‘Wayne’s World’ at 30: Director Penelope Spheeris Debunks All the Making-of Myths

WAYNE'S WORLD, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, 1992. ©Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection
©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Col

Remember “It’s Pat” or “Coneheads”? While those movies based on “Saturday Night Live” skits are perhaps better left forgotten, 30 years later, “Wayne’s World” remains a classic 1990s absurdist comedy. It made phrases like “We’re not worthy!,” “Party on,” “Not!” and “Bonus!” enduring parts of the culture and became a surprise box office hit.

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey started their Wayne and Garth public access show “Wayne’s World” on “Saturday Night Live,” and it became one of just a handful of the show’s skits that justified a feature film version.

Originally released Feb. 14, 1992 (really, Valentine’s Day?), “Wayne’s World” was recently re-released in a limited edition 30th anniversary Blu-Ray SteelBook from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Myers and Carvey brought endearing goofiness to their roles as public access cable TV hosts on a mission to promote their show, but the comedy’s success had another secret ingredient: director Penelope Spheeris, who was immersed in the heavy metal scene for her documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II.” It was the first studio film for Spheeris, who had worked on early “SNL” films in the 1970s with producer Lorne Michaels. Michaels thought she would bring the right irreverent, rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to the production.

Spheeris talked to Variety about what the production was like and why the film’s unexpected success meant she wasn’t asked back for the sequel.

Why do you think that of all the films based on “Saturday Night Live” sketches, this one worked so well and some of the others didn’t?

It’s sort of like all the right people came together at just the right time and it was a magical chemistry or something, because I have no other way to explain it. It’s not like the skit itself is more outstanding necessarily than some of the other ones. I mean, my gosh, look at the church lady and the Weekend Update. They could make movies about all that stuff, but “Wayne’s World” somehow just came at the right time and clicked with the audience. I wish I had a real solid reason as to why that one worked and the other ones didn’t. Well, “Blues Brothers” did.

What happened when you started to shoot? Were a lot of different people making contributions to the script?

“Contributions” — that is a really diplomatic way to put it. Yes, there were a lot of random suggestions coming at me from every direction. During the early pre-production of the film, my contract hadn’t yet been signed, they were still negotiating it. So my agent said, “Penelope, don’t rock the boat until your contract is signed.” All these people were suggesting things and the suggestions would conflict with each other. I was trying to make everybody happy until I got my contract signed. Then one day John Goldwyn calls me in and says, “Penelope, you really have to start making strong, firm assertive decisions.” And I’m like, “Well, I can do that, but my contract’s not signed.” So that was thin ice to skate on. But as soon as my contract was signed. I was able say, “no, that’s a bad idea” or “that’s a great idea.”

What about working with Mike Myers? Did you have any disagreements on set?

I really think that concept is manufactured over the years by just — gossip. We didn’t really disagree when we were shooting. We did disagree when, unfortunately, Mike’s dad passed away, and he had to leave town during the test screening. So he didn’t see the fantastic reaction that we had. When he came back, he wanted me to make a lot of changes and I explained to him, “Mike, no, it needs to stay the way it is.” And that was really the only point of disagreement we had. We didn’t disagree when we were shooting. Oh, you know, every actor has their moments. He got mad one time because he didn’t have margarine instead of butter for his bagel. So, you know, we’re all uptight, we’re all stressed out, it’s understandable. But we got along during the shoot.

What do you remember about Meatloaf and his role as Tiny the bouncer? 

Meatloaf and I were friends from the Strip in the mid and late ’80s, when that whole metal scene started up on the Strip. And I did “The Decline II: The Metal Years.” I was hanging out there way too much! We were friends and I think I can take credit for thinking of him for the bouncer, cause I remember real bouncers standing next to Meatloaf, plenty of times, him and his trench coat. It was just a one day gig for him. We were shooting on the Paramount lot, it wasn’t the actual exterior of the club. But anyway, God bless him. I’m sorry he’s gone. He passed away a lot earlier than we thought he would.

Meatloaf’s classic line in response to Wayne’s “Who’s playing today?” is “Jolly Green Giants and Shitty Beatles.” Who came up with that?

Everybody loves the line about the Beatles. I think he might have come up with that or maybe Mike, it sounds like a Mike line. It was fun, we had a little cameo from Chris Farley as well.

