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'Wayne's World' turns 30! Film's director explains why she was 'astounded' by its success

Take an "excellent" look back at the movie that became a smash and paved the way for future comedies based on "Saturday Night Live" sketches.
Wayne's World
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey made "Wayne's World" a global sensation.Alamy
/ Source: TODAY

In the early 1990s, the argument with my parents over a curfew when I went out with friends during the weekend was often tempered by the presence of a certain recurring sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”

“Wayne’s World” was so charmingly cheery, so indescribably offbeat and so chock full of unique lingo that seeing stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in the roles of happy-go-lucky headbanger Wayne Campbell and his socially awkward pal Garth Algar, respectively, made it almost necessary to come home and watch what had become must-see late-night TV.

Imagine my delight — and the delight of millions of other teenagers and 20-somethings — when “Wayne’s World” made the jump from the small screen to feature film in 1992. The movie, which follows Wayne and Garth when their cable access show gets picked up by a sleazy producer, played by Rob Lowe, turns 30 on Feb. 14.

“These two guys just delighted in being alive,” director Penelope Spheeris said of Wayne and Garth. “They were the essence of joie de vivre. They didn’t have a care in the world. And if we can watch that, and try to live our lives that way, boy, wouldn’t it be nice.”
“These two guys just delighted in being alive,” director Penelope Spheeris said of Wayne and Garth. “They were the essence of joie de vivre. They didn’t have a care in the world. And if we can watch that, and try to live our lives that way, boy, wouldn’t it be nice.”Everett Collection

It’s been three decades since the movie came out and became a smash? No way. Way!

“It astounded all of us, to be honest with you. None of us ever, when we were making that movie, none of us even remotely imagined that it would have the success that it did,” the film’s director, Penelope Spheeris, told TODAY during a phone interview.

“Mostly, I’m happy that it brings joy to people because it does. You know, people watch this movie, they feel good.”

For Spheeris, "Wayne's World" represents a kind of nostalgic optimism.

“Life is much more complicated now. I mean, 30 years ago, it wasn’t so complicated and stressful, but now it is. It is and people watch ‘Wayne’s World’ and it makes them feel better,” she said. 

1992, Wayne's World. Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Mike Meyers.
Rob Lowe as a funnyman? "Wayne's World" proved it to the world.Alamy

The film quickly became a full-blown phenomenon, topping the box office for five consecutive weeks, en route to collecting a worldwide gross of $183 million. It remains the highest-grossing film based on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

“Wayne’s World” is a product of its time that is also timeless. There are jokes about Grey Poupon and Nuprin that kids today would not understand, yet Wayne and Garth are so likable and funny that it transcends chronology.

While the movie often broke the fourth wall and spoofed pop culture of the time, it also had fun with subject matter people didn’t think much of anymore. There’s a hilarious bit where Wayne and Garth perform the opening credits of “Laverne & Shirley,” which had been off the air for nearly a decade by the time the movie was released. That seemingly random penchant for rehashing something from the past would resurface a few years later for Myers when he enlisted Burt Bacharach in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”

Wayne's World, Tia Carrere.
Tia Carrere brought some toughness and sex appeal to the character of Cassandra.Alamy

Spheeris, who was known for helming the punk rock documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization,” was the right fit for a music-centric film like “Wayne’s World.” Tia Carrere, a Hawaiian-born actor who played Wayne’s hard-rocker love interest, Cassandra, wailed in the role. Wayne is obsessed with a guitar that he can’t afford. Wayne and Garth attend an Alice Cooper concert before the metal legend gives a hilariously impromptu history lesson backstage about Milwaukee that prompts them to declare, “We’re not worthy!”

And then there’s the wonderful scene where Wayne, Garth and their crew hit the town and sing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” while driving in Garth’s beat-up AMC Pacer. It perfectly encapsulates the essence of youth and the wide-open possibilities people have before the responsibilities of adulthood beckon. It also propelled the song back to the charts after nearly 20 years.

Wayne, Garth and their pals exude pure joy while singing along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Wayne, Garth and their pals exude pure joy while singing along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."Paramount

The track, which first appeared in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976 when it peaked at No. 9, rocketed to No. 2 in 1992. It would return a third time in 2018, thanks to the appropriately titled Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“At the time of making the film, none of us dared imagine the success of the movie or that particular scene,” Spheeris said.

“I didn’t know it was going to be like, you know, the go-to (thing) that everybody remembered from the movie, but I knew it was going to be entertaining.”

