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"This Is Spinal Tap" Is The Funniest Movie Ever Made

Updated on August 17, 2016
Margaret Schindel profile image

Margaret loves books, movies and music. She writes in-depth reviews of her favorites to help her readers discover and enjoy them, too.

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The late, great film critic Roger Ebert called This Is Spinal Tap "one of the funniest movies ever made." This clearly is an understatement and I can only guess at why he chose to hedge his bets. I've watched this hilarious rockumentary satire more than a dozen times over the years and I'm pretty sure it's THE funniest movie ever made.

2014 marked the 30th anniversary of This Is Spinal Tap, which still enjoys a huge cult following three decades after it was released. Read on to find out the reasons for its ongoing popularity.

A Mockumentary of a Rockumentary

The concept of This Is Spinal Tap is a joke in itself. It's a mock documentary AKA "mockumentary" of the making of a rock dockumentary AKA "rockumentary" about a band on what is supposed to be their comeback tour.

The Director and Co-Star

The movie marked Rob Reiner's directorial debut. Of course, he went on to direct many of other blockbuster comedies including The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. In This Is Spinal Tap Reiner plays filmmaker Marty DiBergi, a huge fan of over-the-hill British heavy metal rock band Spinal Tap. DiBergi gets the band's permission to make a rockumentary film that will give other equally avid fans a behind-the-scenes look at the band's upcoming US tour to promote its new album, "Smell the Glove".

The Band Members

The lead singers and songwriters of the Spinal Tap band, Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins, were played by Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, respectively. Guest had been a writer and performer on the iconic television show Saturday Night Live in the 1970s. McKean was best known at the time for having played Lenny on the TV sitcom Laverne & Shirley and later joined the cast of Saturday Night Live and went on to star in many film and television roles. The band's bassist, Derek Smalls, was played by Harry Shearer, who also wrote and performed on SNL for many years and subsequently gained even greater fame (and his first Primetime Emmy Award) voicing many of the characters on the blockbuster TV series, The Simpsons.

You Don't Have to Love Hard Rock or Heavy Metal to Find This Movie Hilarious

I never understood the appeal of those hard-partying rock and heavy metal bands of the 1970s and 80s who were better known for their big hair, adolescent pranks and "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" lifestyles than for their often mediocre musical abilities, but they had millions of screaming fans who fed their already over-inflated egos. So it's ironic that This Is Spinal Tap, a movie about just such outlandish, , was what got me laughing again during a very sad and difficult time in my life.

The larger-than-life, cartoon-like personas of these "legends in their own minds" made an irresistible target for Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, who had clearly had a blast lampooning them by creating a fictitious "big hair" heavy metal band complete with the requisite juvenile humor, raunchy lyrics and questionable intelligence. The co-writers of This Is Spinal Tap had an obvious affection for the clueless band members's foibles that makes these characters as lovable as they are laughable.

If you are a heavy metal fan, you'll find the satire even funnier. My husband is 10 years my junior and, unlike me, he is a big fan of heavy metal music and was into the scene in the 1970s and 80s. Ever since he explained many of the parallels between the band in the film, Spinal Tap, and bands like Saxon, Venom and Whitesnake I laugh even harder when I watch this movie.

Tufnel and St. Hubbins: One of the Great Rock Singer/Songwriter Partnerships?

Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins view themselves as a gifted musical partnership on the order of John Lennon / Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger / Keith Richards. Nigel and David have an intense, emotional and often contentious relationship that is likely modeled after that of Jagger/Richards or Lennon/McCartney. Derek, the short-statured bassist with huge mutton-chop sideburns, is much more even tempered than his two band mates and is usually happy to go along with whatever Nigel and David decide.

Derek buys into the pair's delusions of grandeur, seeing them as "poets, like Shelley and Byron...two distinct visionaries...like fire and ice." You have to hear the pathetically puerile "poetry" in their blatantly sexual lyrics designed mostly for shock value to understand just how hilariously ludicrous that statement is. To give him credit, Derek does seem to have a clear grasp of his own role in relation to Nigel and David, i.e., "to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water."

The Comeback Tour That Wasn't

For some reason the band Spinal Tap has managed to enjoy near-legendary success for much of their 17 years together and are completely clueless that their glory days are far behind them.

They are baffled and outraged when their return to the US after a six-year absence goes practically unnoticed. It certainly doesn't help that the extremely degrading and sexist album cover turns out to be too offensive for American chain stores and is re-done as a pure black cover. Just black — no band name or logo, not even a title. The inevitable lack of sales (or even awareness of the new album) is a major factor in the cancellation of most of the major venues that had been booked for the tour, and even performances that are moved to small, insignificant venues don't produce ticket sales, The guys have spent their entire careers spoiled, cosseted, indulged and protected from that pesky inconvenience, reality. They're totally unprepared for their lukewarm welcome and immediately look for scapegoats, since obviously the problem couldn't possibly be that they and their music have become irrelevant "oldies".

Long-suffering manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) has his hands full trying to keep the boys' temper tantrums and inane antics in check. Poor Ian carries around a large, wooden cricket bat so he can let off steam by smashing things like television sets when things get really bad, which they do often. In fact, things go from very bad to much, much worse when David's girlfriend Jeanine Pettibone, an astrology and yoga enthusiast, flies over from England to join the band. She starts playing tambourine (just what every heavy metal band needs — not!) and taking on the role of David's spiritual and musical adviser in a brutally funny parody of Yoko Ono. Jeanine also insists on pushing her "creative direction" on the band and tries to undermine Ian's authority, causing enormous stress between Nigel and David.

The Stonehenge Debacle: The Beginning of the End?

When Nigel sketches an enormous Stonehenge megalith he wants built as a prop for their stage show and jots down the height dimension as 18" instead of 18', and Ian fails to notice it before giving the sketch to the designer who will build it. When the band members see the diminutive Stonehenge prop for the first time onstage during a live show, they are furious at having been made laughingstocks in front of their fans and they take it out on poor, long-suffering Ian. Ian can't take it any longer and resigns in anger, telling them that he has had it "up to here" with Jeanine's unwanted and manipulative interference and the band's lack of gratitude for all his years of hard work and cleaning up the messes they create. Jeanine, whose fundamental lack of musical or business knowledge is glaringly apparent to everyone except David, finally has her chance to step into Ian's shoes with even more disastrous results. It's the final straw that causes an irreparable rift between David and Nigel, who leaves the band.

During the last show of the tour, Nigel shows up to give David a message from Ian that one of the band's songs is a huge hit in Japan and that he'd like to arrange a Japanese tour for them. David seems unenthusiastic but then calls Nigel up on stage to play with the band and hires Ian back as manager. As the movie ends, Spinal Tap is performing to screaming Japanese crowds in sold-out arenas.

Who's your favorite character from This Is Spinal Tap?

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The band Spinal Tap's custom amps go to eleven. "Exactly. One louder," explained Nigel Tufnel.
The band Spinal Tap's custom amps go to eleven. "Exactly. One louder," explained Nigel Tufnel. | Source

The Famous Custom Amplifiers That Go Up to 11

One of my favorite scenes in the movie, which also happens to be one of the most famous, is when Nigel explains to Marty about how the group managed to become The World's Loudest Band by using custom amplifiers with volum­e controls that go from 1 to 11 (instead of 1 to 10 like other amps).

Marty is understandably confused about how adding an "11" setting to the volume dial makes the amplifiers any louder. Nigel explains, "Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten." When Marty asks why they didn't just make the 10 volume setting on the amp louder instead of adding another setting, Nigel is temporarily speechless and finally reiterates, "These go to eleven."

What's In a Name?

Another of my favorite scenes also is between Marty and Nigel. Marty finds Nigel at a piano playing a beautiful, soft, melodic, classical composition and asks him about it. Nigel explains that his music is heavily influenced by Mozart and Bach and that the piece he's playing is somewhere in between the two (“like a ‘Mach’ piece, really”). After a bit more back-and-forth Marty asks him the name of the piece. Nigel replies matter-of-factly that "this piece is called 'Lick my Love Pump'." Christopher Guest's casual delivery of this hilarious punch line is absolutely perfect.

