His mother, Alice was a trained actor and decided that, of her three sons, Michael could be one too. Dancing lessons began at the age of 8. All through school appearing in commercials was his part-time job.
He got his first trip to Hollywood to make one, and on another he was deeply impressed with "co-star" Gilda Radner, the gifted comic who would become one of the early stars of Saturday Night Live
and who would sadly die far too early.
Father, Eric, was a Britisher through and through, proud of his Liverpool roots. He was one of the top salesmen for the Encyclopedia Britannica, earning enough for a comfy house in the suburbs, with a rec room that would be immortalized in Wayne's World
. Myers said much later that he made Austin Powers in honour of his father.
After writing his last high school exam, Myers went to audition for the rising Toronto-based comedy troupe Second City and was hired.
Moving on at 21, when most aspiring comics head to New York or Los Angeles, Myers went to London to pay homage to the English comedy traditions of The Goon Show, Monty Python and Benny Hill. He worked, got paid little, starved in a flat in Notting Hill and got a lot of the "ice time" young comics need to develop.
He returned to Canada and bounced around in a short-lived show at the CBC and a stint with the Chicago Second City troupe that had graduated illustrious funny men like Bill Murray
and John Candy
A guest appearance at the Toronto Second City's fifteenth anniversary, where he stole the show in front of an audience of the elite of the entertainment industry, led to a phone call from Lorne Michaels, the head of Saturday Night Live, hereafter called SNL. Myers entered the 1990s in the Big Time.
He was a prolific writer as well as performer. A month into the season, he introduced Wayne Campbell, your "excellent" host, as if live from the rec room in Scarborough. Looking back thee seemed to have been many memorable or classic SNL shticks: Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as the Coneheads ("We are from France"); Garrett Morris's "Base-a-balla bin berry, berry guide to me"; Billy Crystal
's "You look mahvelous."
But none approached the extensive use in the public vernacular as the signature lines of Wayne and Garth, the heavy-metal dweebs with bad hair. "That is such a nice outfit...NOT!!!"; "Way" (as the opposite of "No way"); "Party on"; "Excellent"; "She's a Major Babe" and "We are not worthy" can still be heard, even if the people saying these classic phrases never saw SNL. By the early 1990s Wayne and Garth had become stars in their own right.
Myers invented other well-known characters. There isn't actually much of an intellectual deconstruction of his humour in terms of comic traditions. (He'd probably say that intellectual deconstructions of comics should be banned or at least classified as oxymoronic, in any case). He was just a guy with a funny imagination, who wrote exceptionally funny things and performed them in very funny ways.
Another of the most memorable of his creations was the emotional Linda Richman, the aging Jewish Princess host of her show, "Coffee Talk" (pronounced "koe-fee towk"), who would always be reduced to tears and unable to speak (verklempt), waving her bracelet-covered wrist, croaking "Discuss amongst yourselves." Dieter, the freaky German host of an arts show called "Shprockets," with his pet monkey, was another.
Then one night the Wayne's World sketch involved Wayne (Myers) kind of making out with (the real) Madonna
. That was probably the night, for all practical purposes, that the late-night TV sketch went into development as a feature movie, Wayne's World.
The setting of Wayne's World had long been changed for US audiences to what had been suggested as the American equivalent of Scarberia: Aurora, Illinois, enraging the natives there. Tim Horton's donut shop became Stan Mikita's, but the rec room stayed the same.
There was a plot, but that's beside the point. Everyone just wanted to see the two guys do their gags, and see Tia Carrere wear very little except a big electric guitar. There are many more signs of fuctioning brain cells in this than in later examples of the genre like Dumb and Dumber (1994). (And isn't it great to have a "Stupidity Genre"...Not.)
In a clever-but-not-laugh-out-loud scene, the two guys wangle backstage passes to meet their idol, the demented, sick, twisted Alice Cooper
, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They can't wait to witness the outrageous antics that were no doubt in store. But Myers has Cooper play a quiet intellectual who prefers discussing the First Nation derivation of the town's name. "Wow!" says Wayne. "You sure know how to party."
The reviews were mixed. Roger Ebert found it "dumb and vulgar but with a genuinely amusing, sometime intelligent undercurrent." Janet Maslin over at the New York Times was appalled. In a review titled "A Dim Duo Revel in Stupidity" she wrote,
H.L. Mencken may have noted that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, but not even he could have anticipated this. Wayne and Garth do their best to elevate stupidity to an art form.
Legend has it that Mike's mother called and floored him with the remark, "That Dana Carvey sure is funny."
All of that was beside the point, too.
Wayne's World was huge at the box office and suddenly a sequel was assumed and Myers could just about name his price. The movie people who had had doubts about the project and Myers' temperament ran to jump back on the bandwagon because that's what media people do. It was easily the best film adaptation of an SNL sketch.
