Nearly 25 years ago (Feb. 14, 1992), following 34 days of shooting with a relatively modest $20 million budget, Penelope Spheeris released a comedy based on a Mike Myers/Dana Carvey Saturday Night Live skit that reinvigorated Rob Lowe’s and Alice Cooper’s careers, popularized such phrases as “We’re not worthy!” “Schwing!” and “Party on!”, and boosted Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” onto the Billboard charts for the second time.
Road bumps, cool coincidences and budgetary restrictions aside, Wayne’s World proved itself the little film that could with a box office take of more than $183 million worldwide. It clocked in as the highest-grossing of the many films based on SNL skits, and the surprise hit brought fame and fortune to many of those involved. Here are some of their memories.
Alice Cooper: Wayne’s World is one of those movies that wherever you come into it, you can go from there. Like Airplane! or Caddyshack or Dumb and Dumber, you can turn it on right in the middle and it’s very quotable. I’d say it was in the Top 10 of most quotable [movies].
Penelope Spheeris: Right now we’re living in much more difficult times [than in 1992]; the world is on the verge of falling apart, unfortunately, and we’re all freaking out. So to go back to a nostalgic time that was fun and uplifting, and all that young energy that Mike and Dana had then. You have this feeling of joy when you watch the movie and I think that’s why people love it so.
AC: We were supposed to perform [“Feed My Frankenstein”] and I didn’t know anything about the dialogue. When I got to the set, Mike said, “You’re an actor, can you do some lines for us?” I went “sure” and I got like five pages of dialogue. I said, “When are we doing this?” He goes, “In about 20 minutes.” I go “OK.” So a lot of it was riffing. I think we did it in two takes. Of course, Dana and Mike, on the floor with the “We’re not worthy!” thing, were doing everything they could to get me to break up. But they didn’t realize my iron will, so I went right through that dialogue, and I think I surprised them. But if you would have seen the outtakes of “We’re not worthy, we’re scum,” it goes on for like five or six minutes. And it just gets vile. Whoever owns those outtakes owns a little treasure.
PS: When I got the script, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was already there. The studio wanted to have Guns N’ Roses in there somewhere, and Mike wanted to have Aerosmith as the performance band. Aerosmith said they didn’t want to do it. You’ll notice that Aerosmith is in Wayne’s World 2, however. (Laughs). I’m gonna call that “two bad decisions.” So when Aerosmith declined, I immediately brought up Alice, because I had just worked with him on Decline of Western Civilization Part II. Poor Alice got these lines thrown at him the day of, he didn’t even have time to rehearse overnight. I do remember thinking how amazed I was that he could spit out those lines so effortlessly. It was so unexpected for the rocker, who you’d think would know nothing historically about geography, to have so much quirky information. It got a great reaction.
AC: Airports is when everybody does “We’re not worthy!” I always try to let them think it’s the first time anybody’s ever done that. And they’re so clever. After about the fourth time a day I put my hand out like, “Kiss my ring,” like I do in the movie, and they all love to do that. I give them the credit for getting down on their knees and doing the whole thing, because it is a bit embarrassing on their part, so if they wanna go through with it, I say fine. Mike Myers told me, “I could have stuck you with something so much worse than that!”
Tia Carrere: I’ve gotten quite a few of those “We’re not worthys” even though it’s attributed to Alice Cooper. I was recently at the House of Blues, watching someone perform, and I turned around and there are three young guys in their twenties and they drop to their knees and are bowing before me, “I’m not worthy.” I was laughing my head off. I didn’t expect that. It changes your life.
AC: The appearance in Wayne’s World did bring a different audience to us. We were classic rock. We were sort of royalty, in the rock world, the young bands kinda looked up to us. Also, I think the idea that the band, who looked like all these Sunset Strip derelicts… that the guitar player would be talking about socialist governors in Minnesota made it really, really funny. That of course was the trick, the device that Michael was using in that scene that made it really, really work.
PS: In my memory, it was up to Alice what [song] he would perform. I don’t think I would have wanted a hit. I would rather not do that, I’d rather have something fresh and different. I know that performers like to showcase new work. Just to have Alice Cooper was the big bang for our buck right there.
AC: We didn’t want to do “School’s Out” or an Alice Cooper standard. “Feed My Frankenstein” was the perfect song for that movie. It was the right song for that generation, very heavy. “School’s Out” would have taken it back to the ’70s, whereas this was early ’90s, so I thought something more current was better. I think everybody was working on a prayer right then, hoping that this movie would get made and it would do something. It did really, really well, so it was great.
Georg Dolivo, Rhino Bucket singer (“Ride with Yourself” is on the Wayne’s World soundtrack): [The money we made from the Wayne’s World Soundtrack] was a godsend. We were always the band that would rather tour eight weeks in a van than two weeks in a bus. Everything we had we put back into the band. Wayne’s World allowed us to stay on the road and still have a roof over our heads when we came home.
