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The Evolution of Wayne’s World’s Wayne Campbell, Years Before SNL

Wayne Campbell hosts "Wayne's Power Minute"
Wayne Campbell hosts “Wayne’s Power Minute” on the Canadian series It’s Only Rock and Roll in 1988.

Still from YouTube

Years before he became the host of a public-access television show in Aurora, Illinois, Wayne Campbell made regular appearances on Canadian television. Last week Splitsider and Second City shared for the first time a video of a young Mike Myers playing Wayne Campbell in one of the comedy troupe’s 1986 shows, but Campbell was already appearing on Canadian television during that same period. Some digging through YouTube reveals that videos of some of these appearances have been online for years, but most of them have only a few thousand views.

Watching them all together reveals the evolution of not only the character but many of the key ideas for the 1992 Wayne’s World movie, one of the few successful SNL movies and the one that inspired a whole wave of SNL films in the ’90s.

“Wayne & Nancy” on Second City, 1986

The Second City video shows Campbell in his earliest incarnation, in a sketch presumably inspired by the Sid Vicious movie Sid & Nancy, which came out the same year. Though the character didn’t appear on SNL until 1989, many of his traits are already there: his lackadaisical attitude, his fondness for the words excellent and alright, and his tendency to erupt into spontaneous air-guitar solos. Some of the gags that later appeared on SNL and in the Wayne’s World movie appear here in earlier forms, too. Wayne, it turns out, likes to charm his girl Nancy (Deborah Theaker) by singing her a song: the 1975 Gary Wright single “Dream Weaver.” At another point, he splashes himself with fake tears while giving an emotional speech to try to win her back.

As “Chris’ Cousin” Wayne on MuchMusic in 1986

Wayne’s first regular TV appearances occurred in 1986 on the Canadian music channel MuchMusic. On MuchMusic, Campbell was known as the cousin of video jockey Christopher Ward. In these guest appearances (a compilation of which begins about a minute into the video above), Wayne would discuss his band “Bloodjun,” complain about his girl Nancy, and just generally disrupt Chris’ show with his own sheer eagerness to spend as much time as possible on television. (He also manifests a nascent enthusiasm for flashy TV effects: Whereas he would later freak out over the power of the extreme close-up, here he messes around with the technical director’s editing effects.) As on Second City, his outfit hasn’t evolved into its final form yet: He wears his signature black T-shirt and jeans, but under a flannel shirt and a goofy hat.

The Wayne character also used to be more Canadian. In these early appearances, he sports a noticeable Canadian accent, punctuating many of his sentences with “eh?”, and speaks frequently about his love of “road hockey,” something that would stay with Campbell even after he moved to Aurora.

Hosting “Wayne’s Power Minute” on CBC’s It’s Only Rock and Roll (1987–1988)

On this little-remembered variety show, which aired for only one season, Wayne Campbell regularly appeared to host his segment “Wayne’s Power Minute,” during which he would hold forth on subjects like the unconventional spellings used by heavy-metal band names and who and what qualifies as “metal.” For example, on William Shakespeare: “OK, Shakespeare’s tapped the collective unconscious. There’s no two ways about it. But let’s face it: The man can’t wail.”

By this time, he’d more or less finalized his uniform, too, dropping the flannel shirt (only for Dana Carvey to pick it up later, as Garth) and swapping out the horned hat for a simpler black one. He’d also developed many more of his signature catchphrases, such as “Pshaw, right!”, “Way!”, and various puns on the word babe. Not that the character was finished: He also had a strange tendency to say bogus constantly (“That’s three bogi in one interview,” the interviewer responds in one episode), which is something he mostly abandoned by the time of the movie, perhaps because the term became more firmly associated with Wayne and Garth’s rivals, Bill and Ted.

There are about a half-dozen installments of “Wayne’s Power Minute” online, but only the ones below are embeddable. In this 1987 episode, Wayne expounds upon one of his favorite subjects: partying—weighing in on the word’s etymology, plus other types of parties, “like the communist party” or “the conservative party.”

In this 1988 episode, Wayne discusses his love of air guitar before wondering why there aren’t other “air instruments.”

Of course, Wayne loves real guitars, too, and in this special holiday installment of “Wayne’s Power Minute,” he revealed his special fondness for Fender Stratocasters.

Only about a year elapsed between Wayne’s appearances on It’s Only Rock and Roll and his debut appearance on SNL, but by that point Myers had been developing the character for years. When people wonder why so much time has passed since Myers has created a character as popular as Wayne Campbell or Austin Powers (a character with roots in Myers’ upbringing at the hands of his Liverpudlian parents and his performances with the parody rock band Ming Tea), it’s worth remembering that those characters, too, were years in the making.