When Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was originally released in 1975, the song was definitely odd. It was flamboyant, unusual, and with several songs fused together. But it became a rock-opera epic. You probably already know that Queen’s record company believed the nearly six-minute single was way too long to play on the radio, and that it would never be a hit. Yet the song made it to No.1 in the UK and hit the Top 10 in the US.
However, by the late ‘80s, the song mostly existed in a quiet life of occasional radio appearances on classic rock stations. That is, until 1992 when the cult comedy classic “Wayne’s World” used “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a major part of the film. Who knew the boisterous scene in the opening sequence of the movie would have such a lasting effect on comedy and music fans alike?
But there’s a whole story behind the scene, which included getting Queen’s blessing. This is how it went…
In case some of you didn’t grow up watching “Saturday Night Live,” it should be known that the ”Wayne’s World” movies were adapted from an SNL sketch of the same name from the late ‘80s. And after this iconic scene in the movie was put out into the world and adored by fans everywhere, both the band and the song were given a second life.
Wayne’s act of simply popping a cassette tape into his friend Garth’s AMC Pacer, not only returned Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the radio waves, but it also led to the song’s rise to No.2 on the pop charts. And this is despite the fact that Freddie Mercury had died of AIDS less than three months before the movie was released.
Unfortunately, Mercury didn’t live to see the song’s comeback (but he did get a sneak peek – more on that later). Either way, the movie sequence became a staple on MTV, introducing the song and the band to an entirely new generation of listeners. The hilariously gleeful scene has become iconic – it’s been parodied, copied, and celebrated ever since we first saw it in 1992.
Okay, so a lot of what I just said might already be common knowledge (at least to true “Wayne’s World” and Queen fans. But it would be irresponsible not to mention all that. Now, what isn’t necessarily in the mainstream repertoire is the story behind the scene. The creative forces behind it – Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and others – told the story of how it all happened… and how it almost didn’t.
A select few cast and crew members sat down for an interview with “Rolling Stone.” Mike Myers, who wrote the script and starred as Wayne Campbell, grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, to British parents. He went to England in 1975 with his family and it was then and there that he heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio. “We [my brother and I] were obsessed with it,” he remembered.
“Our friend’s car was a powder blue Dodge Dart Swinger that had a vomit stain on the side of it that someone chiseled in the shape of Elvis Presley.” Graphic? Yes. Essential to the backstory? Of course. He explained how they would drive down the highway, listening to the song over and over again.
We would time it so that as they entered the Toronto city limits, the rocking part would kick in.” Considering how often they listened to it, they knew the song by heart and how it sounded, down to a tee. Myers said, “I was “Galileo!” three [out] of five. If I took somebody else’s “Galileo!” or somebody took mine, a fight would ensue.”
Myers explained how not just the song, but the whole idea for the movie was what he lived in his youth. “Wayne’s World was my childhood. I knew only to write what I knew.” Myers wanted the movie to reflect a kind of spirit – a time in your life before you had to start “adulting.” He also mentioned how while the SNL skit was restricted to the basement, the “Wayne’s World” movie had no bounds.
Myers wanted the movie to be as cinematic and “in the world” as possible. And so he thought a “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene would be a great way to introduce the characters. Penelope Spheeris, the director, chimed into the conversation at that point, saying how it was their first studio movie.
She admitted to thinking it was an odd choice because if you’re headbangers, that song wouldn’t be your first choice to slam your head along to in the car when you’re driving with your friends. Or so she thought. Let it be known that Mike Myers fought “very, very hard” for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” At the time, they were aware that people had sort of forgotten about Queen.
Producer Lorne Michaels had actually suggested using a song by Guns N Roses instead (when Myers was recounting the conversation, he didn’t remember which song specifically). But, at the time, Guns N Roses had a No.1 song. He said to Michaels, “I hear you. I think that’s really smart,” but he didn’t have any jokes for a song by Guns N Roses.
