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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Mike Myers - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
Outrageous, isn't it, that despite occasional efforts by the likes of the Comic Strip team, it was a foreigner who made a box-office smash of the advanced and relentless crudity of the British sense of humour? As Austin Powers, Saturday Night Live comedian Mike Myers, with his legendary catch-phrases "Oh, beeeHAVE!" and "YEAH, baby!", his crushed velvet suits, hot-babe girlfriends and naughty, naughty knob-gags, has become one of the most recognisable entertainers on the planet. How can this be, wonder the Brits, when Americans have no sense of irony or high-minded silliness?
One could argue that Myers' success proves once and for all that Americans do have a mighty appreciation of irony. Indeed, considering the likes of Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks and Steven Wright, one might add that they often top the Brits in that quarter. Inspired silliness can be their forte, too. Just think of Emo Phillips or the godlike Pee-Wee Herman. But eventually, in the case of Myers, it's a non-argument. Because he's British. Well, kind of...
Mike Myers was born on the 25th of May, 1963, in the Scarborough district of Toronto, known to the snobbier townsfolk as Scarberia - a cultural wasteland. His father, Eric, was formerly a cook in the British Army, while his mother, Alice, known as Bunny and formerly in the RAF, was an aspiring actress who'd attended London's Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Both hailing from Liverpool, they married in 1955 and emigrated to Canada the next year, producing three sons - Paul (later in Toronto band The Gravelberrys), Peter and finally Mike, all of them holding British passports. Learning the English language from Eric and Bunny, Mike spoke with a Scouse accent until the age of 6.
Once in Canada, Bunny would give up on the acting to raise her sons and work as a data processor. Eric, meanwhile, would sell the Encyclopaedia Britannica - Mike still wears the ring he received for outstanding service. Throughout his early years, Mike would be immersed in British culture. With his dad, he'd watch Bond movies, The Saint and The Avengers. The folks from back home would send over Beatles boots, clothes and even albums, making Mike the only kid in Toronto to wear an olive-green Nehru jacket and support Liverpool FC.
And there was comedy, too. Eric prized humour above most things and introduced young Mike to the Goons, to Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau, to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and to Monty Python. When Mike had friends over to play table-hockey in the basement, Eric would actually refuse entry to any child he considered to not be funny. Indeed, as he grew older, Mike began to rely on Eric as a barometer for his own humour. If dad laughed, it was good. He claims that, despite trying for years, he didn't make "the house" laugh till he was 11. When he finally managed it, it was one of the biggest moments of his life.
A cute kid, Mike was a natural for TV, and began work when aged 8, appearing in many adverts, including spots for Pepsi and Kit-Kat (that most British of chocolate bars). When he was 9, he appeared in an ad for British Columbia Hydro. Playing his mother was Gilda Radner, star of Saturday Night Live, soon to be one of America's most popular shows, and one of Eric's favourites. Mike had a great time on the shoot, and wept when it ended, causing his brothers to refer to him as Sucky Baby from then on. Undeterred, Mike swore that one day he'd appear with Radner on SNL. He would make the show, but sadly in the same year that Radner died of cancer.
Attending Stephen Leacock High School, Mike was a fair student, but always interested in entertainment. He took dance lessons and built a series of comic characters, some of which he'd use in later years. At parties, he'd try to make girls laugh by playing one fellow who'd bring him monumental success - Wayne Campbell. He graduated in 1982 and, though he'd applied for a place at Toronto's York University, won a place with the Second City comedy troupe, which he seized upon. The good news had arrived on the day of his final High School exam.
Second City was one of North America's most prestigious comedy groups. It had been formed back in the early Fifties, when a gang of Chicago students, including Mike Nichols and Elaine May, had joined up with a group of townies, including Barbara Harris, Ed Asner and Byrne and Joyce Piven (friends of John and Joan's Cusack family), to form the Playwrights Theatre Club. This went through several incarnations till, in 1959, it settled as Second City - its name a joke concerning Chicago's supposed inferiority to New York. In 1973, a new branch was opened in Toronto, featuring both Dan Aykroyd and Mike's mate Gilda Radner but, without a liquor licence, closed quickly. It re-opened, with a licence and based in an old fire station, in early 1974, this time featuring Radner, John Candy, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. By 1976, the team were writing for TV, producing specials and their own show, called SCTV, which satirised TV itself, and ran for 7 years. Onboard now was Rick Moranis and, soon after, Martin Short.
With branches in Chicago, Toronto and Detroit, Second City became the nation's premier breeding-ground for comic talent. Besides those mentioned above, Alan Arkin was an alumnus, as were Joan Rivers, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chris Farley and the glorious George Wendt. And it didn't simply give people a chance to perform, it was a serious training centre, providing lessons and lectures in many forms of entertainment, specialising in the encouragement of creative freedom, spontaneity and improvisation being of prime importance.
