It’s Friday night at NBC’s Studio 8H, and the hammering, buzz-sawing, backslapping, back-talking, not-quite-there-yet, barely controlled panic of a rehearsal for Saturday Night Live is interrupted when a piece of living history strolls onto the set and begins to accept greetings. His name is Dan Aykroyd, and as the younger cast members of SNL‘s umpteenth ensemble gather to receive his handshakes, arm pats, and ”nice work”s, he seems well aware of the large shadow he casts. Aykroyd moves familiarly around the room, chatting, smiling, and then he spots Mike Myers, claps him on the shoulder, and leads him down a hallway for a more secluded talk.
”So, Mike,” he says. ”You have a movie coming out. You should be really happy.”
”I am happy,” says Myers, scratching unhappily at the neckline of his New York Rangers jersthink it came out well. I’m just nervous —”
”You’ll never be entirely happy,” continues Aykroyd, waving a dismissive hand. ”Maybe 70 percent. There will always be things you wish you had done differently. But remember — you must never share what could have been with the press.”
Myers nods as Aykroyd rolls on, but it’s impossible to tell whether he’s absorbing the advice. If he appears a little glazed, it’s understandable: As he awaits the release of Paramount’s movie version of his SNL sketch ”Wayne’s World” in 1,768 theaters, Myers (it’s his world) and his costar, Dana Carvey (Garth just lives in it), are standing in the eye of a hurricane of promotion, publicity, and merchandising.
Although this isn’t the first time Hollywood has tried to strip-mine a Saturday Night Live skit for a movie, the previous effort, 1980’s The Blues Brothers, was made by filmmakers who lacked that ”live from New York” sensibility. As Carvey explains, ”It didn’t come from the factory.” Wayne’s World, however, is pure SNL, produced by Saturday Night creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels and scripted by Myers and two of the show’s writers. For the past few weeks, Paramount has been blasting the movie into public consciousness with all the subtlety of an armored invasion. Anyone who hasn’t gotten the message yet has only to look at the film’s initial slogan — actually, more of a command: One world. One party.
It all seems a little…well, a little much for a sketch whose no-frills concept Carvey aptly describes as ”two stoner dudes in a basement,” but the stakes are higher than they appear. If Wayne’s World proves able to attract Saturday Night Live viewers and defectors, teen metal heads who watched Wayne and Garth’s recent MTV special and their VH-1 parents, kids who love Wayne’s pop-culture-fed smart-assing and baby boomers tickled by the sketch’s wry view of suburbia, then the film could spawn a whole new SNL industry.
At least that’s the plan. ”The success of Wayne’s World,” says Michaels, ”would mean that Saturday Night Live is in touch with the moviegoing audience again, the same way it was in the 1970s.” After the film’s phenomenal $18 million opening (a record for Presidents’ Day weekend), Michaels may well get to put his plan into action. Still, it seems jarring to hear such big- league-entertainment-business talk coming from the man who instigated TV’s riskiest flirtation with the counterculture, but it makes sense: In its 17th year, Saturday Night Live has become more of an institution than many of the institutions it used to mock.
Don’t think things have changed that much? Listen to Myers tick off the Wayne’s World product line, a list of tie-ins he delivers with just a flicker of an ironic smile: ”A book, six T-shirts, a hat, poster, greeting cards, mug, doll, video…” Hold on there — a Wayne doll? ”Yes,” he says; it’s due in stores in April. ”I’ve seen it. Nine and a half inches. With a cap and a cheesy grin. It’s very flattering and very bizarre.” And though he has been given a say (or a nay) in the creation of the products — in fact, he cowrote the Wayne’s World book with his girlfriend, Robin Ruzan — the merchandising machine is beginning to outpace him. ”I’m trying to be part of the process,” he says, ”but it’s all expertise permitting. What can I say — ‘No, use a different weave’? All I can do is look at stuff and say, ‘No, that sucks.’ And they’ve given me that power.”
”I was a bit of a snob about merchandising in the 1970s,” says Michaels. ”I thought it was in conflict with doing a satirical show. Then, a few years ago, I was in Greece buying a Beatles T-shirt, and I thought, ‘Would it have been so bad if there had been Coneheads lunch boxes?’ No, of course not. I was just being sanctimonious.”
