As with many comedians, much of Mike Myers’ humor was born in pain. His father died in 1991, and it was by working through his grief that Myers created first Austin Powers and then his latest movie character: Pitka, the Love Guru.
“To be enlightened is to lighten up, which ironically is the only thing my father used to say,” Myers told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer Monday in New York. “The source of my pain is my dad would say, ‘C’mon, let’s go and have some fun, Mike. We don’t want to be serious all the time.’ So that became the basis of the philosophy.”
Myers was in his late 20s when his father, a British national who had emigrated to Toronto, passed away.
“I had to come to terms with his death,” Myers said. “I was really bummed out. I started to read stuff, read philosophy. My friends would say, ‘What are you reading right now?’ It was kind of like spiritual, philosophical books, I would say.”
Myers dipped into a British accent when quoting his father, then smoothly segued into his Guru Pitka voice, saying, “Intimacy is ‘in-to-me-I-see.’ The only way out is in.”
From such musings the character emerged, just as his famous spy, Austin “Danger Is My Middle Name” Powers, was born during that same period of coping with his loss. “Austin Powers … was the celebration of all the British comedy that my British father loved,” Myers said.
Taking his time
Austin Powers first arrived on the big screen in 1997 and returned in two sequels. “The Love Guru,” which opens in theaters this Friday, took longer, but that’s the way Myers works, taking time between his creative efforts to enjoy his other passions.
“When you create it, write it and produce it, it just takes a long time,” he explained. “On top of that, I like my spare time. I like to play hockey, I like to paint, I play the ukulele, I watch the Military Channel, and I’m a sexy, sexy man. I do the stuff that playboys do — watch the Military Channel.”
The actor said he developed Guru Pitka’s voice and philosophy by talking to his friends in the guru’s voice.
“Sometimes when my friends were depressed, they’d say, ‘Can you call me up using the voice?’ And I’d go, ‘You are a beautiful spirit surrounded by a white light that loves you.’ They’re like, ‘Thank you very much,’ ” he said.
Once Myers has a character conceptualized, he tries him out in a stage show, which, he has said, is how the Marx Brothers used to develop their material. Wayne Campbell, the title character in “Wayne’s World,” was born that way. “I did it as a stage show in 1995. I did five characters, one of which was Austin Powers for the first time. The other was the Love Guru for the first time,” he told Lauer and Vieira.
A real love guru
Through his study of philosophy, Myers met a real guru: Deepak Chopra, with whom he has had a 15-year friendship. Chopra is a presence in “The Love Guru” — he’s the famous mystic whose fame Pitka envies — and he makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film.
Vieira asked Myers how he met Chopra.
“I’m always asked, ‘What are you reading?’ I’m a voracious reader,” Myers began. “So I happened to say, ‘I’m reading “Catch-22” and Deepak’s book’ — he’s written over 50 books, so I’m not sure which one it was. And then I got a call from a friend of a friend of a friend: ‘Deepak wants to know why you’re reading his book.’ I said, ‘Because my father died and it’s offering tremendous comfort.’ And a dialogue has ensued for the last 20 years, where he’s fascinated by comedy, and I’m fascinated by philosophy.”
Myers came to realize the two are closely related. “I don’t know where one ends and the other begins,” he said. “Emotional detachment, the Buddhists would tell you, is the same equation that Lenny Bruce had for comedy, which is pain plus time.”
And that led Myers back to his father, who loved to laugh at life. “My father used to say, nothing is so terrible that it can’t be laughed at eventually,” Myers said. “This is the state of grace that happens when you can actually make something painful funny.”
“The Love Guru” has an all-star cast, headed by Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba and Ben Kingsley, who plays the exalted Guru Tugginmypudha. Timberlake is the villain, and the best-endowed goalie in the National Hockey League. Alba is the owner of Myers’ home team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who calls the Love Guru to rescue her love-struck star player, Darren Roanoke, played by Romany Malco.
A man crush
Myers met Timberlake while doing “Shrek the Third” in Europe, and was immediately struck by how funny Timberlake was. They started doing comedy bits with each other, and when Myers started casting “The Love Guru,” Timberlake seemed a perfect fit. Also, Myers jokes, he has a “man crush” on Timberlake.
“In order to be attracted to Justin Timberlake, you need a pulse,” he laughed. “He has zero percent body fat. If you took a band saw and cut him open, he’d be 99 percent talent, one percent water.”
The 45-year-old actor/director said he doesn’t know what he’ll do next. “I never do,” he said. “I have about 10 or 20 characters that circle the airport, and when it’s time, it gets birth. It’s a weird gestation process I still don’t fully understand.”
What he does know is that life couldn’t be better. At the age of 8, he resolved to do comedy, and by the time he was 25, he was a cast member of “Saturday Night Life.”
“This is all a dream come true. I’m having an out-of-body experience constantly,” he said.
So, did the guru have any parting words of wisdom?
Myers put on his guru voice. “In life you should have love without knowledge, and then you can have knowledge without love, but ultimately you want love with knowledge,” he intoned. “The only way out is in. Think about it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Quipped Lauer: “It feels like you have already.”