The stars of Wayne’s World, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, are on their knees, their arms outstretched, bowing endlessly in ritual self-abasement. No, it is not an act of contrition for making a movie whose wittiest line is “If she were president, she’d be Babe-raham Lincoln” and whose second wittiest line is a suggestion to call a Chinese restaurant and order “cream of some young guy.” Myers and Carvey are filming a scene in which the movie’s heroes, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, prostrate themselves before their idol Alice Cooper.
Based on the recurring Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, Wayne’s World tells of the further adventures of Wayne and Garth, a couple of metalheads who do a cable-access show from Wayne’s basement in Aurora, Illinois. Since the characters debuted three years ago on SNL, Wayne and Garth, the self-proclaimed final arbiters of babe-osity, have become pop icons, poster boys for arrested development. They may not rival Oscar Wilde in the bon mot sweep-stakes, but the catch phrases from the sketch, primarily “Not!” (at the end of any patently absurd yet sincere-sounding statement) and “Way!” (as a rejoinder to “No way!”), have entered the language.
In Wayne’s World, the movie (let’s call it WWTM), Wayne (Myers) and Garth (Carvey) are discovered by a sleazy broadcasting executive, played by Rob Lowe. The pair sign a contract to do a regional TV show, which of course turns into a Faustian bargain. They lose their integrity by agreeing to conduct the show from a set that looks like Wayne’s basement but really isn’t Wayne’s basement. And in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, if not the Magna Carta, they are forced to do an interview with the creepy sponsor (Brian Doyle-Murray). Alice Cooper enters the picture when Lowe, in order to steal Wayne’s babe (Tia Carrere), gives the boys something harder to get than a good meal in Moscow: backstage passes to a Cooper concert in Milwaukee.
So Myers and Carvey are doing one of the standard bits from a “Wayne’s World” sketch: worshiping at the feet of a rock legend. Cooper, who looks every minute of his forty-three years beneath his Night in Hell makeup, has agreed to squeeze in two days of shooting before a European tour. His part consists of doing what all rock stars do on “Wayne’s World”: deliver an erudite disquisition on an arcane subject — in this case, the history of Milwaukee. He is charmingly nervous as he rehearses such lines as “I think the most interesting aspect of Milwaukee is that it is the only major American city to elect three socialist mayors.”
Tonight, Los Angeles’s Universal Amphitheater is substituting for a stadium in Milwaukee. To set the backstage scene, propmen are carefully pouring nonalcoholic beer into empty Bud bottles and putting out trays of cold cuts. Toby Mamis, Cooper’s personal manager, surveys the scene, judging its authenticity. “The room’s a little too clean for backstage,” he says. “The trays would be more picked through, and there are no strippers!” A brunette and a blonde, both in tight miniskirts, walk toward the set. “The blonde’s a much better bimbo, much better than a brunette bimbo.”
Sitting outside the sliding glass doors of the backstage set, watching a monitor, is director Penelope Spheeris, who’s no stranger to this milieu, having directed the 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Wrapped in a black leather jacket on this chilly Los Angeles night, she is smoking and seems tense, though she laughs as she hears the dialogue through a headset. She tells Myers and Carvey, “Do an ‘I’m not worthy.’ ” They get on their knees and begin kowtowing. Spheeris stops them and tells them to bow in unison. Over and over Myers and Carvey enter, fall to their knees, kiss Cooper’s ring and cry out as they prostrate themselves: “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” At the end of the sixth take, even after Spheeris says, “That’s a cut,” they can’t stop, adding: “We’re scum! … We’re like dog do!” Once they’ve scraped themselves off the bottom of Alice Cooper’s shoe, they watch the scene played back on a monitor. Carvey laughs, and Myers nervously chews his fingernail and smiles. “That was a great take,” Spheeris says.