In less corporate times, Wayne lived in a simpler world. Myers grew up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough; the comedian says he’s been refining the unrefinable Wayne ”since I was 12 — since I actually talked that way.” Canadian TV viewers got their first glimpse of Wayne in the mid-1980s, when Myers turned up on MuchMusic, Toronto’s answer to MTV. Back then, he played Wayne as the pesky cousin of the show’s VJ. ”He’d say, ‘Wayne, you can’t be on the show.’ But the idea was that I’d backed him up in a fight once,” says Myers. ”So he owed me.”
By the time Wayne first appeared on SNL in 1989, Myers had established him as a new kind of teenage character — deliberately, winkingly dopey, giddy with his own intelligence, brimming with snarky references, jabs, wisecracks, and verbal shorthand. He’d also hooked up with Carvey, whose own adolescence in San Carlos, Calif., wasn’t so far from Mike’s, or Wayne’s, or Garth’s.
”I listened to Led Zeppelin,” Carvey says. ”I had long hair and a headband, and we would cruise around in a Volkswagen van and hang out at Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Approached by Myers to play Wayne’s best friend, sidekick, and idolizer, Carvey began to find the character of Garth in a lank blond wig and heavy, black-framed eyeglasses. Drawing on his brother Brad, a computer specialist, and memories of his early years as a self-confessed nerd, Carvey crafted Garth as Wayne’s opposite; where Wayne was full of confidence, tossing off attitude and pronouncements, Garth would be awkward, skittery, exquisitely ill at ease in his own skin. ”Wayne has great verbal dexterity, but Garth is dysfunctional,” says Carvey happily. ”He’s shy and weird. I think,” he adds in his best John Bradshaw imitation, ”his inner child needs healing.”
”Wayne’s World,” which made its debut in SNL‘s traditionally barren final half hour, quickly moved to the front of the show, where it became not only an audience favorite but the unfailing ratification of a guest star’s coolness: Wayne’s honored visitors have included Aerosmith, Bruce Willis, Candice Bergen, and even Madonna, who traded tiny quips (”No way!” ”Wa-aay!”) with Wayne in a dream sequence. So, when Lorne Michaels signed a movie-production deal with Paramount two years ago, the next step was obvious.
Although Myers had shaped ”Wayne’s World” as a public-access show in a bow to SNL’s TV-parody format, he knew a film would give him the freedom he used to have on Canadian TV; in Toronto, Wayne had full run of City-TV’s offices, hiding in stairwells, hitting on receptionists, and roaming through story lines that would play out over several hours. ”This was always a sketch that wanted to be a movie,” says Myers. ”It wanted to get out of the basement, to go upstairs.”
But Michaels, a novice film producer, insisted on keeping the movie modest. Wayne’s World had to be more than a collection of catchphrases (a 90-minute movie cannot live on Not! alone) but less than, say, 1941. ”Plots in movies like these tend to become grandiose,” says Carvey. ”You know, Wayne and Garth become astronauts, or Wayne and Garth inherit a country. Lorne kept pushing for a smaller movie.”
He certainly got one. The biggest menace Wayne and Garth face is from an executive (Rob Lowe) whose overblown plans for their cable show threaten to destroy its low-budget charm. Thin as that sounds, Michaels says it made for an easier shoot. ”Paramount’s Road pictures never took their stories that seriously, and we didn’t either. That way, if something didn’t work, we could take it out rather than be forced to keep it because it affects the plot.”
The sole outsider in the solipsistic world of Wayne was director Penelope Spheeris, a respected documentarian (The Decline of Western Civilization and its sequel, The Metal Years) who knew the metal-head milieu well but had never before directed a mainstream comedy. The job wasn’t without its share of tension. ”I would say, ‘Shouldn’t you do it this way?’ and they’d all say, ‘Well, that’s not the way we always do it,”’ says Spheeris with a laugh. ”So I’d shoot it both ways.”
”Penelope was very respectful of the fact that we’d spent years working on these characters,” says Myers. ”That means she didn’t make us do junk we didn’t want to do.” Adds Carvey: ”She was coming into this world where we all knew each other, she had to deal with a cross fire of notes-I think she did very well. She had a hard job.” She also had to work fast; Wayne’s World‘s modest (by studio standards) budget of $14 million allowed for just 36 days of shooting on the Paramount lot, a breakneck schedule that had to accommodate rewrites during shooting and the jitters of a first-time star.