So, this hot-bed of ingenuity was where Mike Myers received his first formal training, and the screaming success of his predecessors and peers must have given him high hopes for the future. He'd appear on Toronto's Citytv and on the alternative video show City Limits, trying out many characters, including one Wayne Campbell. But Second City was not an immediate springboard for him because, drawn by the lure of the Old Country, in the early Eighties he returned to dear old Blighty.
Here he teamed up with one Neil Mullarkey (later to partner Nick Hancock, now of They Think It's All Over fame) as - yes, you've guessed it - Mullarkey and Myers. Mullarkey, an ex-president of the Cambridge Footlights club would perform sketches with Myers based on their shared love of cartoons, B-movies and bad TV. They played around the burgeoning London pub circuit, particularly at the George IV in Chiswick, where they often shared the bill with the young Hugh Grant, then plying his trade in the Jockeys Of Norfolk review.
As their fame increased, Mullarkey and Myers toured the UK, a jaunt that ended in a sold-out season at the Edinburgh Festival. Together they'd also form The Comedy Store Players, an improv team based at Leicester Square's Comedy Store in which they'd be joined by a young Paul Merton and US comedian Kit Hollerbach. Myers would teach his friends some improv games he'd learned with Second City and they'd make the ideas their own, the group expanding and proving a ongoing success as well as inspiring the long-running TV show Who's Line Is It Anyway? Mike would not share in this success. Yearning for home and family he'd return to Toronto. Later, Mullarkey would briefly join him to revive their two-man show in Canada. Later still, he'd show up in Myers' Austin Powers debut, as the man who freaks Austin out with his penis enlarger (he'd also add his thoughts to Mike's So I Married An Axe Murderer, and pop up in Goldmember).
Before Mike left England, though, there were a couple of other performances worthy of note. Reliving his Beatles-packed past, he appeared as a Delivery Boy in Sandor Stern's John And Yoko: A Love Story, which starred arch-Scouser Mark McGann. And also, quite unbelievably when you think about it now, there was The Wide Awake Club. This was a kids' show hosted by Tommy Boyd, Michaela Strachan and the notorious Timmy Mallett, a loud man with garish shirts and huge spectacles who'd batter small children with an enormous hammer (Mallett's Mallet) if they didn't answer his questions quick enough. Yes, for a while back there, Mike Myers was Timmy Mallett's underling. Boggles the bonce, doesn't it?
Unsurprisingly, under the circumstances, Myers had to get the hell out of Dodge and, by 1986, he was a paid-up member of Second City in Toronto, building up his cast of characters, many of whom were British or European. After two years, he moved on to the Chicago branch, and it was here that he met his wife-to-be, the actress and screenwriter Robin Ruzan. Well, he actually met her at a Blackhawks hockey game (Myers is a major hockey fan, naming many of his movies' characters after hockey players), when she was hit by a puck and he moved in to help.
This was excellent timing, because Mike's personal life was not in the best of shapes. His father, Eric, was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and, much to Mike's dismay, was fading fast. No longer really knowing who he was, Eric would not comprehend what happened next - his son's breakthrough - a terrible shame as he'd have been the one who appreciated it most.
What happened was this. Appearing at Second City Toronto's 15th Anniversary gig in 1988, Mike's efforts were witnessed by guest Martin Short. He alerted Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels and, suddenly, Mike Myers was starring on one of America's most popular shows (Ben Stiller would also join the cast in 1989).
The next six years were extremely fruitful for Mike. Many of his characters became wildly popular. With SNL-vet Dana Carvey as his trusty buddy Garth, he played Wayne Campbell, gonzoid purveyor of not-so-popular public access entertainment, and coiner of natty phrases like "babeacilious!" (as said, Wayne was an old character, having made his TV debut on Toronto's City Limits show back in the early Eighties). Then there was Coffee Talk host Linda Richman, a Barbra Streisand obsessive Myers based on his own mother (he actually once performed the act at a Streisand show). There was his Scottish store owner, the store being All Things Scottish, with his angry bark "If it's not Scots, it's crap!" And then there was Dieter, pretentious German chat-show host and film critic, with his monkey sidekick and out-there catch-phrases like "Your conversation has become tiresome" and the infamous "Touch my monkey!"
Comedian Dana Andersen, who toured with Mike back in his Second City days, would be quoted in Vanity Fair as saying that he helped develop the Dieter character, way back when, even coming up with the "Touch my monkey" line. Myers, it was said, had never given him due credit. To clear the air, Myers, at the peak of his fame, would appear in Andersen's live improvised soap opera, Die Nasty, in Toronto. The pair's friendship would be rekindled. There'd also be further dispute when Carvey claimed to have created Dr Evil, from Myers' Austin Powers, and to have based him on Lorne Michaels. Myers denied it out-of-hand.