In a world of recycled entertainment in which movies end up being pilots for television shows (Look Who’s Talking, Indiana Jones) and old television shows turn out to be previews for movies (The Addams Family, Star Trek), it makes perfect sense to take a couple of characters whose natural comedic life span is about five minutes and extend it by a factor of twenty. While Wayne’s slogan may be Party On and he may have a scorn for adults trapped in the world of commerce, a lot of people, Myers included, are hoping “Wayne’s World,” in all its incarnations, will become a small industry. Want a permanent guide to the world according to Wayne? Available at your bookstores is something called Wayne’s World: Extreme Close-up, by Myers and his live-in girlfriend, actress Robin Ruzan (presumably a major babe in her own right). The slim volume focuses on Wayne’s major obsessions: babes, partying, tunes and vomiting. On the last subject it offers such advice as “Recycle your hurl. When I have a hurl on deck, I grab some sort of receptacle. Most chunkage is rich in nutrients and can make an excellent fertilizer.” Presumably, the receptacle of choice would be a $5.95 Wayne’s World coffee mug.
Mike Myers, the originator of Wayne and coscreen-writer of WWTM, is slight and pale — he looks like someone who spends a lot of time in his basement. He manages to be both friendly and wary. When he spots my notebook, he hugs me and says: “Be kind. I’m afraid. Love me. I love you.” Like Wayne — who can use the phrases “vagina dentata” and “sucks rhino” in practically the same sentence — Myers can veer from displays of erudition to adolescent crudities. For instance, he discusses his reaction the first time he saw Manhattan’s infamous cable-access innovation, the nude talk show. “It was like when the Incas first saw the tall ships,” he says. “It was too unbelievable to talk about, so by dint of that it didn’t exist. Here is a talk-show host saying, ‘Do you like living in New York?’ and you want to say, ‘Are you oblivious to the fact that your wiener is hanging out?’ “
Myers, 28, has been doing Wayne professionally since 1981, when as a teenager he appeared on a local all-night talk show in his hometown of Toronto that sounds reminiscent of “Wayne’s World.” “I’d go on and talk about suburban stuff, local Toronto stuff,’ he says. “Actually, I’ve been doing the character longer than that, because I used to just make fun of my friends.”
Most of whom, it seems, were named Wayne. “There were twelve Waynes in my class,” says Myers. “Wayne is everybody — including myself — who I used to hang out with.” He says the persona fools people: “I was always a student who liked to hang out with guys who partied — and get my homework done. People just thought I was an idiot who liked to party. People always underestimate Wayne’s intellect.” He also found unlikely sources of academic inspiration: “Because Rush mentioned Ayn Rand, I’d go out and read it.”
Wayne’s World is the first movie to spring from an SNL sketch since The Blues Brothers, in which Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi played white hipsters who seemed to be their alter egos. Myers may assert with a straight face that he and Wayne are one, but if anything sums up the change in the Zeitgeist between the Seventies and the Nineties, it’s comparing Myers’s offscreen life with the drugged-out excesses that cost Belushi his. It could probably be considered antimethod acting, but to prepare for the making of WWTM, Myers went to a spa to get in trim. His description of his personal habits during an SNL season make him sound like a cross between a twelve-step counselor and a Seventh-Day Adventist: “I haven’t had a beer in three months. I probably could drink beer on the weekends, but having a clear head centers you. The thought of coming in hung over – how could you? On SNL it’s like a school week: I go to bed early and limit my coffee intake.”
He also says he’s been working so hard that Wayne and Garth’s impact hasn’t really registered: “I don’t know if it’s popular or not. We only perform to 300 people a night at Saturday Night Live. If they laugh, it went well. I love the story of Belushi and Aykroyd in the first season taking a road trip to L.A. and being shocked that people knew the show. You just don’t get out much.”