The sequel, Wayne's World 2
(1993), however, was neither a good idea nor a good product. In the same year, Myers released So I Married an Axe Murderer, which had been through so many incarnations and rewrites (Woody Allen
, Gary Shandling, Albert Brooks and others had all looked it over) that it was a dog's breakfast. Myers played two parts and he was funny as the Scottish grandfather, a sort of reprise of his grumpy old Scot on SNL ("If it's no' Sco'ish, it's crrraaap!).
Even a bevy of wonderful cameos couldn't save it: Steven Wright, Alan Arkin, Charles Grodin and, best of all, Phil Hartman as a tour guide in the infamous prison of Alcatraz who says, "My name is John Johnson, but everyone here just calls me Vicky." Myers had always been known for having a thin skin. He only half-joked that he was afraid that the Talent Police would arrive one day and take him away. The quick closing of Axe-Murderer and the flopping of Wayne 2 must have made him feel that that day had arrived.
As Martin Knelman writes in Mike's World, the combination of professional adversity and the death of his father and his brother-in-law sent Myers into a "psychic meltdown." He went to war with the original writer of Axe-Murderer, insisting on a writer's credit. Why, only Myers knows. But it didn't do his reputation much good.
Four years would pass before Myers made it back to the big screen. According to Knelmans' biography, the inspiration for Austin Powers (1997) came while hearing a Burt Bacharach song on the radio. It launched "a tremendous act of catharsis...a huge posthumous tribute to the obsessions of his departed father." Psychoanalysis aside and being mindful that, though unlikely, there may be readers who have not seen one of the Austin Powers "franchise" movies, here's the overview: Austin is a legendary secret agent from the London of the 1960s, Yuppie Ground Zero, the British Invasion of rock and roll, Carnaby Street, and Mods and Rockers. He is also a legendary playboy despite crooked teeth and terrible taste in clothes. He's a bumbling 98-pound-weakling version of James Bond, in the tradition of Inspector Gadget and Maxwell Smart with a touch of Laugh-In from TV.
Powers and his arch-enemy, Dr. Evil, who is bent on world domination (both played brilliantly by Myers) are cryogenically frozen in 1967 and unfrozen again to do battle in 1997. The fish-out-of-water humour is well played as a central part of the charmingly improbable theme. Austin's 1960s promiscuity runs headlong into the much different sensibilities of the 1990s. Dr. Evil is laughed at for his ransom demand of $1 million, a king's ransom in 1967, chump change for bad guys in 1997. He implores his bad guy entourage, "I've been frozen for thirty years. Throw me a fricking' bone here." There is also a surfeit of variations of the verb "to shag."
It would be fun to recount a few highlights from the truly inspired insanity Myers created with unknown director Jay Roach, but more interesting is the growing distate that creeps into critics' reviews as the series progresses to The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Goldmember (2002). The best laughs are:
1. Dr. Evil and his son Scott go to group therapy (led by a wonderfully deadpan earnest Carrie Fisher
). Scott: "I want to open maybe a petting zoo." Dr. Evil: "An evil petting zoo?"
2. Heather Graham
, in form-fitting 1960s fashion, on being asked how you get into hot pants that tight: "Well, you can start by buying me a drink."
3. Dr. Evil's second-in-command, played by Robert Wagner, explaining to his out-of-touch boss that Austin and his colleague, Elizabeth Hurley
, can't be thrown in a shark tank because sharks are an endangered species, so they have sea bass. "But very angry sea bass."
The single thing that critics consistently point out as the films' primary virtue is Myers' own wide-eyed enjoyment in playing his characters, especially Austin. His enthusiasm fills the screen, projecting a very comfortable, likable presence. But somewhere near the end of the original, reviewers got bored, and maybe a little insulted. What began as wacky display of a comic tour de force seemed to veer away from witty riffs on Culture Then and Now and dumbed way down.
As for Goldmember, the praise for Myers' performance and talent remained lavish. But the reservations about the "groin-centred" humour turned to disgust, in some quarters.
So, Mr. Myers' balance sheet is a complex one, and there is a postscript that muddies it even more.
In an incident the Hollywood press dubbed "Dietergate," Myers backed out of a film adaptation of the SNL character, Dieter in the summer of 2000, despite the promise of a hefty payday for its creator and putative star. This, claimed the American entertainment media, was the smoking gun, the proof that Myers was "difficult" to work with.
On the other hand, we're talking about one of the first celebrities who took to the American airwaves to defend and promote his hometown, economically devastated by the outbreak of SARS.
And a fitting final note: What would you think the chances are that an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman's Scarberian-born son, who became a purveyor of potty humour, would have his own mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica? No way, right? Well, way.
Among the actors and directors who have achieved international renown over the years are Mack Sennett, Norman Jewison, Ted Kotcheff, Jim Carrey
, Mike Myers, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, and Denys Arcand.
I wonder if he knows? How shagadelic is that , baby?