New ‘Airplane!’ Book Explores Wisconsin Comedic Origins

AIRPLANE!, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays, 1980,
(c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

Apparently, you can credit Wisconsin for the hit 1980 comedy Airplane!

In the new book Surely You Can’t Be Serious, which was published on Oct. 3, creators Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, who went to Shorewood High School together in Wisconsin, went all out discussing their comedic origins and the production of the hit film. It all stemmed from a stage production out of University of Wisconsin-Madison called Kentucky Fried Theater.

Madison was where they learned “what was funny and how to make people laugh,” Jerry Zucker said in a recent interview with WPR, four decades after the release of this classic parody film about a traumatized former fighter pilot who must land a plane after trying to win back the woman who left him. With lines like “Don’t call me Shirley” that are still referenced today, the film is considered to be a classic.

“We’ve been sort of stunned by how long the movie has stayed popular and well known and quoted and all that,” Jim Abrahams said. “So, we thought maybe someday our kids or our grandkids or something would be interested in knowing what happened back then. So, we decided to preserve it in the book.”

AIRPLANE!, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, 1980,

Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

Robert Stack was a little concerned about the script, probably more about that we were first-time directors and there were three of us,” David Zucker said. “Peter Graves actually threw the script across the room and said this is the worst piece of trash he’s ever read.”

Discussing their origins further, Zucker added, “There were a lot of funny guys in our high school class. We weren’t the funniest ones… I think there was something in the water probably in Wisconsin. And we thought particularly in Shorewood.”

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1980s Top Summer Blockbusters

July 2019

Celebrate the biggest summer movies of the ’80s, when moviegoing morphed from mere entertainment to blockbuster events.

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