Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? It was the six-minute masterpiece by Queen released on Halloween way back in 1975. As a piece of music, it was genius. By the public’s definition, it was an anthem. It became one of the highest-selling singles globally thanks to its grandeur, awesomeness and unfailing ability to be revived - first in 1991 upon the death of the legendary Freddie Mercury, and then again in 1992 when a low-budget comedy called ‘Wayne’s World’ blitzed the box office and forever cemented ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ into the popular psyche when it featured in a scene with a car full of friends heading to a night on the town getting pumped up by headbanging to the epic stylings of Queen. The appeal of this song is so strong that star Mike Myers threatened to quit the production if it wasn’t used when a Guns N’ Roses song was suggested instead. Yikes!
By 1992, comedian Mike Myers had been a cast member of the iconic ‘Saturday Night Live’ series for four years. Over his seven season reign on the sketch comedy show he showcased many popular characters, but it was a loveable slacker called Wayne Campbell with his best friend Garth (Dana Carvey) broadcasting a public-access TV show from his parent’s basement that really piqued the audience’s interest.
With a budget of US$14 million and a script penned by Myers himself along with Bonnie and Terry Turner, they and director Penelope Spheeris got to work completing the comedy in 34 days; the short production schedule thanks to the lead actors’ need to return to SNL by the end of that summer. The star and director infamously clashed during production, and even more so over the final cut of the film, with Myers eventually blocking Spheeris from returning for the sequel just one year later. Regardless of any on-set tension, the film went on to make $180 million globally, making it the eighth-highest grossing film of the year and the #1 highest grossing film based on SNL characters - yes, even beating out 1980’s ‘Blues Brothers’. Perhaps it was just time that healed the wound or maybe it was the 1993 sequel’s appalling performance that Myers finally saw Spheeris’ value, but the pair have only in recent years buried the hatchet.
It’s been a quarter of a century since ‘Wayne’s World’s' release. I was just eight years old at the time, but its mass appeal and enduring comedy meant that it was an obsession my brother, sister and I could all enjoy and share, even to this day. Far too often we still draw on the film’s dialogue to punctuate our conversations with the likes of “Sheyeah riight!”, “No Stairway? Denied.” Or just for fun: “If Benjamin were an ice cream flavour, he’d be pralines and dick.” And who could possibly forget, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” The ‘Wayne’s World’ lexicon is vast and enduring - for the 30-50 year-olds at least, only time will tell if the millennials have the smarts to catch on instead of sinking deeper and deeper into the sea of reboots, remakes and comic book movies. That likelihood becomes harder and harder to see with both stars and the director fading into obscurity in recent years.
Dana Carvey eventually left SNL in 1993. While still being known as the man behind popular characters such as Church Lady, George W. Bush and Ross Perot, none garnered the kind of fame and worldwide attention like Garth Algar. After turning down the ‘Late Night’ hosting gig in the early 90s (a job that eventually went to Conan O’Brien) Carvey struggled to get a stronghold in both television and film. In 2002 he starred in a self-penned film ‘The Master of Disguise’, a spy comedy that was sadly and ironically released just one week after ‘Austin Powers’ hit cinemas. And well, we all know what happened there. Choosing family over fame and his stand-up roots over film, Dana is only seen or heard in small roles here and there, while boasting “a few million dollars a month” for corporate stand-up gigs during a Howard Stern interview last year. Ha! Nice work if you can get it.
Penelope Spheeris is a woman you can’t quite pin down. Constantly switching it up between film, television and documentary with varying degrees of success, it’s clear that ‘Wayne’s World’ is by far the most popular and successful piece of her work. She followed up on the momentum ‘Wayne’s World’ gave her with ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and writing and directing ‘The Little Rascals’. Her last project was five years ago, yet she’s still a regular on film panels and the like. She is of course also a female director in Hollywood, which makes her a shiny unicorn in many eyes, and to add the fact that she’s made a film that made +$100 million, well, some would argue that she’s simply a fantasy.
The film went on to make $180 million globally making it the eighth-highest grossing film of the year and the #1 highest grossing film based on SNL characters.
Now we come to the main attraction - Mike Myers. Mike has been a household name since his SNL days. He is a rare performer that not only managed to build a post-SNL career but flourish untethered. No stranger to a sequel, Myers has six to his credit after staring in not one but three massive franchises. The first (post-‘Wayne’s World’) came about in 1997 with ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ playing multiple roles. The following two sequels were even bigger and arguably better than the first, with fans screaming for more. Our screams have yet to be heard, but there’s always rumours of a fourth on the way. Then in 2001, Mike was handed the voice role of Dreamworks’ ‘Shrek’ after the death of fellow SNL cast-mate, co-star and original Shrek, Chris Farley. With big shoes to fill, Mike made the role his own by taking a gamble and throwing out months of recordings when he decided to change Shrek to have a Scottish accent, based on his father. The gamble paid off, with the ‘Shrek’ franchise now boasting four feature films, a spin-off and countless shorts and specials. Myers was last seen on the big screen in 2009 with a surprising small role in Quentin Tarantino’s WWII film ‘Inglourious Basterds’. Since then he has become an international man of mystery, with Mike nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it was his 2008 disaster ‘The Love Guru’ that shook his ego to the core and caused him to retreat. Or maybe it was his new wife and family, with Mike becoming a first time father in 2011. Nevertheless, we (almost) forgive him for ‘The Love Guru’ and eagerly await his return.
Between the fourth wall breaks, spoof scenes, that product placement scene, the multitude of awesome and hilarious cameos, a killer soundtrack and oh so so many laughs, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Penelope Spheeris and a little help from Queen gave us one of the greatest pop culture icons of our time. Don’t believe me? If it wasn’t, then why would I be writing about it today? Why would cinemas still be playing anniversary and retro sessions of it now? Why would we still crank 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and headbang to our hearts' content every time it came on the radio? Or do “the dance” to Jimmy Hendrix’s Foxy Lady? Or say “Schwing!” and thrust our pelvis forward whenever a good looking person appears? Okay, maybe we don’t do the last one any more, but we want to. Cue the mega happy ending!