Saturday Night’s Children: Mike Myers (1989-1995)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 37 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

Whether you know him best for Party on, Garth, Yeahhh baby!, or It’s like buttah, Mike Myers remains one of SNL’s most talented creators of original characters as well as one of its biggest smash-hit successes. While his film career has slowed in recent years (or in the case of The Love Guru and The Cat in the Hat, stopped cold), on SNL he rocked it with a cocky British theater buff, avant-garde German talk show host, emotional New York yenta, incoherent Ron Wood, Japanese game show host, English lad who likes to do drawrings, and a spastic kid tethered to the monkey bars.

Myers was a child actor in Toronto since age 8 and once appeared in a British Columbia Hydro commercial in which future SNL star Gilda Radner played his mother. After his high school graduation in 1982 and short stint with Second City’s Toronto touring company he moved to London, where he cofounded an improv troupe at The Comedy Store and often performed with English comic Neil Mullarkey. Their partnership led to live tours across the UK as well as roles on the British kids’ show Wide Awake Club and at the 1985 Edinburgh Festival.

In 1986, Myers returned to Second City Toronto and forged some of the characters who later showed up on SNL (including Wayne Campbell, who made his TV debut on Toronto’s Citytv in the early 1980s as well as a music video for the Canadian band Ward and a CBC summer series called It’s Only Rock & Roll). Myers moved again in 1988 to Chicago to perform at the original Second City and train at ImprovOlympic under the legendary Del Close. Thanks to a tip from Martin Short, he was soon discovered by Lorne Michaels and hired as a featured player halfway into SNL’s 14th season in 1989 alongside Ben Stiller, who left the show after just five episodes. For Myers, however, his enormously delivered characters and lovable charm were met with instant success, and he was bumped to repertory status the following season.

Aside from playing Wayne in the “Wayne’s World” sketches with Dana Carvey, Myers brought a total of 15 hit recurring characters to SNL including the farklempt Babs-obsessed “Coffee Talk” host Linda Richman, the über-stereotypical minimalist West German “Sprockets” host Dieter, the hypoglycemic/hyperactive/helmeted boy Phillip, hammy “Handsome Actor” Lank Thompson, meek bathtub BBC kids’ show host Simon (whose businessman father neglects him all day in their hotel room), Lothar of the Hill People, “All Things Scottish” shop owner Stuart Rankin (“If it’s not Scottish, it’s CRAP!”), and more. Myers’ years in the UK yielded a payoff of diverse and cartoonish accents, and he impersonated over 30 celebrities including Queen Elizabeth, Adolf Hitler, Joey Lawrence, Mick Jagger, and Judy Garland.

During his time on SNL, Myers also appeared in three films, first in the 1992 SNL vehicle Wayne’s World, which grossed $121.6 million in the US during its theatrical run and remains the show’s most critically and financially successful feature film of all time. With that came more motivation for Myers to pursue a career in leading film roles even after his next two movies (So I Married an Axe Murderer, Wayne’s World 2) bombed, so he left SNL just as he came – midseason, after the January 21, 1995 episode. For the next two years he devoted all his time to writing and producing the 1997 surprise hit Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, which spawned two sequels and features his Lorne Michaels impersonation a la Dr. Evil.

Luck in film has been hit-or-miss for Myers since the Austin Powers movies (The Spy Who Shagged Me in 1999 and Goldmember in 2002), from his list of more recent flops (The Love Guru and Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, which he agreed to star in after backing out of his Dieter film at the last minute) to animated blockbusters (Shrek and its three sequels) to more under-the-radar supporting roles (54, Mystery, Alaska, View from the Top). His cameo in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds as British General Ed Fenech showed signs of a wiser, non-Shrek, non-Seussian upturn, but from the looks of the forthcoming Austin Powers 4 and its subsequent Broadway show, Myers seems to enjoy falling back on anything that once made money, and who can blame him?

With more recent failures than hits to his name, perhaps Myers – who has had plenty of luck in his career path since age 8 – is still trying to break out of the recurring character film machine, or being what The AV Club’s Nathan Rabin described in 2009 as “a cinematic Peter Pan thumbing his nose at the compromises of adulthood.” Given that Myers had his first son, Spike, only two years ago, it’s possible he might finally put those thumbs down. Probably not until after Austin Powers 4 though.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

Saturday Night’s Children: Mike Myers (1989-1995)