I’ve set myself an impossible challenge: choose a scene from Airplane!, the film with easily the fastest joke rate I’ve ever encountered. When one clip contains at least five laugh-out-loud moments, you know it’ll be hard to pick which one works the best.
I also can’t believe it’s taken me this long to highlight one of my favorite films, what I would consider, along with Some Like It Hot, the best comedy of all time. The silliness is unsurpassed, the physical comedy unmatched, and all of it stamped with a signature wit. This is smartly stupid, laugh-a-second comedy at its best.
I was introduced to Airplane! by my mom, who has always had a stellar sense of humor—turns out her entire side of the family (the Ehrmans) loves the film, and if you’ve ever wanted to find a room full of people crying tears of joy, look no further. I don’t remember exactly when I watched Airplane! for the first time, but I do know that I was young enough that I did not “get” a good portion of the jokes. One of the beautiful thing about a film this referential, crass, and bawdy is that it shifts and changes constantly; every time I watch, I discover a new joke or reference to savor.
It’s a pretty silly task to try and explain the plot of Airplane! as it is so paper thin. Essentially Ted Striker, a former pilot with PTSD from his time flying in Korea? WWII? Vietnam? (it is never clear and the vintage plane crash videos are an on-going joke) wants to win back his flight attendant girlfriend Elaine, so he hops on board one of her routes. Tragedy strikes when over half the passengers eat the fish and become deathly ill—including the pilot, co-pilot (played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and navigator—forcing Striker to take over control of the unwieldy plane and land with the help of a former Air Force rival.
The scene I’ve chosen encapsulates so many of the finest points in the film: the ongoing war between flamboyant Johnny (who somehow unplugs the airport runway lights) and everyone else at air traffic control, the “I guess I picked the wrong week to quit…” joke repeated throughout the film with a different substance each time, Elaine’s annoying franticness, and that perfect physical comedy (“Everyone get in crash positions,” the washing machine radar screens, etc…).
I suppose I will just let you get to it now. If you don’t laugh to yourself a little bit while watching, not even a chuckle, then I don’t know if we can be friends. But hey, it’s been nice knowing you 🙂
What are you favorite Airplane! moments? Comment below, subscribe to the blog, and share with your friends and family; everyone needs a little disaster film comedy in their lives, right?