During the Seventies, when the original cast of SNL was cutting a swath across American popular culture — and their own brain cells — Myers was an enraptured prepubescent. “I’ve wanted to be on SNL since I was eleven,” he says. He viewed his adolescence as a sort of extended dress rehearsal, a chance to develop his material. Like Wayne, his SNL character Dieter, the incomprehensibly intellectual host of the German avant-garde television show Sprockets, had his origin in suburban Toronto. “I knew this guy who was an artist who came to Toronto from Stuttgart,” says Myers. “He was working as a waiter. One day I went in the restaurant and ordered a hot dog. He said, ‘Your order has become tiresome.’ Then a song came on the loudspeaker, and he said, ‘That is my favorite song,’ and began dancing. He would say things like ‘Larry Storch is a much-maligned genius.’ ” Myers made sure they became friends. “If you’ve always wanted to be on Saturday Night Live, befriend that person! It was like hitting a streak of ore.”
Myers’s dress rehearsal didn’t last long. There were no angst-ridden years paying his dues as a waiter while honing his art. The day of his high-school graduation, he auditioned for Toronto’s Second City revue — spawning grounds of Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd — and was accepted. He eventually moved stateside to the Chicago branch of the troupe and in 1989 was asked to join Saturday Night Live. His entry into the movies was as painless. Last year, SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who had recently signed a movie development deal with Paramount Pictures, came to Myers and asked him if he’d like to turn “Wayne’s World” into a movie.
Myers says he has been astounded at how hard filmmakers work: “This has given me a new respect for movie actors and crews. It’s honest, honest, honest hard work.” But he says he appreciates the opportunity the tedium gives him: “Having to hit marks and angles and say things as if you’re saying them for the first time is hard. But my feeling is, I get to do it eight times. That’s eight cracks at getting it right.”
Could I have some egg whites on Phil’s mouth, please?” says director Spheeris. Phil is a borderline-comatose friend of Wayne and Garth’s, played by Sean Gregory Sullivan. A crew member brings Phil a cup of raw egg white, which he gamely swallows. Spheeris then gives him drooling instructions: “Don’t let too much go. Be sick for a while, then wipe it.”
For Spheeris, an amiable redhead in her forties, WWTM is a sort of looking-glass image of her 1983 film Suburbia, a dark examination of youthful alienation. (Wayne and Garth may be alienated from adult society, but they’re happy about it.) “Years later, I’m doing the flip side of Suburbia,” she says. “I’m doing the fun part.”
To keep the movie from sounding dated the minute it’s released, WWTM does not have the topical commentary that has made for some of the most successful “Wayne’s World” sketches. In fact, the dialogue tends to be more like:
Today, Spheeris is shooting that scene, one of the few that take place in Wayne’s basement. Wayne and Garth are evaluating Guess? model Claudia Schiffer. “Keep it subtle, intense but subtle,” Spheeris tells the actors as the scene begins. It’s hard to tell how Myers incorporates this advice as he delivers his line: “Tent pole. She’s a babe. So Claudia Schiffer, we salute you. Schwing!” Wayne and Garth then demonstrate what Wayne characterizes as “a totally amazing excellent discovery … not!” — the Suck Cut, which, yes, sucks hair as it cuts.
Following the scene, an impromptu meeting is held among Spheeris, Michaels and Myers’s coscreenwriters, Bonnie and Terry Turner. The topic: how to end the movie. It makes WWTM seem like an extended SNL skit, being fiddled with until the final moments before air.
“I don’t think I can shoot the ending at this angle,” says Spheeris, “because I don’t know what it is yet.”
“I’m worried about the mega-happy ending,” says Michaels. The meeting breaks up with the mega-happiness still unresolved.
