David Zucker, who wrote and directed “Airplane!,” “The Naked Gun,” and other famous comedies, recently attacked cancel culture, claiming his films’ jokes would not be permitted today.
In a New York Post piece — adapted from his 3,000-word essay in the current issue of Commentary Magazine — marking the 40th anniversary of “Airplane’s,” release, Zucker said Paramount Pictures “discussed withholding the re-release over feared backlash for scenes that today would be deemed insensitive.”
“I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me, ‘You couldn’t do that scene today,’” Zucker wrote. “But I always wonder, why not?”
The filmmaker said the president of Paramount in the early 1980s “didn’t feel that he had to censor, take apart or micromanage the jokes in the ‘Airplane!’ script, even the ones he didn’t understand.”
Zucker says that “comedy requires a certain amount of recklessness and that comedy writers and directors need to experiment until they hit that perfect note where a joke can illuminate uncomfortable subjects by giving us permission to laugh at them.”
But Zucker, who began to focus on politics in 2008 when he made the parody movie “An American Carol,” which mocks Michael Moore, Hollywood, and academia, is cognizant of audience retaliation.
“There is a very vocal, though I believe small, percentage of the population that can’t differentiate,” the 74-year-old argues.
He then took on some of the 30 million Americans on Twitter.
”9-Percenters are not a new segment of society; they’ve always lived among us. The difference now is that social media amplifies the voices of even the smallest subgroups while the anonymity of the Internet removes all consequences,” Zucker believes. “This means that today’s 9-Percenters can hide behind screens and social-media handles as they attack any person on the Internet whose jokes offend them. The 9-Percenters of 40 years ago had to think twice about what they were sharing publicly, because at the end of the day, they had to sign their names to their reactions. Without this accountability, it’s all too easy for today’s 9-Percenters to attack and shame comedy writers into giving up on the genre.”
He warns that “comedy cannot thrive in a state of fear,” and no one should cater to 9-Percenters, else “we find ourselves in a world where comedy is censored, and the 91 percent of the population that gets the jokes feels reluctant to laugh.”
Zucker bemoaned that some of the best comedic minds are leaving the industry.
“The root of the problem is a loss of trust. Comedy is ultimately about trust. Without trust, audiences begin to question the intentions behind every joke, they take jokes literally, and they use their collective voices to bully comedians and pressure studios against taking any comedic risk,” he opined toward the end of his story. “We are in a comedy emergency. If we continue on this path, no first responders will be able to help us. Humor will be reduced to five-second, anonymous memes on the Internet, and movie comedy will be reduced to pablum.”