Friday, December 17, 2010

The Last Laugh

On November 28, 2010 hollywood lost a legend.  Leslie Neilson, star of iconic comedies AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN series past away as a result of complications from pneumonia.  He was originally a serious character actor and has apparently appeared in hundreds of movies and television shows he didn't get his start in comedy until 1980 when he was well into his fifties.  I did a quick IMDB search and quickly discovered that I had never heard of virtually (and by virtually I mean any) of his movie roles previous to AIRPLANE and honestly I really don't plan on watching any of them any time soon.  I'm sure that he did a fine job, but really his great contribution to society came with AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN. 

I remember going over to my grandparents' house for special occaisions: birthdays, Christmases, interventions, Thanksgivings, disownings, lawsuits, Bar Mitzfahs, exorcisms, ritual executions, Easters, or just to watch grandma get plastered and stumble around the room shouting profanities and knocking over priceless heirlooms.  Segregation would typically occur along chronological lines: the adults would stay upstairs talking about out of court settlements or playing Trivial Pursuit or some bullshit while the kids would go down to the basement to scavenge for grandpa's WWII era porn (go Rita Hayworth!), any spare change we could find and watch movies.  We spent countless hours watching the greats like STAR WARS, ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, various Looney Tunes cartoons, and THE NAKED GUN.  OK, mostly it was my brothers and little cousin who watched ACE VENTURA which may explain why they now have trouble forming meaningful relationships and an irrational fear of the Miami Dolphins.  The point is that from an early age Neilson had already begun to influence my subconscious and the man that I would become.  Looking back at AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN it is now becoming more and more obvious how those movies influenced my sense own of humour: in turns sarcastic, farcical and just plain corny.

What Neilson in particular contributed to the comedy world was first his superb deadpan delivery of some of the most ridiculously funny lines in movie history (  "It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.") but also popularizing the archetype of the oblivious hero.  Now I suppose that the obivious hero archetype has existed for a while perhaps best characterized by the (for some reason) beloved Mr.Magoo which is why it was somewhat appropriate for Neilson to eventually portray Magoo in the 1997 live action incarnation aptly titled MR. MAGOO.  Other actors have also contributed to the archetype, like Bill Murray in THE MAN WO KEW TOO LITTLE, and I am a huge Murray fan (great fucking cameo in ZOMBIELAND) but for my money Leslie Neilson just personified it better.  Nobody could deliver a line like  "Oh, and one more thing... I faked every orgasm!" or  "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley" with the severity and gravitas of Leslie Neilson.  In his comedy prime he didn't just deliver lines: he preached comedic gospel.

And so the only thing left to say is farwell Leslie, and thank you... and for the love of god don't call me Shirley.  Let er' RIP, big guy.



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