Now, a couple of years into his SNL stint, Myers was to experience a series of shocks to the system. First, he was hired to write and star in Wayne's World, a full-length feature based on his Wayne Campbell. Here, he and Garth's public access TV show is snapped up by a local station and fame beckons. Meanwhile, Wayne falls for rock chick Tia Carrere and must fight off love rival Rob Lowe, a smarmy ad guy who's also exploiting Wayne's show. "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl" screamed the posters, and they did, in their millions. Wayne and Garth's in-car reaction to Bohemian Rhapsody became legend, as did their meeting with Alice Cooper ("We're not worthy!"). The movie was a surprise monster, the 6th biggest hit in the States in 1992.
Sadly, Eric wasn't there to see it. Alzheimer's had ensured he hadn't recognised Mike on SNL. As his problems progressed, he'd poured himself a scalding bath and spent a year in pain at a Toronto burns clinic. Now, in 1991, a few days before the first Wayne's World preview, he died (Mike would name his production company Eric's Boy in his memory). Mike was hurt badly, saying that it was his dad who had taught him to have no inhibitions, who had "allowed me to be the architect of my own embarrassment". Mike's pain was worsened later, when one of his brothers was killed in a car crash.
But there was no time to grieve. 1993 saw Myers married to Robin Ruzan, and interview Madonna for Interview magazine. It also saw him write and star in So I Married An Axe Murderer. Here, in dual roles, he played both an outspoken (and madly Scottish) father constantly raging on about government conspiracies and KFC, and his son, a poet terrified of commitment who falls for sexy butcher Nancy Travis, then comes to suspect she's a serial killer. The same year saw Wayne's World 2, where the dynamic duo (plus the ghost of Jim Morrison) must organise the Waynestock festival, Wayne fights Christopher Walken for Carrere's attention, and Garth picks up Kim Basinger.
What should have been a period of unadulterated joy was far from it. The deaths in the family were tough to bear. SNL and the movies had taxed him, too, despite winning an Emmy nomination for his SNL work. Depressed and suffering writer's block, he took a year and a half off, going into seclusion with Robin, his model soldiers and his three dogs (each named after hockey players).
It was now that Myers greatest creation came to him. Thinking about his dad, he recalled watching the Pink Panther with him, and Matt Helm movies, and James Bond. Suddenly, a new character popped into his head. Groovy fashion photographer by day, super-spy by night, it was Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, cryo-frozen in the Sixties, then thawed out in the Nineties to combat the threat of his old adversary, Dr Evil. A film formed in his head and he got it made. He drew on all his past experiences. There were big dance numbers, millions of smutty innuendoes, catchy catch-phrases, hot babes, and filmic references to Bond, and The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, as well as Our Man Flint and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.
Austin Powers 1, written to celebrate his father's life, was not a big hit at the box-office. But the video went through the roof. Now it was a franchise. Introducing new characters, like Dr Evil's tiny clone Mini-Me (inspired by Marlon Brando and his weeny lookalike in The Island Of Dr Moreau), the repulsive Scottish blubber-gut, Fat Bastard (that's SO British), and ever-hotter babes like Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) and Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyonce Knowles), Myers would stretch Austin's adventures over three episodes. Each of them were massive hits, as reflected by Myers' pay. He took $3 million for Powers 1, $7 million for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and $25 million for Goldmember - or 21% of the gross, whichever turned out to be bigger.
Austin Powers would take up much of Myers' time as we entered the new millennium. But there were some other projects worth noting. There was his first "straight" role, in 54, when he played Steve Rubell, the extravagant, coke-fuelled boss of Studio 54, the decadent New York nightclub of the Seventies. Then there was Pete's Meteor, where a working-class Dublin kid discovers a meteor in the garden then gets mucked about by a university geologist. Mike played a friend of the kid's sister, who's blamed by the family when the girl dies. Once more, his accent was good, and he fitted in well next to the Irish likes of Dervla Kirwan and Brenda Fricker, who'd earlier played his mother in So I Married An Axe Murderer. It was a charming movie, foolishly overlooked by most.
After this came The Thin Pink Line, a Best In Show-style mockumentary featuring a closeted gay and a host of quirky types, played by Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, and Illeanna Douglas, amongst others. Then there was a brief role alongside Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofolo in the twisting, dark comedy Nobody Knows Anything (this would not be released till 2003). And then another in Mystery, Alaska, where sheriff Russell Crowe and judge Burt Reynolds face comic conflict when a small town's hockey team must get in shape to face the New York Rangers. Directing was Austin Powers helmsman Jay Roach.
