview with filmmaker Jeanie Finlay for “The Talkhouse” podcast, Spheeris confessed that it was hard for her to adjust to the scale of a movie that, though cheap by Hollywood standards, was “like making Batman” compared to her previous projects. She told Finlay that it was uncomfortable to be driven everywhere, and to arrive on a set with dozens of trailers and small armies of crew-members. Plus, she had to take input from multiple people who felt like they had ultimate ownership of the project, including Michaels, Myers and screenwriters Bonnie and Terry Turner. Her solution was to let everyone do their preferred take of a scene – with her only real direction being “faster and funnier” – with the understanding that she could still construct her version in the editing room.
The filmmaker’s instincts and savvy proved so profitable for Paramount and her collaborators that for the rest of the decade she got typed as a go-to director for broad, branded comedies like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals and the Chris Farley/David Spade vehicle Black Sheep. Spheeris remarked that she hasn’t even rewatched Wayne’s World since she finished it. (“I only like to be in the now, never in the past, and only a little bit in the future.”) But her involvement in those studio comedies gave her enough money and clout to work on more personal projects, like 1998’s trilogy-ending chronicle of gutterpunk-life The Decline of Western Civilization Part III.
4. Some of the movie’s best lines (and best reaction shots) were completely spontaneous.
At the Academy’s Wayne’s World reunion, Carvey says that Spheeris’s best contribution to the project was her willingness to let everyone improvise, so long as they kept to her tight schedule. (“If you can do it in 26 seconds, we can keep it in the movie” was her motto.) As a result, a lot of the picture’s most-quoted jokes weren’t in the script. When Wayne orders “Cream of Sum Yung Guy” for Chinese takeout, none of Myers’ cast-mates knew that was what he was going to say; and Spheeris and her editors later had to find a way to cut around the other characters’ guffaws, while also piecing together enough silent reaction shots to allow the viewers a chance to enjoy one of the film’s biggest laugh-lines.
Neither Carvey nor Myers had much experience with film shoots prior to Wayne’s World, so Spheeris tried to keep them comfortable by letting them work they way they did on SNL, where they could change sketches right up to the moment they went on the air – or even sometimes while they were live. One of the movie’s sweetest and funniest moments has Wayne and Garth lying on the hood of a car and philosophizing (“Did you ever find Bugs Bunny attractive when he put on a dress and played a girl bunny?”) while watching planes overhead. This was all shot quickly on the last day, and almost completely improvised – one last chance for the actors to throw in whatever else they wanted to before wrapping production.
5. The project pushed both Rob Lowe and Alice Cooper out of their comfort zones.
This may be hard to believe for people who’ve spent the last ten years watching Rob Lowe be hilarious in Parks and Recreation and The Grinder, but the actor wasn’t really known for comedy before he appeared in Wayne’s World as the opportunistic, soulless TV producer Benjamin Kane. At the 2013 Academy reunion, Lowe says that he discovered he had a rapport with Myers when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1990. He also admits that when was given a choice that week between doing a “Wayne’s World” sketch or a “Sprockets,” he picked the latter, because he didn’t really get what was so hilarious about Wayne and Garth.
On the set, the former Brat Pack-er helped Myers and Carvey understand the rhythms of a film shoot, while they taught him “to be professionally funny.” One of their tips was to suggest he play Benjamin as an imitation of Lorne Michaels. That advice worked so well that Myers stole it back for himself when he came up with the voice and demeanor of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies (which also featured Lowe).
Loew wasn’t the only one in the cast trying something new, however. In a recent interview in Billboard, rocker Alice Cooper says he was caught off-guard when he found out this his cameo as himself was going to include some actual acting.
“We were supposed to perform [“Feed My Frankenstein”] and I didn’t know anything about the dialogue. When I got to the set, Mike said, ‘You’re an actor, can you do some lines for us?’ I went ‘sure’ and I got like five pages of dialogue. I said, ‘When are we doing this?’ He goes, ‘In about 20 minutes.’ I go ‘OK.’ So a lot of it was riffing. I think we did it in two takes. Of course, Dana and Mike, on the floor with the ‘We’re not worthy!’ thing, were doing everything they could to get me to break up. They didn’t realize my iron will, so I went right through that dialogue, and I think I surprised them. But if you would have seen the outtakes of ‘We’re not worthy, we’re scum,’ it goes on for like five or six minutes. And it just gets vile. Whoever owns those outtakes owns a little treasure.”
As with Lowe, Myers’ meeting with Cooper has continued to pay dividends. It was while wrangling to get the rights to Alice Cooper’s music that the comedian met the colorful talent manager Shep Gordon, who’d later become the subject of Myers’ documentary Supermensch.
6. The idea for “Bohemian Rhapsody” goes back to Myers’ days cruising around with his friends.
More than any catch-phrase or ad-lib, the moment most associated with Wayne’s World is the sequence where Wayne, Garth and their buddies cram into in an AMC Pacer and lip-synch to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The scene was the source of a lot of debate and second-guessing – even from Myers, who based it on his memories of arguing with his friends arguing over who got to sing which “Galileo!” whenever the song came on the radio. The star didn’t have as much fun shooting those few minutes of film as he’d expected, however, because he didn’t have much experience with driving – and found the head-banging during the big instrumental break to be physically painful. In fact, he wasn’t even sure the sequence was going to be funny. (Carvey wasn’t comfortable with the jerky head motions either, though his bigger problem was that he hadn’t bothered to learn the words to the song … which led to Spheeris cutting to Garth obviously faking his way through the last lines.)
Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury had died just three months before the movie had opened, and through some combination of international mourning and classic-rock nostalgia, “Bohemian Rhapsody” returned to the charts after the movie came out, landing at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor thanked Myers for reminding the world why their music and their fallen mate was special – a note of gratitude which surprised the actor. At the Academy reunion, Myers said that the whole time he was shooting the scene he was worried that they were “takin’ a whiz on a Picasso.”
7. It’s the only movie based on an SNL sketch to gross over $100,000,000 to date.
The legendary late-night sketch show has nurtured multiple generations of big- and small-screen stars, who’ve been responsible for some of the hugest blockbuster films of the past 40 years. But of the 11 movies actually based on material developed on the show, only two can really be called “hits.” One is 1980’s The Blues Brothers, which roughly doubled its reported $27 million budget at the U.S. box office. The other is Wayne’s World, which cost about $20 million and brought in over $120 million domestic. In the wake of its success, Lorne Michaels tried to strike gold again with everything from It’s Pat to The Ladies Man. The only movie that’s come remotely close to doing as well is … Wayne’s World 2, which earned $48 million.
8. Myers is rumored to have courted Nirvana to appear in Wayne’s World 2.
By the time the movie had come out in 1992, the classic rock and hair-metal bands that Wayne and Garth loved – and that Tia Carrere’s character Cassandra Wong represented – were being usurped by the rising popularity of the punk/metal/indie-rock fusion known as “grunge.” Rumor has it that Myers intended to address the changing times head-on in the 1993 sequel, by getting no less than Nirvana (!) to do a cameo as part of the movie’s big “Waynestock” music festival plot. Cobain reportedly nixed the appearance, however, after he was shown a rough cut of the early WW2 footage and was less than impressed. The offer has never been officially confirmed or denied, though Cobain was apparently a fan – Everett True’s 2006 bio of the band mentions the singer watching a Wayne’s World special in which Myers mishears a “Heart-Shaped Box” lyric as “Hey, Wayne,” causing the frontman to fall off the couch laughing – and IMDb continues to list the tidbit in the sequel’s trivia page. We are simple left to imagine one of the era’s groundbreaking bands appearing in one of the period’s most popular pop-cultural artifacts, and salivate.
9. Wayne and Garth inspired a terrible video game – and an awesome roller coaster.
Like nearly every other major motion picture of the 1990s, Wayne’s World spawned a crummy video game, manufactured for Super Nintendo, Game Boy and Sega Genesis. GameFAQs recently gave the SNES game a try, and complained, “The story is not based on the movies at all, and rather is about Wayne attempting to save his friend Garth from a video game that he was sucked into.” The review added that “the worlds are filled with rather dull-looking and over-used backgrounds and items,” and “the same annoying tune loops in the background during the levels and cutscenes, broken by the sound of you firing a shot or getting hurt.”
On the flipside, rollercoaster aficionados have had good things to say about “The Hurler,” an old-fashioned wooden ride that debuted at Carowinds in South Carolina and Kings Dominion in Virginia in 1994. Paramount owned both amusement parks back then, though after the company sold their stakes in 2006, the coasters’ connections to Wayne’s World faded away, and the attractions lost the movie paraphernalia that guests used to be able to check out while they stood in line.
10. The success drove a temporary wedge between Spheeris, Myers and Carvey.
At the film’s first test screening, the audience went nuts – but Myers later admitted that he seethed the whole time, taking note of all the jokes that didn’t land and all the great takes that Spheeris didn’t use. While everyone had gotten along well during the shoot, the post-production process and the movie’s release exposed some cracks in the collaborators’ relationships. Carvey had originally done a favor by playing Garth in the original SNL sketch, but as the characters had grown more popular, their creator wanted more control – and more credit – for how they were used. So Spheeris didn’t return for Wayne’s World 2, and by all accounts, Carvey barely spoke with his old partner after they both left Saturday Night Live and Austin Powers turned Myers into a superstar.
All the parties eventually reconciled, however. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter prior to the 2013 Academy reunion, Spheeris said, “We’re all getting too old to be pissed … Wayne’s World has such a beautiful, uplifting spirit about it. Why should there be a dark cloud?” And sure enough, at the event itself, Myers took a moment in front of the crowd to single his director out. “You made it better than it was written,” he said – which is about as generous an “I was wrong” as anyone could’ve asked for. Party on, folks.