Pop Culture
Jul 08, 2010, 05:13AM

Don't Call Me Shirley

The enduring brilliance of Airplane.

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Sure, it was the 4th of July and all, but while we were all hoping the pasta salad hadn’t gone bad in the heat, did you know there was an equally important anniversary going on last weekend in America besides its 234th birthday?

The 30th anniversary of the 1980 movie classic Airplane.

Okay, maybe not equally as important as the whole Declaration of Independence (wherein we apparently forgot to mention that it would be called soccer from then on so the Redcoats could stop saying ‘football’…), but certainly an absolutely significant American tradition celebration nonetheless.

Since I am a hag, I remember Airplane coming out when I was a mere 11-year-old putting on makeup and trying to sneak into the movies with my friends to see it. (“They will think we are 17 if we have makeup, right?”) I fell hard for the hijinx comedy of the Zucker brothers. They had me at “Surely you’re not serious.” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” In fact, to this day I can tell you if I’m going to like someone based strictly on the Airplane-quote knowledge scale of pop culture. If you don’t respond when someone uses the word “surely” with “and don’t call me Shirley,” then you’re a douchebag in my book. (Or, you’re young, which just brings out the bitter midlife crisis in me … watch Encore, for chrissakes!)

Ditto Caddyshack quotes. If someone says “Be the ball, Danny” or “Cinderella story” in a Bill Murray as Carl voice with a golf club swinging motion, I instantly believe they are a genius. Honestly, I think I married my husband for doing the sideways-lip Carl thing. Certain 80s movies just gripped and stuck with me. Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink or any other John Hughes movie, Ghostbusters, and pretty much any cornball 80s classic—these films bring up fond memories for me of my days blowing a hole in the ozone layer with my Aqua Net and rocking my legwarmers and blue eye shadow. I’m also a sucker for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, ET and, at the holidays every year, I thank the infant baby Jesus in his chilly manger for the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story on TNT.

But to me, it sort of all started with Airplane. In a New York Times article last week, I wasn’t surprised to learn that The Zucker brothers influenced many of today’s successful comedic filmmakers like Peter Farrelly:

“I was in Rhode Island the first time I saw ‘Airplane!’” recalled Peter Farrelly, who co-directed “There’s Something About Mary” and many other slapstick comedies with his brother, Bobby. “Seeing it for the first time was like going to a great rock concert, like seeing Led Zeppelin or the Talking Heads. We didn’t realize until later that what we’d seen was a very specific kind of comedy that we now call the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school.”

Jerry Zucker was also interviewed for the anniversary article: he told the NYT that he was influenced by the comedic writers before him, including the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. It’s easy to see the Airplane influence today in the Scary Movie films, or pretty much any film in which any combination of Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Seth Rogan or Steve Carrell appear.

The political incorrectness that characterized movies like Airplane would never fly today. Peter Graves (who played the pilot) asks a young boy “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?”, a little girl says she’ll take her coffee “black, like her men” and Wally Beaver’s mother speaks jive? A director today would never be able to get away with that non-p.c. shit. Which is a shame, because everything in that movie was completely hilarious—you could watch it 100 times and find something new to laugh at each time.

Mary McCarthy blogs at pajamsandcoffee.com.


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