Dana Carvey, 36, is one of those people whose mere presence is funny. A six-year veteran of SNL, he first made a splash playing the repressed Church Lady. During breaks on the film set, costumed in a stringy blond wig and Buddy Holly glasses, he effortlessly glides in and out of his various personae, including George Bush and Johnny Carson. He sits at a drum set practicing his riffs and, when he’s told he’s not needed for a scene, walks off in mock anguish: “Oh, banished to the motor home again.” As he passes by me, he says: “I saw you writing down, ‘Why are they doing that — that’s not funny.’ I’ll talk to you later and give you all the inside stuff you need. Pee-wee — everything.” (They’re shooting the movie in the wake of the Pee-wee Herman uproar. When Rob Lowe, a fellow sex-scandal sufferer, is asked what he thought about the brouhaha, he replies: “I thought, “Welcome to the climate of American journalism.’ That’s all I want to say.”)
I ask Carvey what George Bush will say when he finds out Carvey is starring in WWTM. He instantly becomes the syntactically impaired commander in chief: “It wouldn’t be prudent. … Dana Carvey went in the movie…. People first knew him as a drag queen … put him in a dress … very funny…. Then started doing me…. Wasn’t very accurate…. People thought funny…. I have that humor thing…. Now in a movie as Garth… very confusing.”
Carvey’s Garth Algar is the ultimate sidekick, a sort of pilot fish of metalheads, whose personality manifests itself only in response to Wayne’s. Because Garth didn’t exist when Myers invented Wayne, Carvey has been able to create his own character. Garth’s physical tics, the upper lip pulled down over the teeth, the inability to make eye contact, come from Carvey’s brother Brad — who, Carvey says, enjoys the tribute. WWTM is not Carvey’s film debut. He previously starred in the flop Opportunity Knocks, in which he describes himself as having been merely a hired hand. He feels much more comfortable with his participation in this film. “I’m able to write and control my own vignettes,” he says. “I’ll take responsibility for this character. If this sucks and isn’t funny, it’s my fault.” It is a dangerous sentiment but one he believes so fervently that WWTM ends with Carvey saying to the audience, “I just hope you didn’t think it sucked.”
In WWTM the audience gets to see the true depth of Garth’s immaturity. “He’s very childlike, very extreme,” says Carvey. “He’s happier than he should be and sadder than he should be. He feels more secure around Wayne. There’s a charm to his enthusiasm, but generally he’s a paranoid guy.” Like Myers, Carvey claims his character is based on himself, which is both hard to believe and comforting in its way. “I’m pretty paranoid,” he says. “I didn’t go to the high-school dance or have a girlfriend.” This should be encouraging news to parents whose teenagers spend most of their time in the basement. After all, Carvey has gone on to become successful, get married and have a son.
Penelope Spheeris is going through the meticulously repetitious process of mixing the soundtrack for the movie. She is sitting in a well-padded armchair in the back of a large, dark room. Every forty-five seconds or so, a voice comes over a loudspeaker to announce that she has a phone call. On the wall opposite her, the opening scenes of Wayne’s World crawl by, frame by frame by frame. At a NASA-like control panel, four technicians adjust the sound, from the “clunk” as Garth falls to the floor when in the presence of his dream woman to the shrieks of a carful of Wayne’s fans. (”You’ve got to continue the yelling until Wayne and Garth put their hands up,” she tells the technicians.) It looks like a scene from Star Trek with Spheeris playing Captain Kirk.
WWTM has a low-budget, cheesy look. It’s hard to tell if it’s an artistic choice, a sort of reflection of the subject matter. In any case, the movie was shot in only forty days. It cost about $13 million, half of today’s average studio-film budget of $26.4 million but still a lot of money to hurl at a movie full of hurling jokes. Spheeris says she feels the pressure. “The stress is unmeasurable,” she says. “The more money you have, the more stress you have.” She compares the luxury of working for a major studio with her start with Roger Gorman, the king of drive-in flicks: “When you work on a Roger Corman film, you say, ‘I’m going to get some water.’ And they tell you, ‘Sorry, we don’t have water.’ “
On the screen, Wayne, Garth and three of their friends are in the “Mirthmobile” on the way to the doughnut shop. The Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody” is blaring on the soundtrack; the guys sing along while keeping time to the music by snapping their necks in spasmodic fits. Wayne orders them to make a detour to the local musical-instrument dealer so that he can gaze in awe at the 1964 Fender Stratocaster in the store window. “Did you see the sign?” asks Spheeris. She means the neon sign on the roof of the store, which says, Cassell’s Music. If you blink, you miss it. “That sign on the store cost us $6000!” It sort of makes you think that maybe movies would be cheaper if they were made by the Pentagon.