What he did have were a lot of jokes for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” For Myers, it was inherently comedic. But both the producer and director were pushing for Guns N Roses. At one point, Myers put his foot down. He knew what he wanted and laid it out there. He said to everybody, “I’m out. I don’t want to make this movie if it’s not ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’”
Myers went further as to why it just HAD to be that song. “I just love the song. It’s ballsy that it’s that long. It’s ballsy that it’s two songs in one, that it’s opera. Then when it kicks in, it’s just such a fantastic release.” At the end of the day, he put his foot down because he just couldn’t think of another possibility.
Spheeris, who worked with many amazing comedians like Richard Pryor, noted how most of them tend to be “very, very difficult at times,” but the way she sees it, it’s really worth it because they’re simply good at what they do.
According to Myers, who considers Lorne Michaels to be a good producer, Michaels just kept saying to him, “You’ll forgive me if I want to make this movie a hit.” Maybe he was just testing Myers’s passion. Since movies are some of the most expensive forms of entertainment, Michaels wanted to make sure they were doing everything to make it the most entertaining.
Myers’ instincts were bang on. Sometimes it’s that little voice that tells you, “If ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was big in my house, it was probably big in other people’s houses too.” To him, it was authentic. And more often than not, when an artist is authentic, it comes off as real to the audience.
In the end, it was a win-win situation – for Myers and the filmmakers and for the viewers, too. Everybody who saw the movie just loved it. Mike Myers wasn’t even the only one on the team that the song resonated with. Sean Sullivan, who played Phil, remembered reading the script and was amazed because “literally what we did in the scene was something that I did with my older brother Stacey in my old beat-up Vega.”
He explained how they, too, would drive around singing the Queen song. For Sullivan, it was like the scene was written about his own past. Lee Tergesen, who played Terry, recalled how, when they had the first read-through, there were just four guys in the car…
In the car were Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Sean Sullivan, and Michael DeLuise. But Tergesen went up to Myers after the read-through and said to him, “If there’s any way I can be in the back of that car, this was my childhood. I grew up in Connecticut, rocking out in cars.” The actor got his wish. Literally, two days later, the next draft came out, and Tergesen was in the back seat. “It blew my mind.”
Director Spheeris explained just how much that scene had been worked and re-worked. She said how, when you’re doing a film, at least in those days, you have different colored pages for every rewritten scene. On average, you get to go through about seven colors.
“That script, we had gone through the seven colors three times.” It shows just how much, daily, it was being redone. Myers really appreciated her as a director. He said she was fantastic, smart, caring and generous, because “God knows I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.” In those days, they would have tiny monitors.
Myers described how he could see just her mouth underneath it when he was on set. He revealed how he ended up getting addicted to her laugh and smile. Speaking of being on set, people for some reason believe the movie was shot in Aurora, near Chicago. But Spheeris mentioned how 95% of the movie was shot in LA.
Spheeris said how it was really hard to find a street in Los Angeles that resembled a place like Aurora. So they shot the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in an area just outside of LA. The scene turned out to be an all-night shoot, with West Covina doubling as Aurora, Illinois. And, during the shoot, they just drove around, singing on the back of a trailer.
Sullivan said how there’s a point in night shoots where you’re kind of going along, and then the energy just drops, like, “I’m going to be here for so many more hours.” It was at that moment for him that they started shooting, which turned out to be perfect for him (he was supposed to be drunk).
Myers said how it was going to be a little mini-opera; an operetta of “I see a little silhouette-a of a man.” Sullivan (Phil) was their friend. So they pick him up, and then it’s “Let him go!” “Let him go!” “Let him go!” And then he throws up. As Sullivan remembers it, they shot it all in sequence, at least the stuff he did.