Speaking of names, when Marty asks David about his unusual last name he explains that his family was named after Saint Hubbins, an equally unusual and not well known saint. When Marty asks whether Saint Hubbins actually existed, David explains that he was "the patron saint of quality footwear".

The Priceless Gift of Laughter

If for some reason you're still on the fence about whether to buy the DVD of this movie, consider this:

  • This Is Spinal Tap ranks #1 on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films".
  • It is listed in the 1999 book Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.
  • It is one of only 25 films selected In 2002 for the National Film Preservation Board registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important."

More importantly, the This Is Spinal Tap (Special Edition) DVD will make you or a lucky gift recipient laugh out loud nonstop for 1 hour and 22 minutes at a time any time you feel like it.

What else can you buy for less than $10 that will bring your gift recipient this much fun and enjoyment?

© 2013 Margaret Schindel

Have You Ever Watched "This Is Spinal Tap"? If So, How Many Times Have You Seen It So Far?

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    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      @MelRootsNWrites, yes, indeed! One of them spontaneously combusted and the rest of them died in bizarre and "mysterious" accidents. I've lost count of how many times I've watched this movie and it never fails to make me laugh out loud. :)

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      I saw it when it first came out and even bought the album (yes, back in the day of vinyl). I got to share the movie with my nephew when he was a teen. We have our inside joke about "eleven". That's the most memorable scene from the movie for me--and the way the drummers kept dying. Didn't one spontaneously combust? Thanks for bringing back memories of a funny film.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Well I haven't seen this, but after this amazing review I'll have to be sure I take the time to watch it!

    • Joebeducci profile image

      Joebeducci 3 years ago

      If even Roger Ebert, my favorite filmcritic, calls it a funny movie, I have to see it! Great review! Greets, Joebeducci

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 3 years ago

      I totally agree with you about "This is Spinal Tap". It is laugh-out-loud funny. This wonderful film was recently on BBC-America and I had forgotten some of the really hilarious lines and situations. One of my particularly favorite scenes is when the aluminum wrapped cucumber is discovered. Of course, the "11" scene is absolutely the BEST!

    • girlfriendfactory profile image

      girlfriendfactory 3 years ago

      I only saw this movie a few months ago (I missed it in my youth because I also don't like heavy metal music) but I laughed my butt off! Oddly enough one of my cousins is a member of Aerosmith but I know nothing about the industry so I was never interesting in this type of movie but it is seriously funny. I could relate to the parodies of the Beatles and other bands, however (including Aerosmith). Shortly after this I watched a serious documentary on U2 that was as interesting as this was funny.

    • PeterStip profile image

      PeterStip 3 years ago

      yes Spinal Tap is an wonderful witty crazy fullout laughter movie. When I first saw it I did not know it was a comedy and thought it was serious documentary about a rock-band, but bit by bit I could not believe what I was seeing and just got a stomach ache of the laughter while watching.

      If you haven't seen it, you've missed something...

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      Spinal Tap still has the power to make me fall off my chair laughing. And the whole "turn it up to 11" has ended the lexicon, hasn't it? Classic!

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I can't believe I've never seen this movie. Looks hilarious and I must watch it soon.

    • Meganhere profile image

      Meganhere 3 years ago

      I laughed so much the first time I saw this movie my ribs ached. In our house we often say, 'Turn it up to 11' when someone mumbles.

      A great review of an hysterically funny movie.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 3 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Sounds like a fun (and funny) movie. I've always liked Rob Reiner, so ought to get the movie just to see him. :) Thanks for the good review.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 3 years ago

      This is a movie I will have to see because I like to laugh and you have written such a great review about it. Thanks for sharing your story about how it lifted your spirits when you were down.