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Hosts A "Wayne's World" Reunion
Penelope Spheeris attends the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' "Wayne's World" reunion on April 23, 2013, in Beverly Hills, California.Araya Doheny / FilmMagic

Also entertaining is the endlessly amusing vernacular employed by Wayne and Garth, which is original and legendary. “Asphincter says what?” “Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?” “Schwing.” “Hurl.” They’re among the funny lines that would go on to make the rounds in many high school hallways. Startlingly clever, they remain as fresh today as they did when people first heard them.

“I think it was extremely important, the kind of Wayne-speak that was developed in the film,” Spheeris said.

She also said there were attempts to bridge the language gap in other countries.

“I heard that Paramount made up a little booklet for different countries that had explanations of ‘schwing,’ for example,” Spheeris said. “I don’t know how they politically correctly phrased it, but they passed out little booklets so that people could refer to it and (use it) as a translation and try to understand the different phrases.”

Dana Carvey, Mike Meyers in Wayne's World, 1992.
Myers and Carvey do their "schwing" on their show. "The guys, they have problems, but they tackle them with a sense of humor and they just feel like free spirits, you know?” Spheeris said.Alamy

“Wayne’s World” was anchored by Myers and Carvey, whose comedic talents were fully on display. They were two of “SNL’s” brightest stars at the time. Carvey had developed a reputation as a master impersonator, thanks to his takes on President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. He also had audiences howling with laughter as Johnny Carson and one half of the bodybuilding duo Hans and Franz. His signature bit, though, may have been as the Church Lady, a judgmental Bible-thumper who hosted “Church Chat,” a recurring sketch that audiences ate up.

Myers, meanwhile, had brought memorable characters to life, including Linda Richman on “Coffee Talk” and Dieter, the host of the West German TV show “Sprockets.” Together, they were part of a stellar “Saturday Night Live” cast that was hip, inventive and, above all, hilarious. Spheeris credits the chemistry they had and the magic they possessed, as well as a “creative bicker” where comedians try to top one another.

Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special - Season 2015
Myers and Carvey would reprise their roles on the "Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special" in 2015.NBC

“And that’s the way Mike and Dana were. I mean, you could call it one-upsmanship,” she said. “But it also creates some sort of dynamic that when it gets on screen it works.”

“Wayne’s World” also showed audiences just how versatile Lowe could be. He was not necessarily known as a comic actor, but he had crossed paths with Myers and Lowe before when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 1990 and appeared in a “Church Chat” sketch. Lowe, who would later team up with Myers again in the "Austin Powers" franchise, nailed his part in “Wayne’s World,” playing the slimy Benjamin, who is out to steal Cassandra from Wayne while bringing Wayne and Garth’s cable access show to the masses.

Wayne (Mike Myers) tries to convince Cassandra (Tia Carrere) to walk away from the slithery Benjamin (Rob Lowe).
Wayne (Mike Myers) tries to convince Cassandra (Tia Carrere) to walk away from the slithery Benjamin (Rob Lowe).Everett Collection

“He did such a good job,” Spheeris said. “And I don’t even think, and I know this is for a fact, because Rob has told me this: Rob wasn’t aware that he’s as funny as he is. And he said that he was so thrilled that we did hire him for the part in ‘Wayne’s World,’ because he’s a fantastic straight man. And he’s hilarious. He’s hilarious being the handsome straight guy that everybody likes to make fun of.”

“Wayne’s World” also opened the doors for other films based on “Saturday Night Live.” Prior to its release, “The Blues Brothers” was the lone “SNL” sketch to get the big-screen treatment. After “Wayne’s World,” more movies followed, from “Coneheads” to “A Night at the Roxbury” to “MacGruber.” Seven more would be released in the 1990s alone, including “Wayne’s World 2.”

While 30 years have come and gone, “Wayne’s World” has never really left the zeitgeist. It’s been lampooned on everything from “Beverly Hills, 90210” in 1993 to, yes, TODAY in 2014. Myers and Carvey reprised the roles in a Super Bowl commercial for Uber Eats in 2021. The cast, along with Spheeris, got together in 2020 on Josh Gad’s “Reunited Apart.” In honor of its 30th anniversary, Paramount has released a limited-edition Blu-ray SteelBook.

Today - Season 63
In 2014, Kathie Lee Gifford, left, dressed as Wayne and Hoda dressed as Garth while celebrating Halloween on TODAY.TODAY

“Wayne’s World” leaving our lives? Yeah, as if. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. The fact is it will always party on.

I recently sat down with my two kids to watch the movie with them for the first time. We laughed and for the next few days there were shouts of “excellent” throughout the house. Bringing the movie to a new generation isn’t altogether new. Spheeris said she has heard stories of people who grew up watching it now showing it to their kids.

“What a fantastic, flattering thing to have happen, that parents love it. And they want to show it to their children,” Spheeris said. “That’s, like, the biggest compliment of all.”