Wayne’s World

by Alex Kirschenbaum Feb 14, 2022

Garth: What do you do if every time you see this one incredible woman, you think you’re gonna hurl?

Wayne: I say hurl. If you blow chunks and she comes back, she’s yours. But if you spew and she bolts, it was never meant to be.

Sage advice from two legends. Really, this line from the original Penelope Spheeris-helmed Wayne’s World (1992) sort of encapsulates a lot about what makes the film so darn great: it finds its strength in its expert ability to elucidate intelligent truths, covertly bundled in the ramblings of airheads.

The flick was released 30 (!) years ago today, February 14th, 1992. It’s time for a most excellent look back at the classic blockbuster comedy, for those of us who don’t want to live in the now. Party on.

First developed by star Mike Myers as a precocious preteen in the Canadian suburb of Scarborough, Ontario, the Wayne Campbell character made his broadcast debut as a fictive local musician for metal band “Bloodjun” on Canadian MTV imitator MuchMusic in 1986. He also cameoed on the CBC TV show It’s Only Rock & Roll through a series of recurring segments. Myers continued to workshop the character while studying at Chicago’s famed comedy improv troupe Second City. Wayne premiered stateside on Saturday Night Live on February 18, 1989. Myers, then in his first year on the show, recruited Dana Carvey into the bit to improve its odds of survival through dress rehearsal. Carvey was at that point one of the breakout stars of SNL during its second renaissance run in the second half of the ’80s, an era that also included Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz and others.

The sketches on SNL introduced the late night world to Wayne and his worshipful partner in crime Garth Algar (Carvey), a pair of party-animal hard rock fans from the Chicagoland suburbs of Aurora, Illinois, who escape from a dead-end existence as the hosts of a public-access cable television show. Exactly what kind of partying the dynamic duo got up to was never made explicit, though it certainly seems like their raging was of the booze-and-weed variety.

Carvey had been working on his incarnations of his Garth character through the years before his final form alongside Wayne, inspired by the nerdy conversational rhythms of his older brother Brad, an eventual engineer and inventor.

After inking an overall production deal with Paramount Pictures, Saturday Night Live show runner Lorne Michaels approached Myers about bringing Wayne to the big screen. Myers would go on to pen a script with SNL writers Bonnie and Terry Turner, who would go on to parlay the Wayne’s World suburban Midwest retro rock stoner ethos with the massive hit sitcom That ’70s Show (1998-2006). The Turners would also go on to co-write Wayne’s World 2 (1993), again with Myers, as well as the brilliant satire The Brady Bunch Movie (1996), and the hit aliens-among-us sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun (1996-2001).

Michaels reached out to his longtime friend, director Penelope Spheeris, to bring the flick to the big screen. Spheeris had significant experience capturing the adventures of rock ‘n’ rollers, including the first two excellent documentaries in her eventual trilogy The Decline of Western Civilization. The first flick in the series covered hardcore West Coast punk rockers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while its followup hit the Sunset Strip in the late 1980s during the peak of hair metal — although thrash mavericks Megadeth stole the show.

“I was 45 years old when I did Wayne’s World,” Spheeris said in an excellent oral history on the flick from The Ringer’s Alan Siegel. “I had been virtually broke up until that time. And so I became a multimillionaire overnight [when the film turned into a hit]. They gave me a righteous percentage of the box office.”

Via some direct-address fourth-wall breaking commentary, Wayne and Garth finally take audiences beyond Wayne’s folks’ basement (and their kitchen breakfast nook) and into the movie’s vision of their suburban enclave of Aurora, a much more action-packed riff on the real deal, loaded with cool metal bars and all-night Blackhawks-themed donut shops. The cinematic iteration of Aurora was actually played by Los Angeles and LA-area suburbs like Van Nuys and West Covina, as well as portions of the real Aurora and Chicago proper’s north side.

Wayne and Garth’s shtick is eventually bought by enterprisingly slimy Chicago TV exec Benjamin Kane (Rob Lowe). “He’s the kind of guy, character-wise anyway, [who] has gone everywhere in life on his good looks and he never had to acquire any depth at all,” Spheeris notes in her commentary for the flick. Benjamin convinces cynical arcade chain owner Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle Murray), who initially (accurately) dismisses their show as “two chimps on a davenport in a basement,” to sponsor it.

Meanwhile, Wayne — and Benjamin — both have their hearts set on the bad-ass Cassandra Wong (Tia Carrere, a Grammy-winning musician in her own right), bassist and lead singer for local hard rockers Crucial Taunt. As Cassandra dates Wayne, Benjamin encroaches, striving to exploit and dilute the earnest youthful authenticity of Wayne’s show and eventually swoop in and steal Cassandra. Milwaukee history tutorials from Alice Cooper, Queen car singalongs, an unforgettable Jimi Hendrix seduction dance, and guitar store jamming help make the flick feel resonantly in-touch with its characters’ head-banging cause, without coming across as being patronizing or belittling. We’re laughing with Wayne, Garth, and their relatively silent burnout buddies Terry (Lee Tergesen), Neil (Dan Bell), Alan (Michael DeLuise) and Phil (Sean Gregory Sullivan), not at them.

Will Wayne and Garth get in line, kowtow to the corporate buck, and successfully sell out? Will Cassandra’s band get a record deal? Is Benjamin secretly Old Man Withers, the guy who runs the haunted local amusement park?

Mileage may vary depending on which of the movie’s three endings you choose to believe.

A textbook example of the smart-dumb movie, Wayne’s World remains resonant all these years later thanks to its inherent joyfulness, even amidst all its stylized silliness. Refreshingly meta, the movie generally delves into both the high- and lowbrow, though it tends towards relatively clean, puerile humor, while also referencing a dense milieu of Gen X pop culture touchstones, from ironic product placement to Laverne & Shirley gags. It also delved into some more outré moments.

Wayne’s World arrived to theaters in 1992 as just the second-ever movie made sprouted from SNL characters, following TFH Guru John Landis’s classic The Blues Brothers (1980). A blockbuster hit upon its first release, the Wayne’s World prompted the production of a quickie sequel that’s actually pretty great, adeptly straddling the something-old/something-new line that all good sequels need to navigate carefully.

There’s a reason this most quotable of motion pictures is as intensely re-watchable in 2022 as it was in 1992. Give it a gander. Trust us, you’re worthy.

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