David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker take a deep dive into how the iconic 1980 movie was made in their new book 'Surely You Can't Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!'
It's been over 40 years since the comedy film "Airplane!" hit cinemas and entertained audiences with its chaotic humor that redefined the comedy genre. The 1980 movie's inappropriate gags often broached edgy topics that were quite unexpected for the time. Would the film work today? No, says its creators. David Zucker, his brother Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams—a trio known as ZAZ—are out with their new book "Surely You Can't Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!" detailing the making of the classic comedy.
"Airplane!" was released more than four decades ago but remains a classic, inventing a whole new comedy genre. Now, a book about the making of the film was put together by brothers Jerry and David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams. @JeffGlor met with them for a look back. pic.twitter.com/dK47MK6Mjq— CBS Saturday Morning (@cbssaturday) September 30, 2023
David Zucker who wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Post in 2021, believes many people might find the humor offensive in today's climate. “It would be tough to get ‘Airplane!’ into the studio boardrooms today because they would say, ‘No, you can’t do the Black dudes. You can’t do the pilot talking to the kid. You can’t do this. You can’t,’” he told TODAY, “I mean, everybody’s so sensitive. They don’t want to be tagged with, ‘Oh, I’ll be considered a bigot,' this or that. So it’s gotten very political in the upper echelons, but I think the rank-and-file humans just want to laugh.”
Their new book takes a look into all the obstacles and triumphs that went into the making of the film. The movie is a spoof of the 1957 disaster film “Zero Hour!” and focuses on a flight that is seemingly doomed after the passengers who eat the fish for their meal get sick. A neurotic ex-fighter pilot played by Robert Hays must land the commercial airplane full of passengers safely after he gets on it to work out his failed relationship with flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (played by Julie Hagerty). “We just were totally committed to the concept of doing a comedy with all these great actors and no comedians and making it look like a B movie,” Zucker said.
As to why they have come out with a book about the movie decades after its release, Abrahams explained that the "movie keeps going on and on. And it never kind of lost its audience and its audience has continued to grow. And I think each of us wanted to document what had happened, so that our kids and their kids and their kids, if they’re curious, can figure out what went on back in the ‘70s.”
NPR's A Martinez also spoke to the trio about the difference between comedy movies from decades ago when compared to now. "Movie comedies these days are so hung up on being contemporary, radical, outspoken and cynically satirical that they sometimes forget to be funny. That's 1980. Are we in one of those periods now where comedies forget to be funny, Jerry?" he asked. Zucker replied: "Yeah, I think we're kind of always in that to some extent, but then there are always some wonderful exceptions."
Abrahams added, "We have this internal discussion among the three of us about whether what 'Airplane!' is, parody or satire. And I've always taken the position it's very - we don't aim for anything higher than you don't have to take this seriously. And I think this is a good message for all of us forever. If we can laugh at the fact that we took something seriously, that's really therapeutic."