But it was the band’s appearance on the recurring “Wayne’s World” sketch that was without a doubt the highlight of the night, one where they not only served as comic fodder but also got to perform.
Celebrating its 15th season, SNL had made it through the lean years of the mid-’80s and was rebounding in a major way. Myers had brougth “Wayne’s World” to the show one year earlier, mere weeks after he had been introduced as a mid-season featured player. The Aerosmith episode aired was the night he was upgraded to repertory player).
Set in the basement of Wayne Campbell’s (Myers) parents, where he was joined by sidekick Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), the sketch was a show broadcast Friday night on the fictional Cable 10, a community access channel in Aurora, Ill. Guests on “Wayne’s World” had included hockey great Wayne Gretzky and actors Mary Tyler Moore and Bruce Willis. Having Aerosmith on was the perfect union for Wayne and Garth, two head-banging hard rock mega-fans.
Aerosmith had overcome a streak of drug addiction, members leaving and declining sales and concert attendance with 1987’s Permanent Vacation, and the group delivered even bigger with Pump. Released in September 1989, the LP made it to the Top 5 and was their highest charting effort of the decade on the strength of the hit singles “Love in an Elevator” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.” At the time of the SNL appearance, they were at peak second act and one of the hottest artists around.
That week, Tom Hanks was on his third go-round as host of Saturday Night Live when he was tapped to play the part of Barry, a roadie for Aerosmith and Garth’s cousin. He had convinced the band to do “Wayne’s World” to promote their upcoming gig at the fictional Aurora Civic Center. Clad in an Aero Force One t-shirt from the Pump tour, which Carvey also wore in dress rehearsals but went with a plain white t-shirt for the live show, Hanks’ deadpan humor nails it as an overly serious roadie.
Part of the deal was that Barry had to come on as a guest as well, and he’s interviewed about his duties for the group which entail making sure they have their gear on, cueing the guitars and bringing the band to the stage. It’s also his job to “start the mics” and tie frontman Steven Tyler’s scarves on the microphone. Most importantly though, he has to do soundcheck.
While Barry is being interviewed, Aerosmith are shown hanging out in Wayne’s kitchen via the “nook cam.” But when his mother shows up with a photo album and then starts to take the group on a tour of the house, he goes apoplectic and sends Garth upstairs to intervene.
Barry then honors his part of the contract and brings on Aerosmith, guiding the group down the steps by shining a flashlight at their feet, even though all the lights are on. As they gather around the couch, the band are greeted by Wayne and Garth on their hands and knees doing the “we’re not worthy” bow and then jumping up and down excitedly as the latter crows, “You’re gods! They’re gods man!” before sitting down and threatening to hurl from nervousness and excitement.
Having asked viewers to send in questions to ask Aerosmith and whittling it down to just three, Wayne and Garth ask if it’s true the group doesn’t do drugs anymore, if Tyler’s “bitchin’ lips” are real and, “With the recent developments in Eastern Europe, do you think that Communism is on the decline, or is this just a temporary setback?” Tyler and bassist Tom Hamilton then give intelligent analyses in their answers, much to the delight of the hosts.
Wayne then asks if the band would fulfill his fantasy by playing the “Wayne’s World” theme with them. They agree, with Wayne joining on guitar and Garth sitting behind the drumkit while Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer is relegated to tambourine. Written by Myers and SNL bandleader G.E. Smith, the performance of the song would appear later that year on the compact disc maxi-single for the fourth single from Pump, “The Other Side.”
“It had played well in read through and it killed at dress,” Myers told Marc Maron on the WTF podcast. “But for some reason, I didn’t think it killed – and I went into a plummetation. I just started crying, I thought, ‘This is it, I blew it. This is my big chance [and] I blew it. It sucked.’ I’ve heard it since and I was like, ‘What are you, a lunatic? It played great. I just couldn’t hear it. For some reason, I just thought the audience wasn’t buying it. [Fellow cast member Dennis] Miller comes and goes, ‘Mikey, I’ve been on this show for eight years, babe, I haven’t seen love like that.’ And he goes, ‘You’re crying? Oh, so you’re one of those self-torturing weirdos. I get it, babe. Do yourself and all of us a favor and get over that quick. It killed. Don’t be an asshole.'”
To this day, Aerosmith on “Wayne’s World” remains one of the most popular sketches in the history of Saturday Night Live. When the E! network counted down the 101 Most Unforgettable SNL Moments in 2004, it landed at No. 1, beating out iconic bits like Eddie Murphy’s “James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub,” Carvey’s own Church Lady and even Christopher Walken’s “Cowbell Sketch.”
Despite the acclaim it received, the band distanced themselves from it at first, declining to appear in the 1992 Wayne’s World movie, which holds the record as the highest grossing film based on an SNL sketch. Realizing their misstep, Aerosmith would sign on for the 1993 sequel, Wayne’s World 2, even contributing two songs to the soundtrack. Unfortunately, by that point the originality had run its course and the flick tanked in theaters, barely breaking even at the box office.