waynes world

The Scarborough roots of Wayne's World

After a long-ish period of dormancy, it seems Scarborough native Mike Myers is everywhere these days. He published a book last year – Canada – which chronicles his early years growing up in Scarborough, and the affect that offbeat Canadian culture has played in all of his work.

Perhaps even more (in)famously, President Trump referenced his most popular character Wayne Campbell’s “Not!” joke in a tweet recently.

Wayne’s World turns 25 this month and aside from being appropriated by Trump, is being celebrated roundly for holding up and reminding us of a time when Saturday Night Live was actually funny and not a one-note partisan chainsaw.

For many, Wayne’s World the movie (or the SNL sketch) was their first introduction to the Wayne character, and even after all these years it comes as a surprise that Myers had been honing Wayne for a decade previous on local Toronto television. 

Myers created the Wayne character as a “bit” to do at parties to impress girls. “Wayne” was a stereotypical Canadian guy, loved hockey and beer, and was cut from the same cloth as classic Canadiana hosers like Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (SCTV and Strange Brew). 

He took the character with him when he performed at Second City, and met fellow stand-up Christopher Ward, who was being groomed by Citytv head honcho Moses Znaimer to serve as the station's very first Video Jockey in a late-night series entitled CityLimits (1983), which was a test pilot for the in-development MuchMusic network.

Recalling the hilarious antics of Myers, Ward invited him to come on the show occasionally as Wayne, his rowdy cousin from Scarborough.

Myers remembers in Canada that one of his highest praises was hearing that Citytv received numerous complaints about letting Scarborough ruffians on the Canadian airwaves.

Ward went on to be a member of the Ming Tea band in the Austin Powers films, and they remain close friends today (Myers also appeared as Wayne in the music video for Ward’s song “Boys and Girls”).

A few years later in 1987, Myers again turned up as Wayne in CBC’s late-night music series It’s Only Rock’N’Roll, hosting “Wayne’s Power Minute.”

It was a play on MuchMusic’s then popular metal show “The Power Hour” and took place in the back of a panel van dubbed “The Shaggin’ Wagon,” which was named after the infamous caravan parked behind CFTO studios in Scarborough owned by children’s entertainer Uncle Bobby).

By this point, Myers had a killer demo reel and along with his fine work at Second City, was scooped up by Lorne Michaels for Saturday Night Live in 1989, where Wayne’s World debuted as a skit that added the character of Garth Algar (played by Dana Carvey).

The conceit of the skit was that Wayne and Garth were hosts of a public access series entitled “Wayne’s World”, and was heavily indebted to the kinds of series which Myers would have seen airing on Scarborough Cable 10 back in the day.

Long before the internet made such programming largely irrelevant, local community access channels (usually found broadcasting at 10 on the dial) aired low-budget filler designed to educate and inform viewers between bouts of scrolling TV listings.

They were often hosted and produced by amateur volunteers and beset with technical difficulties. There was a certain freedom which made for compelling viewing, and one of the classics to emerge from Scarborough Cable 10 was “Hockey Night in Scarborough”, pretty much as good as it sounds.

Also in the late 1980s, YTV aired a late night series entitled Rec Room, hosted by two teens (Jan and Steve) broadcasting and interviewing guests out of their wood panelled basement. While the timing is close, could Myers have based some elements of the Wayne’s World sketch on this low-budget production?

As the sketch grew in popularity, it became obvious that the concept was strong enough to carry a feature film, and Myers set about writing a script. While set in a fictional suburb of Chicago called “Aurora,” it is patently meant to be Scarborough.

The film’s biggest moment – when Wayne, Garth and their posse sing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” while driving in a powder blue AMC Pacer – is no doubt based on the popular 70s/80s culture of driving up and down Yonge street while blasting tunes.

Wayne and Garth spend a lot of time at Stan Mikita’s Donuts (an obvious homage to Tim Horton), while Police officer Koharski is named after an incident which occurred on Hockey Night in Canada when New Jersey Devil’s coach Jim Schoenfeld yelled at referee Don Koharski “Have another donut you fat pig!”

Wayne meets love interest Cassandra at “the Gasworks” (named after the popular Toronto music venue). Myer’s love of campy late night TV is evident in the opening scenes when the villainous Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) is channel surfing and comes across ads for The Clapper and Chia Pet.

Wayne’s World was a huge hit at the box office, spawning a sequel and ubiquitous catchphrases which have thrived ever since, guaranteeing it forever a place in the pantheon of classic 1990s filmdom.

Those 25 years since its initial release in theatres have flown by and while many things might have changed, Wayne’s World remains as much a product of Scarborough and Toronto as Myers himself.

Ed Conroy's Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.

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