Spinal Tap – the laughs went to 11

With 11-11-11 this year, there was a funny campaign on the ‘Net to make it Nigel Tufnel day, especially considering his amps did go up to 11. 

We recently ran a story on TG about great improvised moments in movies, and This is Spinal Tap should have been included, because the majority of the movie was improvised. 

Ultimately, the movie deserves to be on any list of great rock movies, and I still feel to this day there hasn’t been a more accurate movie made about metal/hard rock.


Spinal Tap is now considered a cult film, which often means a movie wasn’t a hit when it first came out, but then developed a following on its own some time later. 

Interestingly enough, Spinal Tap came out when metal was coming back strong in 1984, but it oddly didn’t catch on in its time. I think it still lasts, and is still funny today because it had the good fortune of being right on time, as well as ahead of its time.

Being a metal-head I’m definitely biased, but Spinal Tap is my favorite Christopher Guest movie, even though he’s brilliantly followed it up with Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show. 

Guest, director Rob  Reiner, and the rest of the Tap gang definitely did their homework, and really captured the trials and tribulations of being in a band.

As Harry Shearer, who played Tap bassist Derek Smalls, told Mojo, “The closer we got to the real thing, the closer the real thing dared to get to us. Reality was calling our bluff at every step.”

For a lot of musicians, Spinal  Tap was too close to home, and a lot of musicians will tell you they didn’t laugh the first time they saw it. 

Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf told the L.A. Times, “I’ve seen rock bands cry watching Spinal Tap. Not laugh – cry. That’s how real it is.”

As Eddie Van Halen told Guitar World, “The first time I saw it, it wasn’t funny at all… Everything in that movie happened to me…nobody showing up for things, the Air Force base gigs, the guy who couldn’t get out of his pod. All that stuff is real. So the first time I saw it, everyone was laughing, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘This isn’t funny.'”

You also gotta love Henry Rollins’s diary entry in Get in the Van from June 28, 1984: “Saw a movie – Spinal Tap. Kind of depressing. I mean it was depressing in that it was true about a lot of sh*t.” 

Still, once the initial shock wore off, a lot of musicians learned to laugh with the movie, and laugh hard.

And if you think writers don’t have Spinal Tap kind of movies, think again. There are many moments in Adaptation, Almost Famous, and Sideways that as a writer definitely strike close to the bone for me, and I laughed right along with ’em.

I think it was Quincy Jones who once said a lot of times in comedy we’re not laughing so much because something’s funny, but we’re laughing and telling ourselves, “Ain’t that the truth.”

And in the world of metal and rock and roll, the truth is exactly what Spinal Tap hilariously captured.