They picked him up on the street, and he was thinking to himself, “If you’re going to spew, spew into this,” — which is something Dana Carvey improvised. He found a little cup and just seized the moment. Dana Carvey, who played Garth Algar, finally joined the conversation…
According to Carvey, he and Myers had a lot of freedom. “Many times, I would do some Garth shtick like, “If you’re gonna spew, spew into this.” And the director would then say, “If you can do it just 10 seconds faster, I can keep it in the movie.” Carvey’s improvisations were huge, especially for his comedian costar.
Myers noted how Carvey was the “greatest comedian” he’s ever worked with, the “loosest comedian.” According to Myers, he never forgets that it’s supposed to be fun. “He has that twinkle in his eye that’s infectious,” Myers said. And I know exactly what he means – I see it, too! Throughout the shoot, Myers and Carvey would have these “crazy running jokes that were elaborate.”
Can I just put it out there how incredibly jealous I am of this crew? Is it just me, or is being on a set like this a total dream job? Take this tidbit, for instance: Spheeris recalled how the camera operator was from Germany, and Myers kept making fun of him.
Spheeris said how when they were shooting, if they got a kick of light off a glass or a window, they needed some dulling spray (which technically takes the shine off the bright light). And so, Myers would always say, “Dahling spray!” Can’t you just hear Myers imitating the accent? And at the end of the shoot, he gave everyone a can that he made himself of “Dahling spray.”
Back to the shooting of the scene… Sullivan remembered how they were in the car for hours, just playing through the song, which was blaring. By this point in the shoot, the guys knew each other pretty well. Now, banging your head to music isn’t too difficult of a task. But Tergesen made a point to say that he was the “only actual headbanger in the car.”
He said that he was the only person who really let it go. The scene, which occurred about two-thirds into the film, involved a lot of takes. With three guys in the backseat and two in the front, Spheeris remembers how there was a lot to be covered.
Spheeris had to keep moving the cameras around, which meant that the guys had to keep doing all that headbanging – over and over again. Can you imagine? Both and Carvey vaguely remember hurting their necks doing it. With so many angles and so many takes, that most certainly takes a toll! But no pain, no gain.
Carvey, who was 36 at the time, said how doing that for four hours “was brutal!” About halfway through, Myers said to Spheeris, “I think we’ve got enough footage on this particular scene. And my neck is killing me.” Her response: “I don’t think so. I need to keep going here.” Myers response to her: “Alright, well, I need some Advil.”
Sullivan said, how it’s fun for about half an hour, then it’s like, okay, “this is really starting to hurt.” Tergesen quipped how it’s not only tiring but he “probably has that football player thing, traumatic brain injury. But it’s worth it for the art!” Since the guys knew each other well and became friends, the camaraderie of the group kept them going.
“And frankly, having the song playing that loudly is pretty motivating,” Sullivan said. Which reminds us of why they were even doing that scene in the first place! It got to the point that Myers was worried that they were ruining a classic. “As a well-meaning, twenty-something Canadian, I just wanted to be respectful to the song and honor it.”
Are you curious as to what the surviving Queen band members thought about it all? Ask Brain May, the guitarist of the band. He was also interviewed about the subject and gave his own perspective on it. He remembered when Mike Myers phoned him up (before the movie was even released) and said, “We’ve got this thing which we think is great. Do you want to hear it?”
May said sure, and then Myers said, “Do you think Freddie would want to hear it?” At that time, Freddie Mercury was really sick, but still, May said, “Yeah, I’m sure he will.” Myers then gave May a videotape, which he then took to Mercury and played for him.
Turns out, Mercury loved it. He laughed and thought it was great, “this little video.” But the funny thing was, according to May, that they always regarded the song as “tongue in cheek.” May then admitted that when “Bohemian Rhapsody” would come on the radio, they themselves would all be headbanging when it got to the heavy part.
As a group, they would all bop along to the same bit. As May put it, it was very close to our sense of humor. You can assume that this was like music to Mike Myers’ ears. “I got a letter from Brian May saying how much he loved, it and how much the band loved it,” Myers said.