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Tia Carrere, Mike Myers, Rob Lowe and the python in “Wayne’s World” ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Col

Was there a lot of ad-libbing or was it pretty much all in the script?

If you’ve been in this business for long, you know that when new pages come in, they come in different colors and the different colors have an order to them. There’s like 12 or 13 different colors, marigold and salmon and all kinds of weird colors. And we went through all the colors three times because I was getting so many rewrites, you know? Because they’re TV writers, they work differently. Bonnie and Terry (Turner) and Mike — Mike was mostly concentrating on acting once we started shooting, but Bonnie and Terry were throwing pages at me all the time. Finally I said, “Okay, you guys, I need 24 hours to prep whatever you’re writing. You can’t hand it to me an hour before I’m supposed to shoot it. I can’t find a gun rack in 10 minutes. I can’t find a 30-foot python in 10 minutes, come on.”

So you wanted to be prepared ahead of time. 

Ad-libbing is one thing, but throwing new pages at me is another thing. If I had time, I would always let those guys go loose with the improv. I think one of the best scenes in the film is when they’re on the hood of the car at the airport with the airplanes going over. That was the last day of the shoot. They were so tired and so was I, and the limo was outside honking cause they had to take them to the airport. That’s how close we were to finishing the movie. And these guys just started ad-libbing and that’s where that whole thing of “Did you ever find Bugs Bunny attractive when he put on a dress and played a girl bunny?” came in. It was just like out of the blue weird stuff, and they were laughing so hard cause they were so tired, that it made for a great moment, I think.

Were there any issues with getting the rights to “Bohemian Rhapsody”?

When I got the script, Mike had already written “Bohemian Rhapsody” into it. So I can’t take credit for choosing that piece of music. I can take credit for how it was shot. That’s another urban legend about the dissension on the choice of song. Some people say that I wanted to have a Guns n’ Roses song in there, but that’s absolutely false because I was mad at Guns n’ Roses at the time because they wouldn’t participate in my “Metal Years” movie a year or so before. So I wasn’t gonna put them in a movie. I don’t think that way anymore, but whatever. Some people say Lorne Michaels wanted to use Guns n’ Roses. But I doubt that that was true because I’ve known Lorne for a long time and I don’t think he was really tuned into Guns n’ Roses at that time.

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Penelope Spheeris directs Dana Carvey on the set of “Wayne’s World” in 1992. Courtesy Everett Collection

The producers wanted to cast Rob Lowe. Did you have an issue with that after he had been in the notorious sex tape with a 16-year old girl?

Lorne called me and said, “How about we use Rob Lowe to play the part of Benjamin?” and I immediately responded with, “Are you crazy? Look at where his reputation is right now. We should not hire him.” And Lorne said, “We can get him really cheap though.” So we hired him and he worked out really well.

You were okay with it in the end?

You get to a certain point where you go, “Do I say, you can’t hire this guy because he’s got a bad reputation for doing something illegal and incorrect? Do I do that? Or do I kind of go along with the program here, so I don’t lose my job.” Women don’t get the chance to object as much as men do. If we’re going to be assertive, we have to do it in a in a very sweet way. So I was always walking on thin ice.

Do you think that some of that sexism played into not being hired for the sequel?

No. I never thought about it in that way, but probably. I think throughout my career, I always just thought I was doing a really difficult job. I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m doing a really difficult job and they’re making it more difficult because I’m a woman.” But now that I look back, yeah, that was going on all the time. I’m sort of glad I didn’t realize it at the time because I probably would’ve quit. But then I think, “Well they hired a guy to do the second ‘Wayne’s World.'” And it didn’t do that well, and I didn’t cry a lot about that.

Do you have a favorite line from the film? 


Come again?

That’s the line, “a sphincter says what?” Mike Myers says that to Brian Doyle-Murray, trying to make fun of him. And Brian goes, “What?” And Wayne says, “Exactly.” And of course I was knocked out when I heard Barack Obama say “no way.” I thought if the President is using dialogue from “Wayne’s World,” we must have done something right.

People sometimes try to tell me that people don’t say “Not!” anymore, but I refuse to stop.

I hear it. Not as much, but Wayne-speak survives. It has survived over the years and has become part of the culture. I’m shocked that the movie is still so alive and well, 30 years later!