TC: There’s a thing called “breakdown service” that your agent gets, it says, “18-23 Asian female, speaks with a heavy accent, but when she rocks, she rocks like nobody’s business. Martial arts.” Literally. I went to Paramount, and auditioned I think for Lorne Michaels, Penelope and Mike Myers and a whole room of people. What’s funny is they wanted to make sure the person could act, so I did that, and showed them some martial arts moves, I think. I just started singing, a cappella, in the audition room [sings], “Heartbreaker/Dream maker/Love taker/Don’t you mess around with me.” They said, “Whoa, great, you can sing, we could have dubbed your voice in.” That final callback, I was out in the waiting area, and Mike Myers came out and said, “Tia, you’re my favorite. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” That put the wind in my sails. When I walked in there, I owned it. I have to thank him for that.
PS: When you’re naming bands like Bulletboys and Rhino Bucket, that was my thing back in the day. I love Rhino Bucket. I choose those songs [on the soundtrack], and I’m proud of it. I had the first music video company back in L.A. , and that was way before MTV, so I shot all sorts of bands back in the ‘70s — Curtis Mayfield, Fleetwood Mac, Staples Singers, David Essex. When I shot Gary Wright’s video for “Dream Weaver” that was way back in the ’70s, and 20 years later I get the Wayne’s World script, and it’s got “Dream Weaver” in it.
TC: I had recorded a few demos; I was always on the path to being a singer. Then I did Wayne’s World, which had the heavy rock influence, but that’s not who I am. If you hear my Hawaiian music, it’s really beautiful, and the tone of my voice is very different, rounded, mellow and chill. I put out [my debut album] Dream in 1993. If I’d come out with a rock record right after Wayne’s World I’d still be doing that, probably, because you know, it was the logical next step to capitalize on it. But I wanted to do a pop/R&B record, because it was more to my sensibility. But there was a disconnect marketing-wise. It’s hard.
PS: The role [of Cassandra Wong] was written, but I must have interviewed, God, so many girls to play that part. But when I met Tia, I knew, right then. She was the one I’d fight for. She served so many of the requirements. My thing, having done so many music videos and movies is you gotta get a real musician up there if you’re gonna sell it as a real musician. Actors are great and they can do it, but very few can do both. But she could. Jeff Bridges can do both, Alice proved he can do both. She was so gorgeous. It was a slam dunk.
TC: I had to learn four songs on bass in three weeks. That, and learning the phrases in Cantonese were the hardest things about my job on that film. Penelope’s boyfriend at the time taught me to play bass. Crucial Taunt, my band, we had to rehearse live. I was dreadful, but at least my fingers moved in the right way. I never played bass again. I had much respect for Sting after that. It’s hard to keep a rhythm that’s in opposition to your vocals. I didn’t know the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” [which she performs with her movie band Crucial Taunt] before I sang it, which is probably good, as their take on it is completely different from the one Ted Templeman and I did. The legendary Ted Templeman. Van Halen. I remember going to the Van Halen concert in L.A. at the Forum when I was 12. We were up in the last row. Here I am in the studio with their producer. I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe the people I was working with.
PS: “Ballroom Blitz” was my choice, I believe. You come up with five songs that you think would be great, and send it over to the music department, and they go, “Well, we can get this one for 20 grand and that one for 100 grand.” Like with “Stairway to Heaven” we were told that we could only use two notes before we’d have to pay $100,000, so to sell that he’s gonna play “Stairway to Heaven” in two notes is pretty difficult. I don’t know this to be absolutely true, but somebody told me that in the first version of the movie we play too many notes. So they had to go back in and edit a note or two out.
AC: When people ask “Which Wayne’s World were you in?” I always tell them, “The funny one.” It’s always hard to do a follow-up… In the long run, the first one was the classic, nothing to do with Aerosmith being in the second. Doing that part two, sophomore, everybody goes “Eh.” There are a couple exceptions; Godfather, Alien, but I just didn’t see it. It worked with Austin Powers; it just didn’t work with Wayne’s World. The funniest part was, of course, “Foxey Lady.” Dana Carvey doing it was hysterical.
PS: I had to fight like hell to get “Foxey Lady” in the movie where Dana dances, trying to seduce the dream girl, Donna Dixon. It was really a hassle to convince them that a Jimi Hendrix song would be funny, but it is.
TC: My daughter thought the movie was hilarious. I showed it to her last Christmas, when she was 10, but I couldn’t sit down on the couch next to her to watch it because I was too nervous. So I was in the kitchen, cleaning, and kept looking around the corner, sneaking a peek, and she was laughing her head off. The jokes still work 25 years later.
Random Wayne’s World Facts
— Both actress/singer Tia Carrere and Spheeris worked with Donald Trump. Spheeris directed him in Little Rascals; Carrere was “fired” by the future president on the fifth season of Celebrity Apprentice.
— Although both Carrere and Cooper are unforgettable in Wayne’s World, they’ve never met. But Carrere does know Cooper manager Shep Gordon, who was the subject of the Mike Myers -directed documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.
— When it came time to film the iconic Pacer scene with the Queen song, Spheeris asked Myers to get in the car to check the seat height and see how he felt driving it. “Well, he didn’t know how to drive,” Spheeris recalls. “We had to get him lessons. We didn’t have much money, so he had to take Sears driving lessons.”
Katherine Turman also produces the nationally syndicated radio show Nights With Alice Cooper.