Surely you can't be serious The true story of Airplane!

David Zucker, 1947-

Book - 2023

"Surely You Can't Be Serious is an in-depth and hysterical look at the making of 1980's comedy classic Airplane! by the legendary writers and directors of the hit film. Airplane! premiered on July 2nd, 1980. With a budget of $3.5 million it went on to make nearly $200 million in sales and has influenced a multitude of comedians on both sides of the camera. Surely You Can't Be Serious is the first-ever oral history of the making of Airplane! by the creators, and of the beginnings of the ZAZ trio (Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker) - charting the rise of their comedy troupe Kentucky Fried Theater in Madison, Wisconsin all the way to premiere day. The directors explain what drew them to filmmaking and in particular, comedy. With ane...cdotes, behind the scenes trivia, and never-before-revealed factoids - these titans of comedy filmmaking unpack everything from how they persuaded Peter Graves to be in the movie after he thought the script was a piece of garbage, how Lorna Patterson auditioned for the stewardess role in the backseat of Jerry's Volvo, and how Leslie Nielsen's pranks got the entire crew into trouble, to who really wrote the jive talk. The book also features testimonials and personal anecdotes from well-known faces in the film, television, and comedy sphere - proving how influential Airplane! has been from day one. Four decades after its release, Airplane! continues to make new generations laugh. Its many one-liners and visual gags have worked their way into the mainstream culture. This fully organic expansion of the ZAZ trio's fan-base, prompted solely by word-of-mouth, comes as no surprise to longtime fans. When all around us is in flux - laughter is priceless"--

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New York : St. Martin's Press 2023.
Main Author
David Zucker, 1947- (author)
Other Authors
Jim Abrahams, 1944- (author), Jerry Zucker (Interviewer), Will Harris
First edition
Physical Description
345 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
  • Introduction
  • The Premiere
  • Chapter 1. "Get Me Rex Kramer!"
  • Chapter 2. Kentucky Fried Theater
  • Chapter 3. Bob and Julie
  • Chapter 4. Madison
  • Chapter 5. Leslie
  • Chapter 6. Dial-A-Fart
  • Chapter 7. Hollywood
  • Chapter 8. Stucker
  • Chapter 9. The Tonight Show
  • Chapter 10. Zero Hour!
  • Chapter 11. Landis
  • Chapter 12. Kentucky Fried Movie
  • Chapter 13. Beaver's Mom
  • Chapter 14. The Movie Business
  • Chapter 15. Back to the Drawing Board
  • Chapter 16. The Studios
  • Chapter 17. Michael Eisner
  • Chapter 18. Paramount
  • Chapter 19. Howard
  • Chapter 20. Kareem
  • Chapter 21. Culver City Studios
  • Chapter 22. There Are No Rules
  • Chapter 23. Postproductton
  • Chapter 24. Success at Last
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Booklist Review

This oral history of the making of the 1980 smash hit Airplane! takes readers back to the film's writer-director team's origins, as founders of the sketch-comedy troupe Kentucky Fried Theater (which led to a movie directed by a pre--Animal House John Landis), and narrates the long creative process that gave us one of the most popular comedies of all time. For several years, it seemed Airplane!, a comedic remake of the 1957 film Zero Hour!, would never get made. Then, when writers and first-time directors Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker (collectively known as ZAZ) finally got a studio to back the project, they demanded casting serious actors who would play their roles straight. Nobody knew what to expect or how it would pan out. 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.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

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

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.