Saturday, August 07, 2010

I Am Serious, and Don't Call Me Shirley

My Fellow Comedists,

We have a wonderful video store, a dying breed, the sort where you can still rent video tapes and can find movies you haven't seen in twenty years that you loved back when. Looking through the stacks, I came across the DVD of the six episodes of "Police Squad." It seemed like the perfect time to introduce the short people to the work of my heroes Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker.

They launched their career with the cult classic, "Kentucky Fried Movie," a series of odd little sketches that spoofed everything from Japanese kung fu films to high school science films and was a bit more risque than the material to come.

It set up their second film, "Airplane!" With a relentless style, ZAZ showed themselves to be the WalMart of comedy, quantity, quantity, quantity: no joke too cheap, no pun too bad, and no sight gag too cheesy. They get you going and never let you stop.

"Airplane!" led to "Top Secret!" ("Airplane 2" was not written by ZAZ, but by Ken Finkleman, who also wrote that great work of American cinema, "Grease 2.") a spoof of Elvis and James Bond films starring Val Kilmer and including the line "Sunday? That's Simchas Torah!" I believe which ought to be more widely quoted.

They took their work to the small screen with "Police Squad," but only six episodes were shot and only three aired. ZAZ had a feud with the networks demanding that they not use a laugh track because it threw off the timing and their ability to do rapid fire jokes. But the networks believed the American public too stupid to be able to figure out for themselves when to laugh and the show was canned. It did give rise to a series of three films, all good, but not as good as the show.

Their last work together was "Ruthless People" a more mainstream sort of comedy in which a nice middle class couple in trouble kidnaps a the wife of a wealthy businessman who unbeknownst to them hates her. Best line of the film is when the husband played by Danny DeVito refuses to pay the ransom in order to get his wife killed and the kidnappers, played by Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater send back a demand for less money. The wife, played by Bette midler, goes bananas screaming, "I'm being marked down?! Who was I kidnapped by? KMart?"

Great stuff top to bottom. This weekend's question -- favorite ZAZ scene?

I've got to go with this one (start at 5:30):

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve