I grew up a giant Mike Myers fan. I saved up to buy the Wayne’s World book (there was one!), I camped out outside The Spy Who Shagged Me for a night before its release, and the “Head! Move! Now!” line from So I Married An Axe Murderer is still used in my apartment probably far more than it should be. And I’m not alone! A large percentage of this generation born in the 80’s grew up with Mike. But recently, watching him flounder on the bottom, hidden by terrible plot and ham-fisted concepts, is a strange and frankly hurtful thing to watch. But there’s still stock in Myers. It’d be a hard thing to poll, but I’m willing to bet that there’s a majority out there that want to see him succeed again.
Mike Myers’ disconnect with his audience didn’t start with The Love Guru. It became apparent during the 1998 film Studio 54, where Mike portrayed Steve Rubell, the owner of the titular club. It was not Mike’s finest hour. About a third of the way through the film, Mike turns to Ryan Phillipe’s character and says “Let me suck your cock,” as if he was asking for a light for a cigarette. Which isn’t a bad thing to ask, I guess, to someone that looks like Ryan Phillipe. Y’know, I probably would too with a few Bacardi Breezers in me. So it’s not the language, really. It’s just…
Hmm. Until this point in his career, Mike had made a name for playing bawdy but likable comic leads in Wayne’s World, So I Married An Axe Murderer, and two Austin Powers movies. Steve Rubell was a stretch for Mike and he knew it, and any actor worth his or her salt thinks the world of taking a part that makes you work for it. But seeing Austin Powers with a rolled-up $20 up his nose expounding on fellating Ryan Phillipe just seemed off, frankly. The jarring disconnect with the audience from a comedian who had so recently proven so synonymous with the connection to his audience showed that either Mike didn’t fully comprehend the character or that Mike was trying far too hard to throw us off. I’m going to vouch for the latter.
Mike was (and still is, but we’ll get to that later) a very talented comedian. He rose to prominence on SNL and was, to use the wrong analogy, the Will Ferrell of his day, quickly breaking from the pack to enjoy stardom in film. Wayne’s World catapulted his and Dana Carvey’s rock-nerd metahumor to worldwide stardom and it seemed he could do no wrong as the darker So I Married An Axe Murderer quickly achieved cult status upon its release in 1993, remaining quotable to this day (Woman! Woah, man!).
For the next four years Mike remained mum about his next project until he emerged in 1997 as Austin Powers – a spy movie satire painted with a heavy slapstick brush. The film caught on like wildfire and Mike enjoyed a mainstream success that few have had the chance of reveling in - the kind showered upon by both peers and critics alike. “Yeah Baby!” etc. were heard ad infinitum for ever and ever, amen, penetrating areas of the globe that most had thought immune to catchphrase phenomena. One story relayed to me in research was that of a trip to Mongolia in which an episode involving a broken Jeep in a remote town ends in a drunken trading of Austin Powers catchphrases.
Mike has an uncanny knack for finding these small moments of honesty in each of his characters which, through the strange Canadian X-factor he possesses, he manages to turn into immortal soundbites that work equally well on the playground as they do in the office as they do in the White House as they do in a mud and straw hut somewhere in outer Mongolia. “Not!” and “Yeah Baby!,” though simple as they may be, can still turn heads and raise a smile – remaining as cultural a landmark as “Where’s The Beef?” or “Just Do It.” They stand for modern American character humor in the 1990’s the way that the golden arches stand for McDonalds. Plain and simple: Mike Myers is a legend at whatever it is that he does. Likable, funny, and oddly contemplative, each character harkens back to one quizzical face that Mike does in nearly all of his movies. Hard to describe here. You’ll know it when you see it, as it’s in nearly every Myers movie: the confused everyman face followed by the look of “getting it.”
Oddly, this is nowhere to be found in his latter work. He remains visible on the screen but seemingly hidden behind so many bright and shiny objects that he becomes an extra in his own movies. In The Love Guru, it’s hard to ascertain that he even knows the camera is on at all; hidden behind a ridiculous beard and hair he looks more like Devendra Banhart’s father than anything else. Combined with the loud cameos from a who’s-who of the Upper B-List, Mike fades into his own production seemingly content with what comes across as overly conscious riffing. Imagine the stoner at the party who keeps saying “I’m so stoned!” and doing odd voices and creeping out guests who walk too close. Mike Myers – in the BEST moments of The Love Guru - comes across exactly like that.
And then there’s 2003’s The Cat In The Hat, possibly one of the single justly unloved and overwrought films of all fucking time. Mike Myers – behind so much make-up and CGI – scared children sleepless and parents sober as he bounced across the screen with all the joy and enthusiasm of an air raid. This, moreso than The Love Guru, was Mike’s The Day The Clown Cried, which was itself a 1972 as-yet-unreleased Jerry Lewis vehicle portraying – you guessed it! – a clown at a Nazi concentration camp in which during the final scene he leads a gang of children, Pied Piper style, into the gas chambers. Following The Cat In The Hat, Mike became near untouchable in Hollywood.
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In 1991, at the height of Mike’s success on SNL, Mike’s father passed away from complications with Alzheimer’s disease. In interviews Mike has often brought up his father’s influence on his comedic timing, citing his father’s love of Monty Python and Peter Sellers as a big influence, often waking up the young Mike to watch Monty Python with him. Python aside, it’s Peter Sellers that perhaps plays more of an influence in Myers’ career trajectory. Sellers himself was no stranger to the sucking sound of the Hollywood machine – often the fodder of many tabloid stories from that era about being unworkable with and cantankerous (interestingly enough, echoing the reports surrounding many of Mike’s films). It’s hard to imagine that the year before Wayne’s World literally catapulted him into worldwide stardom that his biggest influence would pass away. What buttons this pressed in Mike’s psyche perhaps no one will ever know, but a good case could be made that this affected his notion of success and never allowed him to feel comfortable with it.
Sellers too was a master at character comedy, able to dive into a character and be aware of what makes it funny for the audience while never revealing outright what makes the character tick – the sign of a true actor, really – one that cares deeply about the craftsmanship that goes into indelible characters. Sellers would often give whole interviews in character and was (perhaps incongruously) shy in his private life, keeping the press at arms length while allowing them to witness his masterful comedic craft for what it was. Meyers often treats the press in the same way.
In one televised BBC interview in 1974, Peter Sellers enters the studio in full Gestapo gear portraying the Kenneth Mars character he played in The Producers. After a minute or so into the interview, he suddenly drops the character and speaks as himself candidly and openly for perhaps the first time in a talk show setting. It has been cited as one of the most revealing moments of Sellers’ career: an astonishing moment for a man so far back in his own magical wardrobe to suddenly reveal himself for who he was. Three years later, Sellers gave the performance of his life in the film Being There – and I swear to God if you haven’t seen this movie yet you need to or else I will come to your house and sit on your couch and have very stern words with you until you watch it – and it remains the standout performance of Sellers’ career, a beautiful and nuanced capture of humanity writ large in a tale of a bumbling gardener. Seriously. Go Netflix that movie now. You need to watch it. I’m not just saying that because I’m writing a damn article. I’m saying that they should hand this movie out to every man, woman, and child this country.
What’s striking about this is that in the early 70’s Sellers had been labeled as box office poison for – yes – some unwatchable movies and a penchant for being dramatic on the set. Does that sound familiar? Myers is currently suffering from the same affliction, shining briefly in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds in an almost winking-to-the-camera-’hey!-remember-me?’ portrayal of a British general. And while however fleeting that scene was for Myers, he made it work, and it got people talking about a possible comeback.
And yet Myers’ roster of upcoming films offers little hope of a possible Being There moment – something that he so desperately needs to clinch back his title as the everyman’s comedian. Another Austin Powers movie looming on the horizon can only mean one real thing to his fans that have held on this long: that he’s truly given up and has to rehash old material. The disconnect from his audience that he showed in 54 rings true here as we see a Marvin The Martian CGI boredom-fest for release in 2011 along with a Keith Moon biopic that has been kicking around for years.
What Mike needs right now is his Being There, his magnum opus, his proof to the world that his everyman brand of humor is indeed still valid if not more valid than it has ever been in such a divided country. A country where one half of the country sees Larry The Cable Guy as a prophet and the other half can’t get over Scott Pilgrim tanking in it’s opening weekend. Mike Myers really could be that guy if we let him be. Deep down, Mike is a true showman. But first, he needs to trust himself again, and perhaps ease back a whole lot on the show and show us more of the man. He needs to then trust that the audience will let him back into their hearts again. Because if there’s anything America loves more, it’s a comeback story, and Mike is most definitely due for a comeback.
Sellers died one year after Being There opened, nearly garnering him an Oscar but certainly cementing him as a true legend in his field despite a somewhat flawed output. Let’s hope validation for Mike comes sooner rather than later, as it would be a shame to remember this once unstoppable force for Shrek 5: The Shrekening or whatever some marketing guy in a corner office in Burbank comes up with next. Myers’ needs a hit now more than ever. It could happen, and it needs to. With a little help, he just might get there.