5 things we learned about 'This Is Spinal Tap' at the Tribeca Film Festival reunion

Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Christopher Guest, from left, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner attend the 35th anniversary screening for "This is Spinal Tap" during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre on Saturday, April 27, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Christopher Guest, from left, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner attend the 35th anniversary screening for This Is Spinal Tap during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre on Saturday, April 27, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

Leave it to Spın̈al Tap to turn the Tribeca Film Festival up to 11. The three founding members of England’s loudest band — Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer — reunited with director Rob Reiner to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the 1984 classic, This Is Spın̈al Tap at New York’s Beacon Theatre. The actors took the stage after a screening of the film, first to reminisce about making the mock-rockumentary and then to play a half-hour concert packed with Spın̈al Tap hits and deep cuts. Here are five things we learned from their command performance.

There’s a lot left on the cutting room floor

Reiner revealed that the original cut of This Is Spın̈al Tap clocked in at a super-sized seven hours, including 180 minutes devoted purely to improvised interview footage and an additional 240 minutes of concert and party scenes. “It was like making a [real] documentary,” the director said of how he and his three collaborators whittled that down to a final runtime of 85 minutes. “We took all of the film, and wrote a movie with the pieces.”

Naturally, a number of hilarious moments got lost along the way. Shearer —who plays bassist Derek Smalls — said that one of his favorite deleted scenes involved Bruno Kirby’s Frank Sinatra-loving limo driver performing a tribute to his favorite singer. “Bruno is at a party with us, and it’s late in the evening — weed and other things have been ingested,” Shearer explained, adding that the scene can be found as a bonus feature on the Spın̈al Tap DVD. “He stripped down to his skivvies and is singing like Frank Sinatra into what he thinks is a microphone, but is actually a slice of pizza.”

McKean recalled a missing sequence where he and Guest — as their alter egos David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, respectively — encounter cast members from a touring production of The Wiz in a hotel. “We shot a scene where we get in an elevator, and there are two extremely flamboyant black dancers. They gave us the eye and our reactions got a little big, I think. I understand why it was cut, but I thought it was funny.”

A missing Runaway

Derek (Harry Shearer) and Nigel (Christopher Guest) with Spinal Tap groupies in 'This is Spinal Tap' (Photo: Embassy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Derek (Harry Shearer) and Nigel (Christopher Guest) with Spinal Tap groupies in This Is Spinal Tap. (Photo: Embassy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

One of the most substantial deleted story threads is preserved in the film via a pair of cold sores that appear on Nigel and David’s faces. “That’s the remnant of a joke that took about a half-hour of film time to set up,” Reiner said, explaining that in the longer cut of the film, Spın̈al Tap’s problem-plagued American tour featured an opening act, a punk rock band called The Dose that was headed up by real-life rocker, Cherie Currie from The Runaways. She was one of several musicians who auditioned for the film, including The Doors drummer John Densmore and guitarist Paul Stanley from KISS, but Reiner wanted to avoid having too many recognizable faces in a movie about a fictional band. (One person who did make the final cut is veteran session drummer Russ Kunkel, who accompanies the band in their “Listen to What the Flower People Say” incarnation.)

So Currie was cut from the movie, and Reiner filled the crowd in on what we missed. “At one point, she’s with Nigel and they have a little fling, and then in the next scene Nigel has a herpes sore on his face. Then she’s hanging out with David, and he later has a herpes sore. Then Derek has a herpes sore. Finally, there’s a scene with all the band members sitting around deciding about whether or not to drop The Dose from the tour. And all the guys with herpes sores, but the drummer [Mick Shrimpton, played by R.J. Parnell] doesn’t have one. So everyone else is voting to get rid of them except for the drummer! That was the whole set-up, but in the end we wound up with just two guys with herpes sores.”

Get to know your vegetables

Dereks Smalls reveals what's in his trousers in 'This is Spinal Tap' (Photo: Embassy Pictures/Courtesy Everette Collection)
Dereks Smalls reveals what's in his trousers in This Is Spinal Tap. (Photo: Embassy Pictures/Courtesy Everette Collection)

One of the film’s most famous moments involves the revelation of what exactly Derek is packing in his trousers. While passing through airport security, his crotch area sets off the TSA agent’s wand leading her to ask whether he’s had a hip replacement or some other piece of metal in his body. Instead, he reaches down his pants and pulls out a phallic-shaped vegetable wrapped in tinfoil. It’s often assumed that Derek opted for a cucumber as his pants veggie of choice, but Shearer disclosed that he actually used a zucchini. The reason for the tinfoil? “If you stuff a zucchini in your trousers and then get onstage and sweat for two hours, you’ll be glad it’s wrapped in tinfoil!”

Shearer also revealed that Paul Shaffer’s self-flagellating record promoter, Artie Fufkin, was based on a real guy. “Michael and I and our ex-partner in a comedy group [The Credibility Gap] were doing a gig somewhere, and everything that could possibly be f***ed up about our set-up was. A representative from Warner Bros. Records came backstage and we were furious. Before we could say one word to vent our anger, he said, ‘Guys, kick my ass.’ We put that in the movie and for years afterwards, he would say, ‘I’m the guy in Spın̈al Tap!”

The early reviews were harsh

Multiple generations of have grown up with Spın̈al Tap’s discography since 1984, but early test audiences had no idea who the band was or why they were worth making a movie about. Reiner recalled a disastrous Dallas screening where the comment cards were filled with harsh feedback. “People said, ‘Why did you make a movie about a band that nobody’s heard? And one that’s so bad!’” Added McKean: “There was one card where someone had written ‘DNA’ in answer to questions like ‘What did you like about this film?’ We figured out that ‘DNA’ meant ‘Does Not Apply.’” Guest recalled his favorite response to the “What did you like about this film” question: “It’s in color.”

These guys still rock

Spinal Tap in its early '80s heyday (Photo: Embassy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Spinal Tap in its early '80s heyday (Photo: Embassy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

While Dallas audiences may have been left cold by stone-cold classics like “Big Bottoms” and “Hell Hole,” the New York crowd went wild when the reformed Spın̈al Tap played those songs live for the first time in over a decade. Granted, the band didn’t look like they did in their early ‘80s heyday, with Guest, McKean and Shearer declining to suit up in their band’s signature punk styles and rocking out on less flamboyant guitars. But they still sounded like classic Tap, running through set list that included “All the Way Home,” “Clam Caravan” and “Gimme Some Money,” which featured Elvis Costello on lead vocals. Anytime these guys want to take the stage and “Tap into America” again, we’ll be front and center.

This Is Spın̈al Tap is available to purchase on Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 24-May 5.

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