Guru Pitka, a.k.a. “The Love Guru,” first popped up in Mike Myers’ imagination while he was still working on the blockbuster “Austin Powers” series. At the time, Myers had just lost his father and, in his grief, began a serious personal spiritual quest that led him to gurus and ashrams and then, unexpectedly, full circle back to comedy again. In the words of Deepak Chopra, he came to see that “humor is humanity’s way of escaping deep suffering.”
Celebrated for his uniquely irreverent and irresistible way of taking unconventional fish-out-of-water characters to hilarious extremes, Myers could not resist the idea of spoofing a world he found alternately intriguing and outrageous at times, silly in its trappings and yet, at other times, profoundly sincere, a world where enduring ancient questions about the nature of life regularly slipped on the banana peel of modern temptations. This was prime comedy territory as far as he was concerned.
“What struck me as I began meeting gurus like Gary Zukav and Deepak Chopra is how actually really funny they are,” he says. “I started to realize that the whole idea of enlightenment is really, at heart, to just lighten up.”
Another reason he was attracted to the subject, Myers explains, is that “Steve Martin once said the most exciting thing to do is to find comedy where comedy hadn’t existed before. And I loved the idea of bringing irony and humor to the human search for happiness and love.”
Myers next took his impudent guru for a test drive. Donning a purposefully fake beard, mysterious accent and guru get-up, Myers hit a series of New York theaters, where he offered Guru Pitka’s deliciously unhinged “dharma lecture,” a whimsical montage of non-denominational advice ranging from the truly ridiculous to the surprisingly sublime.
The character was an instant hit among those early New York audiences lucky enough to witness Myers’ evolving creation. Some found Pitka a hilarious satire, others experienced him as a bit of an inspiration in his own right – and the mix seemed to do exactly what Myers had hoped: go places in comedy he had yet to explore.
When Deepak Chopra first saw Guru Pitka, he says, he found the character “hilariously funny. Yet Mike was able to make some profound statements by stating them in a very silly way that, nonetheless, makes you remember them.”
Soon after unveiling Guru Pitka, Myers began collaborating with screenwriter Graham Gordy to bring a younger, hipper incarnation of the character to the screen in an original story of his own, much as he had done with his earlier improvised character, Austin Powers. Gordy had a blast working with Myers, turning cosmic sutras into slapstick comedy and coming up with a tale that would reveal how Guru Pitka became the world’s second-best guru and how he now yearns to take the crown from his outrageously famous chief rival, the real-life Deepak Chopra, by getting involved in pro sports and celebrity romance.
Says Gordy of their partnership: ”Mike is brilliant and tenacious and cares as much about comedy as you hope all comedians do. He is the quintessential student of comedy but, thankfully, he’s also a great teacher of it because he taught me everything I know. I loved working with Mike.”
The story Myers and Gordy came up with had Guru Pitka not only caught up in all kinds of comical situations, including his own spot of love trouble, but also unwittingly hurtling towards both romantic and spiritual revelations of his own. “It’s really a journey from celebrity back to purity,” explains Myers. “Guru Pitka has some great ideas, but he’s strayed from helping people to just wanting the accolades. Now, as he is faced with his most resistant student ever (star hockey player Darren Roanoke), he himself is forced to live by the rules he wrote. In a sense, the teacher becomes the student.”
For Myers, key to the fun of “The Love Guru” was weaving in one of his other great quests in life: to see his beloved Toronto Maples Leafs hockey team actually have a winning season. “It’s one of the great pains in my life that they haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967,” he confesses. “And to have the chance to shoot on the ice at the Air Canada Center, where every Saturday, without fail, I watch my boys playing, was a thrill.”
Mixing and matching satiric riffs from several film genres – from sports dramas to romantic comedies – Myers & Gordy even wrote an ambitiously full-scale, Bollywood-style dance sequence into the screenplay. “I’m an old-school entertainer,” remarks Myers. “I see it as a huge responsibility to ask people to sit in the dark for 90 minutes, so I always want to make sure there’s lots of entertainment – so there’s dance numbers, comedy, drama – and more – in ‘The Love Guru.’ It’s just what I love, entertaining people.”