    • profile image

      candy47 3 years ago

      Loved your review of a hilarious movie! I laugh every time I watch it. Sadly, they lost so many drummers...spontaneous combustion and a bizarre gardening accident:)

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

      I think we could all use a good laugh! This doesn't look like a movie I would normally gravitate to, so I appreciate the excellent review and recommendation. It sounds like one my son and I could watch together and enjoy. Well, actually the whole family could watch it with us, but I immediately thought of my son because of his musical tastes.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      You have me convinced to watch all of these movies! Congrats on winning the challenge for this great review. This is Spinal Tap - the Princess Bride and The Rutles, All you Need is Cash - all three are on my list now. If Spinal Tap is as funny as you say it will provide a great opportunity for my son and I to bond. I'll never forget when we watched All of me with Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin - he almost fell off of the couch laughing. I skimmed through most of your review because I want to see the shows for myself. However I must disagree with one point - I think everyone should check out Poo-Pourri just to see what we are up to in this country. :)

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      I know I have grown watching Asian comedy movies! Well, I have never heard of this before, at first thanks for introducing it! I do love this lens; I would watch this movie as soon as I can. Thanks again :)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      Congrats on your win! Thrilled for you.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Looks like I missed a good laugh. All our favorite films are comedies, so I should try this one.

    • StephanieMangino profile image

      Stephanie Mangino 3 years ago

      You and I have VERY similar tastes, Margaret. Spinal Tap, The Rutles and The Princess Bride are three of my favorites!

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      atomicgirl24 3 years ago

      This is Spinal Tap is probably one of the best comedies of all time. The songs are surprisingly good, too. Even though they're supposed to be "ha ha funny", they're well composed and cleverly written. There's a YouTube video where the band members confronted Metallica because they actually put out a "black" album. It is so awkward and funny.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
      Author

      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @sybil watson: Thanks so much, Sybil! What's really interesting is that all three of Spinal Tap's front men were born in the US, although Christopher Guest was brought up in both the US and the UK. Did you know Guest is married to Jamie Lee Curtis? Thanks again for your visit!

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      sybil watson 3 years ago

      I loved this movie! When I first saw it, I couldn't believe that was Lenny from Laverne and Shirley (Michael McKean) - he was so fantastic as an English rocker.

    • PlumberJorge profile image

      PlumberJorge 3 years ago

      You can never go wrong with a good 80's comedy movie. Loved the lens!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @David Stone1: Thanks, Dave! It's Christopher Guest who has gone on to make a series of rockumentary parodies after having such a grand time making This Is Spinal Tap with Reiner, McKean and Shearer. I think the one you're referring to is A Mighty Wind. Guest also made two others that I can think of top of mind, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. So glad you enjoyed my review!

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      These guys have carried on with even more great satires. One, whose name I can't remember at the moment, was a parody on Dylan/Baez and a comeback concert. They are great at lacerating egos and are as close get to an American Monty Python.

      I've seen Spinal Tap, and some of your insights made it even better.

      Nice.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Kim Milai: kimmilai, I could't agree with you more! I love Led Zeppelin, but Whitesnake, Saxon and Poison? Definitely parodies of the genre, and the fact that they were so into themselves and took their "musicianship" so seriously is, indeed, a large part of why they were such perfect targets for satire. I adored A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman, too. Christopher Guest had such a blast doing Spinal Tap that he made mockumentaries one of his specialties, and one is funnier than the next! Thanks again for your visit and your lovely feedback. :)

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      My friend Bob, a classical composition major and I saw this when it opened and never laughed so hard.

      In my opinion the reason it is so funny is that heavy metal is already a parody of itself.

      I also like their folk parody movie A Mighty Wind.

      Great article.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 3 years ago from Land of Aloha

      It's been a while since I've watched this movie, but your review is right on the money. It's a HILARIOUS satire and has the ability to make ANYONE laugh HARD. Love it!

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      If it's going to bring laughter into my life, I guess I need to see it! I am so happy to hear that This Is Spinal Tap worked such wonders for you in your time of need.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      What a fantastic review. You have convinced me that I need to see this film. How I love a movie that makes me laugh. I'm thankful this one provided you with healing laughter when you needed it most. Thank you for such a personal, meaningful review. That's what makes it exceptional.

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