But into every megastar's life a lot of rain must fall. Following the success of Wayne's World, Myers struck a deal with Universal and Imagine Entertainment (headed by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer) to make a movie to be called Sprockets and based around Dieter. Myers wrote a script, pre-production began, but Mike didn't like his script and pulled out. In 2000, Universal sued him for $3.8 million, with Imagine lodging a suit for $30 million in lost profits, basing their figure on sums made by Austin Powers. Myers hit back with a $20 million suit, alleging they'd violated his privacy, defamed him and set a writ-server on him who'd stalked him and Robin "in a threatening manner down dark, winding and unlit streets". He even hired private detective Anthony Pelicano to help him out, and said he was justified in walking away, rather than "cheating moviegoers with an unacceptable script". After all, he was also walking away from a $20 million paycheck.
Eventually, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks stepped in to help settle the dispute. Dieter would be forgotten, but Mike would star in another movie for Universal and Imagine, with Dreamworks taking a cut, too. Such a collaboration would take place in 2003, when Mike starred as Dr Seuss's Cat In The Hat.
There would be yet more trouble in 2002, upon the release of Goldmember. MGM and Danjaq (who control the James Bond licence) had attempted to have the title of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me changed on the grounds that it was trading on the Bond franchise without permission. They'd failed that time, but succeeded when they said the same of Goldmember (Fat Bastard dipped in gold? That couldn't be right). 11,000 trailers for the movie and many thousands of posters were recalled but, by April, the matter was sorted out. Myers and New Line could use Goldmember as a title, but MGM must approve any further parodying of Bond titles. And New Line, who usually only showed their own trailers before their films, had to trail the next Bond flick, Die Another Day, before Goldmember AND The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring.
New Line wouldn't have cared much. The Spy Who Shagged Me had made $310 million worldwide, by far their biggest hit, so Goldmember would surely be golden indeed. Plus, they'd already registered such titles as Live And Let Shag, Never Say Member Again, You Only Shag Thrice and Licence To Shag. But MGM would be watching closely, particularly as Myers had already annoyed them by pulling out of their Inspector Clouseau remake.
Before The Cat In The Hat would come A View From The Top, where Gwyneth Paltrow played a small-town girl who wants to be a flight attendant and has to attend a training boot camp headed by Mike's John Whitney, a fellow insanely bitter that his defective eye means that he cannot take to the skies himself. He played the role brilliantly, like all great clowns managing to mix slapstick and poignancy. Trouble was, the film had to be delayed following the September 11th attacks and one of Mike's funniest scenes, where he showed his students how to behave should a terrorist make it onboard, was cut altogether. When the movie was finally released, two years after its completion, it (ahem) took a nosedive.
But The Cat In The Hat would make up for any bad feeling. The premise was simple. Mother of two Kelly Preston is holding a reception and desperately needs it to be a success. With her boss being a major cleanliness freak, she needs the house to be spotless. Enter Myers, as Dr Seuss's most anarchic creation, and cue destruction of the most hilarious order. Some complained that the movie, making the Cat loveable, maxing the SFX and adding a few risque moments, was not entirely true to the books. But, like The Grinch before it, it was overflowing with chaotic energy and, also like The Grinch, was a massive hit. Another would come with Shrek 2, Mike reprising the role he played in the enormously successful 2001 outing. There, stepping in when his former SNL cohort Chris Farley died, he provided the voice of the reclusive ogre on a quest to save the beautiful princess from a midget tyrant, all the while "aided" by Eddie Murphy's loudmouthed donkey. In Shrek's final love scene, Mike had read opposite his wife, Robin, rather than princess Cameron Diaz. Sadly, Myers' relationship with Robin was actually coming to an end, their impending divorce being announced in December, 2005.
In between The Cat In The Hat and Shrek 2 would come the indie Nobody Knows Anything, a Hollywood satire with a title taken from William Goldman. Here aspiring moviemaker Alanna Ubach would encounter the crazier denizens of Tinseltown - lunatic execs, megalomaniac producers, gangster financiers - with cameos provided by the likes of Myers, Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo. It would be afar cry from Myers' follow-up to Shrek 2 - Shrek The Third.
Myers, it seemed, was in no rush to add to his CV. Indeed, he now said he was working to a three year cycle. One year living a normal life and writing, one year choosing and refining a project, one year filming and publicizing. Several Myers vehicles were mooted - a remake of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, a biopic of Keith Moon, more Austin Powers. His fans were left to wait and wonder.
Now at the very top of the comedy tree, Mike Myers can afford to bide his time and perfect his projects. It takes hard work and real imagination to stay so high so long. One thing's for sure; he'll surely invent new ways to embarrass himself and entertain us. Eric would certainly have demanded it.