The Zucker brothers and Abrahams debut with a rollicking oral history unpacking how their 1980 comedy Airplane! was made. In 1971, the trio, who had known one another since attending the same Wisconsin high school, formed the Kentucky Fried Theater, a live comedy troupe that built a reputation for itself around Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. Their success led them to seek financing for a screenplay spoofing a melodramatic and “obscure” 1957 airplane disaster movie about a PTSD-afflicted army pilot who has to “land a passenger plane whose pilots had been stricken with food poisoning.” The Zuckers and Abrahams recall their uphill battle to persuade Paramount to let them direct and their struggle to cast the film, with its “unconventional” humor going over the heads of many of the actors they approached. The authors are as quick-witted as one would expect (Jack Webb “came in for a meeting, but he turned down the role,” David Zucker says, to which Abrahams replies, “Probably because we let him read the script”), and brief reflections from the major players involved will intrigue fans (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalls joining the film to lighten his serious public image). This is a must-read for anyone who loves the film. Photos. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
The multiple-voiced, oral history approach works so well for relaying the making-of story of a big comedy project because funny films are collaborative and often, as such books demonstrate, chaotic. It’s the best way possible to tell the comprehensive tale of Airplane!, the monumental 1980 comedy film that changed the game.” —Vulture
“The Zucker brothers and Abrahams debut with a rollicking oral history unpacking how their 1980 comedy Airplane! was made … This is a must-read for anyone who loves the film.” —Publishers Weekly
“This delightful book, like Airplane! and many other ZAZ productions, is multilayered, incisive, and surprising … A hilarious, well-structured account of and tribute to a significant film.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[A]n affectionate oral history … Fans of the film will likely enjoy this engaging behind-the-scenes look.” —Library Journal
"This is a wonderful book, full of laughs, surprises, high drama, low comedy, and that delightful feeling of excitement when the underdog scores big. For fans of the movie, a must-read. Ditto for fans of making-of books." —Booklist
“‘Airplane!’” is one of the most beloved and influential comedies to ever hit the silver screen. Surely you want to know more about it. The new book “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of ‘Airplane!,’” is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how the iconic 1980 movie was made … The book is chock full of fun facts and stories that fans will no doubt find fascinating.” —Today.com
“The book is a gift for anyone remotely interested in the art of comedy .. wonderfully vivid.” —Haaretz
“If some day they ever wrote a book about how Airplane! got made, I’m sure it would be a bestseller.” —The Pittsburg Picayune
"When you make a list of the best movies of all time, you’re always going to put Airplane! on it. And if movies like that aren’t being made right now, it’s because people aren’t smart enough or funny enough to make them." —Judd Apatow
"Seeing the movie for the first time taught me a great lesson: You’ve got to play comedy as if it’s deadly serious. You’ve got to play weirdness as if it’s the most normal thing in the world." —Patton Oswalt
"Airplane! changed comedy...It was such a specific genre of comedy that no one really has been quite able to rip off, astonishingly." —Sarah Silverman
"Honestly, Airplane! was sort of the Star Wars of comedy...We went to see it several times, with different friends and everything. It was a big deal." —Trey Parker & Matt Stone
"It’s weird. It’s unexpected. It’s absurd. And it never pauses for a laugh, because there’s always another one coming." —The Guardian
"Within months of its release in July 1980 “Airplane!” became one of the highest-grossing comedies in box office history. And it remains one of the most influential... a compact, even classical piece of filmmaking. " —The New York Times
"Frequently imitated but never surpassed, this seriously funny disaster flick made a mockery of itself...a nonstop parade of jokes—absurdist, frequently childish, some certainly in poor taste by contemporary standards, but mostly just…funny." —Smithsonian Magazine
"[A]side from still being ridiculously funny, it’s the rare Hollywood comedy that doesn’t rely on quickly-dated pop culture references for its humor. It’s both of its time and of no time. More than anything, it’s a satire of a certain style of acting—a wooden earnestness that will always come with a bullseye pinned on its back. After all, as long as there are actors who take themselves too seriously, puncturing and deflating them will never go out of style. Like Airplane! itself, it’s timeless." —Esquire
The 1980 comedy film Airplane! was notable for its surprise success and because it was directed by three people who had little film experience—the authors of this book (Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker). The three hailed from Milwaukee, WI, where they established a comedic trio called Kentucky Fried Theater. When they developed their independent sketch comedy Kentucky Fried Movie in 1977, it was a minor hit but big enough to get them noticed by Hollywood executives. They worked for more than five years writing and producing Airplane!, which parodied the 1957 film Zero Hour as well as many other films from the then-trending disaster-film genre of the 1970s. This book is an affectionate oral history from the directors, cast members, crew, and many famous people who love the film. They share stories from the pre-development days, including convincing non-comedic actors Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Leslie Nielsen to sign on. VERDICT Generously illustrated with stills from Airplane! , this book covers stories about its production and discusses how some of the funniest scenes originated. Fans of the film will likely enjoy this engaging behind-the-scenes look.—Phillip Oliver
A history of the brains behind a classic of American comedy.
Acclaimed film directors David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker deliver an uproarious oral history of the making of their 1980 film, Airplane! which, in the words of Abrahams, elevated "stupidity to an art form." This delightful book, like Airplane! and many other ZAZ productions, is multilayered, incisive, and surprising. The authors detail how they created the sketch comedy outfit Kentucky Fried Theater in Wisconsin before moving the operation to Los Angeles and gaining a wide following. They also chronicle their forays into filmmaking, including their relationship with director John Landis. Far from a dull, chronological accounting, the book features scores of photographs, stills from Airplane! published reviews that raved and retched over Kentucky Fried Theater, and extensive thoughts from luminaries such as David Letterman, the creators of South Park, and other comedians and actors who underscore the massive significance of Airplane! Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the career-altering serendipity that led to the discovery of the straight-laced and largely forgotten airline drama Zero Hour! the structure and spoof of which became Airplane! (right down to the exclamation point), and how the young, virtually unknown trio convinced actors like Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges to keep playing it straight while uttering ridiculous lines. The authors recount tales of their adventures with Paramount Studios, how Airplane! changed the public perception of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the lasting fondness for the film’s stars, particularly their longtime colleague Stephen Stucker. The detailed backstory of ZAZ's journey from Milwaukee to Hollywood and the process of getting Airplane! to Paramount and in theaters is one of admirable self-belief and perseverance. While the book’s greatest appeal will be to film industry and comedy aficionados and those who understand the social context in which it was made, anyone who enjoyed the movie will find plenty to love.
A hilarious, well-structured account of and tribute to a significant film.