”I was terrified,” says Myers. ”I cringe at my own mug up there. To have to see my face huge, to hear my voice — I got used to it, but it was brutal.”
Carvey had an easier time of it. ”Listen,” he says, ”I’m just lucky to be in a movie 20 months after Opportunity Knocks came out.”
And then Wayne and Garth’s Hollywood adventure was over. Myers and Carvey returned to their jobs at SNL, where they waited patiently to learn whether America would buy them as moviedom’s oldest teen heroes.
At least they both get the joke. At 28, worrying about his dorm-like apartment and his workaholic attitude, Myers seems more like Wayne’s polite, reformed older brother (the kind of guy who would bail Wayne out of trouble) than an MTV-fried adolescent. And Carvey, at 36, is old enough to be Garth’s dad; in fact, he proudly flashes snapshots of his beaming 7-month-old son, Dex (”Not short for Dexter — I just made it up,” he says) and admits that getting into Garth’s taut, nerve-jangled body armor every day physically exhausted him during the shooting. Will moviegoers smell the teen spirit in Wayne’s World? ”I’ve seen screenings with audiences, and it’s quite a joy,” says Myers. ”But…who knows what people will think?”
On the SNL set, the cast’s chemistry is already subtly recalibrating itself; the difference is apparent in jokes, jabs, words of encouragement. ”Carvey, you bastard!” roars Phil Hartman amiably, his voice booming down SNL’s dressing-room corridor. ”You’re gonna be a teen superstar! You’ve shaved 20 years off your career!” And shortly after Aykroyd says his goodbyes, NBC News anchor Chuck Scarborough arrives, his 14-year-old son in tow. ”Hey,” the kid whispers, cocking his head toward Myers. ”There’s Wayne.”
Despite Wayne’s World‘s success at the box office, Garth’s days as Wayne’s Ed McMahon are numbered; Carvey plans to leave SNL when his contract expires on midnight of Election Day. ”I couldn’t miss the chance to play George Bush in an election year,” he says, ”but at this point, I really can’t foresee staying past that. That’ll be six years, and there’s a point of diminishing returns.”
As for Myers, he has no plans to leave SNL or to pull the plug on Wayne. ”No,” he says, laughing, ”Wayne is going to be the character of Dorian Gray!” But, he continues, ”I have to admit, I hope to God I’m not doing this at 40. That’d be a little sad.”
As Friday night gives way to Saturday morning and the marathon rehearsal continues, Lorne Michaels sits in his turret of an office, a soundproof aerie whose interior windows overlook the Saturday Night Live studio. Michaels shepherded the show through its first five seasons (”The golden years,” he says dryly, ”although as I recall, they weren’t particularly golden”), left for five years, during which the show’s quality sagged, then returned in 1985 and is generally credited with reviving its fortunes. Now SNL‘s ratings are the highest in years; Michaels’ former boss Brandon Tartikoff is running Paramount and eager to make SNL films; and Michaels is savoring his status as the show’s prematurely gray eminence. Discussions are already under way for a film full of original sketches (think SNL — The Motion Picture). Dana Carvey says he’d love to make Hans and Franz Go to Hollywood. And, says Michaels, ”Danny (Aykroyd) and I have talked about a Coneheads movie.”
But Michaels tempers his enthusiasm with the headachy realities of running the show. Since 1975, he has watched actor after actor decide that some Not Ready for Prime Time Players are more equal than others, and seen the ego-bloating and ego-bruising that occur when a movie career beckons a member of the ensemble. The show now counts over 40 alumni from the core cast, in fact, outside Michaels’ office, Dennis Miller, class of ’91, can be heard on TV doing a remarkable imitation (did someone say rip- off?) of ”Weekend Update” on his new talk show, a coincidence Michaels notes with utter inscrutability.
SNL‘s current cast, he acknowledges, is known for its congeniality. Still…”Greed is a funny thing,” he says, nursing a beer and rolling a steel Slinky back and forth in his palm. ”It twists people’s souls and ethics. People do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t expect.” But he emphasizes his delight with Myers and Carvey, adding that Wayne’s World has given him no cause for concern. “No, no one killed anyone,” he says, smiling. ”We’re all still standing. But if it’s successful — and this has happened before — people may change. They could become…” — he pauses, searching for le mot juste — ”big dicks.”
Right now, that’s the one schwing nobody wants to hear.