Brian May even sent Myers a signed guitar. “I’m overwhelmed by it… because I love that band so much.” Mercury had been sick around the time they were filming, and before it was even released, he passed away. Adam Lambert, the singer who came to collaborate with Queen, revealed how he found out about Queen because of ”Wayne’s World.”.
Lambert went to see the movie with his father and brother when he was 10. “That scene is genius,” he commented. “I didn’t know Queen’s music at that point, but it resonated with me because it was so theatrical and silly.” He said to his father, “Who is that?” He said, “That’s Queen.”
When they got home, he pulled out an album and played some Queen. Lambert thought, “Wow, these guys sound like the stuff that I like to listen to.” As May recalled, it was a “huge thing in the States. You’ve got two events there – “Wayne’s World” and Freddie dying, which, looking back on it, is the oddest thing, and it did become a sort of rebirth for us in the States.”
Lambert admits how it was such a “strange roundabout way” to discover Queen. Doing their world tour together (they’re known as Queen + Adam Lambert), Queen got a kick out of it. If you’re curious, Q+AL or QAL (as they’re sometimes referred to) is a collaboration between Brian May, Roger Taylor, and vocalist Adam Lambert. John Deacon declined to participate in the project, as he had already retired.
The movie scene was so iconic that it seems as though so many movies have paid homage to it. Sullivan said how, while they felt it was perfect and all, they never anticipated that it would turn into this cultural icon. No one really thought it was going to happen.
According to Spheeris, the scene is the “epitome of youthful exuberance.” She thinks that people that age love to feel that way, and then there are those people that are older who love to remember how it felt. And to go even further, she says there are also the younger people who WANT to feel that way. Essentially, it resonates with everyone. Hence, the cultural phenomenon that it became.
Myers admitted to thinking it was all so surreal. “I didn’t even know they were going to release the film. The reaction was so unbelievable. It’s just one of the most satisfying moments in my professional life.” And for anyone who saw the recent film ”Bohemian Rhapsody,” I’m sure you appreciated Myers’ minor, yet totally relevant, part in the film.
If you remember, he played the role of EMI executive Ray Foster, who flat out said, “No one is going to be headbanging in the car to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’” Don’t you just love those kinds of inside jokes that make true fans nod their head in appreciation? I sure do.
And now for some behind the scenes facts about ”Wayne’s World”…
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is just one – albeit a major one – of the many songs on the soundtrack. Wayne’s World’s soundtrack, which included classic rock songs like Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” hit the top of the Billboard 200 when it was released on February 18, 1992. And with Bho-Rap’s second coming, the 1975 classic reached No.2 on the Billboard chart. Spheeris even shot a whole new video for the song, incorporating footage from the movie.
In another memorable scene, Wayne tries to play “Stairway to Heaven,” only to have the salesman point to the sign that forbids customers from playing the classic. Well, in reality, Led Zeppelin really did deny rights to play their tune following its theatrical release. It could explain the possible confusion if you watched the movie on DVD or cable.
Director Penelope Spheeris has always been vocal about the creative differences she and Mike Myers had on the set during the first “Wayne’s World” movie. It was Myers’ big-screen debut. They’re civil to each other now, of course, but the set had its fair share of disputes, especially regarding the Bho-Rap scene.
She even blamed Myers for not being asked to direct the second movie. She publically stated how much she hated Myers for years, but once she saw ‘Austin Powers,’ she basically forgave him: “I forgive you, Mike… You can be moody, you can be a jerk, you can be things that others of us can’t be — because you are profoundly talented.”
As it turns out, Dana Carvey’s older brother, Brad, an electronic engineer, was the inspiration for the character of Garth. “We both eat red licorice, and we both like video, and we both play the drums,” Dana Carvey told “People Magazine” in 1994. Dana paid tribute to his brother when Garth wore a “Video Toaster” T-shirt in ”Wayne’s World 2.”