For a man who produces comedies, Lorne Michaels is in a sour mood. In response to even the most innocuous questions, he sighs deeply before giving largely unen-lightening answers. Later a staffer explains that Michaels is so leery because of a history of negative press coverage of the private excesses of SNL alums. Michaels, a onetime Wunderkind, now has a head of wiry gray hair. WWTM, besides being the first fruit of his development deal with Paramount, is also one of the first productions approved by Paramount’s new CEO, Brandon Tartikoff, another former wonder boy. Tartikoff recently moved to feature films from a long stint running NBC’s entertainment division. WWTM fits in with his stated desire to, as he puts it, “youthify” Paramount’s offerings. And to create what is known as a franchise — that is, movies that can beget sequels. The strategy has already paid off with The Addams Family.
Today, on the set, Michaels has no desire to discuss comedy, moviemaking or even “Wayne’s World.” I ask him how one goes about turning a sketch into a full-length movie. “I don’t know,” he says. “Some things are six minutes, and that’s as long as they deserve. I thought this deserved more.” And what about it made him think it should be more? “I don’t know.”
There have been many comparisons made between Wayne and Garth and another pair of spaced-out American males, Bill and Ted. I ask Michaels if he sees a relationship between the two. “I think Mike did ‘Wayne’s World’ on Saturday Night a month before Bill and Ted came out,” he says. “Comedic genealogy is of very little interest to me. Scorekeeping is what journalism is about. … This is how careers are assessed and ruined.”
As Wayne would say, “Okay! Let’s move on.”
On a more pleasant note, Alice Cooper is in a fine mood. He is a fan of SNL‘s “Wayne’s World,” so he was delighted to appear in the movie. “Every comedian wants to be a rock & roller, and every rock & roller wants to be a comedian,” he says. WWTM is not, however, Cooper’s first outing in the film world: “I was in Sgt. Pepper, the movie that destroyed the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. I was in Sextette with Mae West and Keith Moon. I accepted a splatter-movie role in Spain. I wanted to see if I could do something straight. They offered me a movie called Monster Dog. They promised me they would only release it in the Philippines, but it’s in every video store, and it’s so bad. I get letters all the time saying, ‘Oh, man, Monster Dog, cool.’ Wayne and Garth would love it.”
To Cooper, Wayne and Garth are no mere comic inventions. “I meet guys like that every day,” he says. “They live in their basement, they live for rock & roll. They really believe in hard rock and metal. They like it loud. They are my audience.” Is Cooper at all concerned that a country full of Waynes and Garths won’t fare well in, say, an economic race with Japan? “I don’t think there’s anything destructive about them,” he says. “They’re the average American mentality. Sometimes you look at that and say, ‘I hope they’re not going to run the country.’ But there’s a certain wisdom there. The characters have a great sense of humor. They see right through the establishment. Right through their parents. I always say it’s cool to act stupid but not to be stupid.”
In any case, Myers doesn’t advocate that Wayne and Garth be perceived as role models. Take their view of women. “In no way am I promoting infantile sexuality,” Myers says. “A lot of men recognize a part of you is forever twelve years old. That’s what this is about. I in no way want to promote sexism. But to say little boys don’t go to the poster section and look at Heather Locklear….” While someone like Dieter may be able to provide an exegesis of the phenomenon of Wayne and Garth, don’t look to Myers for one. “I think Wayne intends to have fun more than not have fun,” he says. “There’s no message. It’s a comedy.” And if the movie is a success, welcome to Wayne’s World Without End.