This Is Spinal Tap is one of the greatest comedies ever made. It cemented the mockumentary as an art form, it brought a handful of essential new voices into comedic storytelling, and it endures today as a movie with wit, teeth, and heart. If you haven’t watched it yet for some reason, please stop reading this right now and remedy that. This Is Spinal Tap is a masterpiece.
And according to a new lawsuit, in the past 30 years its creators have made almost no money on it.
Harry Shearer, co-writer of the film and, more importantly, co-creator of the very idea of Spinal Tap, has launched a $125 million fraud and breach of contract lawsuit against Vivendi and Studio Canal, the film’s rights holders, in an effort to reclaim his creation. You can read all the ins and outs of that lawsuit here, but the takeaway headline is that, according to the suit, Shearer and Spinal Tap co-creators Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Rob Reiner have made less than $200 on the film in the past three decades. ($81 in merch; $98 in music sales.) Worse still, if the performers want to so much as appear as the characters they created, they must pay the film’s rights holders for the privilege.
That’s just monstrous. And lest you think this is some performer trying to cash in on the success of some little movie they had a hand in a long time ago, it’s important to note that Shearer, Guest, McKean and Reiner created Spinal Tap in 1979 – five years before the release of Reiner’s film. Tap was an original, finely honed and continually evolving musical and comedic work, and the idea that the artists aren’t entitled to further explore their own creation is deeply abhorrent.
Here’s the first known appearance of Spinal Tap, from a 1979 ABC special called “The TV Show.”