Just so you know, “Video Toaster” is a special effects system that Brad helped develop. In that scene, Garth launched into an impressive drum solo. And yup! That was really Carvey playing the drums. In addition to being hilarious, Carvey is also an accomplished drummer who wasn’t scared to prove it live in front of an audience in 1996 on his talk show, “The Dana Carvey Show.”
Celebrity guests were a staple of “Wayne’s World” on “Saturday Night Live,” with Madonna and Aerosmith as two of the most memorable of them. But Madonna’s appearance in a 1991 fantasy sequence caused anxiety for Myers, as it happened to be his first onscreen kiss. “I was so nervous,” Myers admitted when he spoke to “The Chicago Tribune” in 1991.
“She was really nice, actually. I was terrified. I had never kissed anybody on screen before, and she was really nice.” To have a first-ever onscreen kiss with Madonna is something most people in this world can’t claim. The skit aired on May 11, 1991, and ranked No.4 among the Top 50 Greatest SNL sketches of all time!
Ever since “Wayne’s World”’s SNL inception, rumors of a conflict between Myers and Carvey have made rounds in Hollywood. Anonymous “insiders” and a particular 2000 article in “Vanity Fair” claimed that Myers didn’t want to be upstaged by Carvey. Apparently, Carvey’s comedic profile was higher when the sketch first began. In 2008, both Carvey and producer Lorne Michaels disputed any bad blood in an “Entertainment Weekly” piece.
Carvey said the claims were “ridiculous,” and Michaels described them as “overstated.” But he did go on to say, “That isn’t to say they’re not both comedians and that occasionally there’s not some disagreement over who should be speaking what.” And really, at the end of the day, which costars go without an argument here and there?
“Wayne’s World” wasn’t just influential for its comedy and music, it also made a few careers. For one, it marked Chris Farley’s movie debut. Like Myers, the movie was a huge career move for SNL-er Chris Farley, who was the security guard at the Alice Cooper concert. He also showed in the second movie, but that time he played Milton, a friend of Wayne and Garth’s.
”Wayne’s World” also remade a career or two. It helped resurrect Rob Lowe’s acting career after a drop following a 1988 sex tape scandal. The 1992 comedy also helped reinvent him as a comedic actor – something he wasn’t used to. He went on to play alongside Myers in all three of the “Austin Powers” movies, too.
When it was released on February 14, 1992, ”Wayne’s World” was only the second SNL movie ever to be made. The first was 1980’s ”The Blues Brothers.” ”Wayne’s World,” however, continues to be the most financially successful SNL movie to date. It earned more than $183 million worldwide. And with that success, more SNL movies were made.
The box office success of ”Wayne’s World” led to eight more skits-turned-films over the next eight years, starting with “Wayne’s World 2” in 1993. That one proved to be a disappointment, though. 1993 saw “Coneheads,” 1994 saw “It’s Pat: The Movie,” 1995 had “Stuart Saves His Family,” ”A Night at the Roxbury” came in 1998, “Blues Brothers 2000” came out in 1998, “Superstar” in 1999, and ”The Ladies Man” in 2000. Then, in 2010, ”MacGruber” failed to earn back enough to cover its already modest $10 million budget.
Though the movie’s humor is very American, ”Wayne’s World” ended up going global. The film’s distributors took a chance when they decided to release the film internationally. It brought about a whole new set of challenges, though, particularly in translating the special catchphrases in a way that would make sense to audiences around the world.
For instance, in the UK, 200,000 mini mock-dictionaries were printed. In Germany, the editors of a teen magazine translated the movie into Deutsch slang. And in France, a group of young comedians created French equivalents of Wayne and Garth’s most popular expressions. Take this one, for example: “Megateuf!” was their translation for “Party on!”
Last fun fact of the day: In 1993, a video game of ”Wayne’s World” came out, which saw Wayne looking for Garth in Aurora, Illinois. Garth had been sucked into the “Zoltar the Gelatinous Cube” arcade game.