Austin maestro

Brought up on a diet of Goons, Monty Python and Carry On films, Mike Myers was born to be Wayne. And Austin Powers - secret agent and all-round sex machine - is his way of saying thank you to his father for giving him the gift of comedy.

When Mike Myers came to England after two years with Canada's famous Second City comedy troupe (roughly the Canadian equivalent of Saturday Night Live), he landed a regular spot on a British TV show. If you're in your twenties, you may remember it with a grudging fondness. If you're older, then chances are the very mention of its title will bring back the memories of all those traumatic early mornings when your precious lie-ins were interrupted by the foghorn sound of the programme's theme music, your young ones singing tunelessly along: "Weeeeeee're WIDE AWAKE!" The best thing about The Wide Awake Club was that it had boundless energy. The worst was that it started around 7am and was presided over by Timmy Mallett and his enormous foam-rubber hammer.

I had considered being the first British journalist not to ask Mike Myers about his days sharing dressing-rooms and make-up boxes with the man who invented Chris Evans. But what the hell.

"Everyone I speak to in England wants me to dish the dirt on Timmy Mallett," Myers says, still slightly bemused. And though he cannot reveal whether Timmy took to snorting copious amounts of cocaine off the end of that famous mallet, Myers speaks very fondly of his time in England. It was a memory from Toronto, though - a memory of a sad, chain-smoking clown who used to sit on guard at the funhouse entrance - upon which he drew when he and Neil Mullarkey devised "The Sound Asleep Club", the section of the show which they presented together.

"We were these two guys in bath-robes who spent the whole time being irritated by kids. We introduced these very dull items - `How to make a glass of water' or `How to tie a knot' - with the subtext being `Yeah, yeah, kids, just keep the bloody noise down'."

Mike Myers has been responsible for many priceless comic characters, most of them aired on America's foremost comedy show, Saturday Night Live, where he worked at the start of this decade. There was Middle-Aged Man, who has the power of understanding mortgages. And Linda Richman, a fiftysomething Jewish woman from Queens born out of Myers' fascination with the way his mother-in-law pronounced the word "coffee" ("I thought: what is this thing c-a-u-p-h-e-y?").

Due to the frustratingly erratic import of SNL episodes, most readers will be largely unfamiliar with these creatures. The newest of them, Austin Powers, a photographer, fashion guru, secret agent and all-round sex machine, will be dictating the nation's catchphrases as soon as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery opens. But Myers' most popular character, the overgrown Toronto teenager Wayne Campbell from the Wayne's World movies, will surely set bells ringing even in the farthest corners of the globe's Amish communities.

Wayne was a fearless Messianic spokesman for a generation scarred by disillusionment and rendered punch-drunk by a society that could offer its youth only despair. Not!

Actually, he was everybody's best buddy. "It was very flattering and kind of weird the way everyone took to Wayne," Myers reflects. "He was basically a composite of all the kids I knew growing up in Toronto. I had written this sketch around him on SNL and handed it to a fellow writer, who said, `Hmm - wouldn't hand it in.' But I didn't have anything else that week. Gilda Radner used to say that SNL was a monster that ate your material insatiably. Come Tuesday night, you had to have two sketches. She also called it `an under-rehearsed Broadway opening once a week'. I thought of it as Das Boot on Fantastic Voyage. That particular week, it was Wayne or nothing. The sketch played well, we got a ton of mail. And next thing you know, George Bush is using our catchphrase, and this team of astronauts in space are going `This satellite's going to be a breeze to get back into the bay - not!' That got a big laugh at Houston space control."

Getting that big laugh has been important to Mike Myers for as long as he can remember. His father, a Liverpudlian who was so intensely proud of being English that he never became a Canadian citizen despite moving to Toronto before Mike was born, raised his three sons on a diet of The Goon Show, Monty Python's Flying Circus and the Carry On series. The first time he ever took Mike to see a film, it was a drive-in screening of The Party, starring Peter Sellers. Most of Mike's childhood memories revolve around the endless pursuit of laughter.

If somebody came to the Myers household and turned out to be too slow on the draw with a one-liner, that unfortunate soul was doomed to expulsion.

"Get him out of here," Mr Myers used to tell his sons. "He's not funny."

"But Dad," they would protest. "It's not a crime! It's not his fault!"

"Who cares? He's not funny." And that was that.

Growing up in a household where comedy was king, Mike Myers had been blessed with the closest thing to vocational training that a comic could hope for. Like geeks all over the world, he had spent his school days cracking gags as a defence mechanism.

"I had terrible acne, greasy hair, and I was five foot nothing," he remembers. "You have to make it work - somehow." Even now, he concedes that performing comedy takes him back to "being in kitchens at parties and making girls laugh".

Myers' transition from goofing around with his family to goofing around on TV and getting paid for it was swift. It was his last day of school. His final exam was at 9am. His audition to join Toronto's Second City team was at noon. At 3pm he was told that he was in. After two years with the team, he came to work in England, created "The Sound Asleep Club" - and then had his trip suddenly, shockingly curtailed by a telephone conversation with one of his brothers.

The message was: You might want to come back. Dad's not doing so good.

It was Alzheimer's. He died in 1991, without having had a chance to savour his son's accomplishments.

"My heart was broken after he died," Myers says quietly. "My dad was hilarious. He was really silly in the best sense. Here are two things he would say - `Everything's gonna be OK' and `Let's go have some fun'. I had a really close friendship with him. You know how in Vegas they pay you in chips and until you go to the window at the end of the night and exchange it for money, it doesn't really mean anything? Well, until I went to my parents' house on a Sunday to tell my dad what I'd done that week, it hadn't really happened."

After his father died, Myers knew things had to calm down for a while. "I wanted to let my dad's passing resonate fully." Having just finished a period where he had been filming constantly - his gentle comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer sandwiched between the two, more rambunctious Wayne's World films - he simply stopped working. And he maintains that it was the best decision he ever made.

"I'd spoken to Bill Murray and he advised me to do it. He took two years off and studied French at the Sorbonne. I thought, what's the equivalent for me? So I took hockey lessons, every Wednesday, 9 to 11, playing with firemen who were on disability insurance. They're the only people who have any time during the day. Them and out-of-work actors. I did that for a year. I read books. I came to Liverpool, found out that I was related to Wordsworth - I'm talking real documentation here - and went to my dad's old school. Smartest thing I've ever done.

"Then a year and a half ago, I'm driving back from hockey practice when the Burt Bacharach song `The Look of Love' comes on the radio. Suddenly I got the idea for Austin Powers. Right there in the car, I started talking like Austin - `Yeahhh baby, let's go in the back and shag! You're a fabulous bird, can I take yer photograph?' I wrote the script in three weeks and it got green-lit immediately. Awesome. The movie was a joy to make. The material spoke to my heart. And it's a perfect tribute to my father."

Can we expect to see Austin returning in all his groin-thrusting, grubby- toothed glory?

"Maybe. You know, if someone said my next 200 movies had to be Austin Powers movies, I would be very, very happy indeed"n

`Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery' is reviewed on page 8

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel