‘That hurts, even though it’s just a prop,” said David Zucker, acclaimed writer/director of such legendary screen comedies Airplane! and The Naked Gun series. He was watching as an actor on the set of the new Israeli comedy, Mossad, which was filming in Jerusalem, got hit on the head with a beer bottle for the second – or was it the third? – time.
Zucker was in Israel as an on-set adviser on the film, which is being directed by Alon Gur Arye, who made the recent Israeli comedy hit Operation Egg. Zucker met Gur Arye, who is a huge admirer of his, when the Israeli director interviewed him on stage for an event in September sponsored by the OneFamily Foundation, a group that provides support for victims of terrorism.
When Zucker was invited to help out with this spy spoof, which, from the scenes I saw being shot, takes a great deal of its inspiration from Zucker’s Top Secret! – a spy comedy in which the hero points out that the date for a planned attack on the NATO submarine conflicts with Simhat Torah – he jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m happy to help Israel out in any way I can,” said Zucker. And if that means shivering in a drafty Jerusalem restaurant on a rainy winter day while many prop beer bottles get broken on an actor’s head, so be it.
He also found time during this visit to appear at the OneFamily Jerusalem headquarters to host a benefit screening of The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988), the first of the popular series, which starred Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley and – he always gets asked about it – O.J. Simpson. Most of the enthusiastic crowd there were English-speakers who remembered the movie from when it came out, but a few brought children who were seeing the very funny police spoof for the first time.
On set of the Mossad movie, Zucker was nothing if not a good sport as he shared the crowded set at the Colony Restaurant with an energetic and loud Israeli crew, some genuine local movie stars and even what can only be described as a rabbit wrangler.
Sitting next to Gur Arye during takes, Zucker, who does not speak Hebrew, said he was given a copy of the script in English and so could follow along. Many of the jokes, especially those involving bottles and bunnies, needed no translation.
But during a break while the crew set up for some new scenes, the cold got to be too much for Zucker, a Wisconsin native who has lived in Los Angeles for over four decades, and he accepted an invitation to do the rest of the interview in my car with the heat on full blast.
Zucker, who made Airplane! and several other comedies with his brother, Jerry Zucker, and his childhood friend, Jim Abrahams, said he was now working on a new Naked Gun movie, Naked Gun 444 and 1/4: Nordberg Did It. Nordberg was the name of O.J. Simpson’s character, but Zucker said the new Naked would be about the son of Frank Drebin, the character played by Nielsen. He had just finished the screenplay, which he co-wrote with Pat Proft and Michael McManus. The fourth installment in The Naked Gun series will spoof three franchises: James Bond, the Bourne movies and the Mission Impossible series.
Casting Naked Gun 4 will be a challenge, said Zucker, because he prefers not to use comedians. To truly make people laugh the way Zucker likes best, “You need someone who’s leading-man handsome” – like Robert Hays from Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen from The Naked Gun series and Val Kilmer from Top Secret! – “but you need someone who’s a clown.”
Tsahi Halevi, whom Zucker has watched on the set of Mossad very closely, fit this bill, he said.
“He’s got it, he’s very funny,” he said, and was interested to learn that Halevi has had primarily serious roles, in movies such as the tragic Bethlehem and the action-thriller TV series Fauda.
Since his work is not topical but pokes fun at serious films, Zucker doesn’t have to keep up with everything that’s out there. He said he found most recent movies and television shows to be derivative and just not that funny.
“Anything that’s original, I’ve got sympathy for,” he says. “But most of it is just franchises, five women in anything, or anything with Kevin Hart and Melissa McCarthy.”
Asked what he has enjoyed in recent years, he said, “Bridesmaids and Bad Grandpa.” He also a big fan of Impractical Jokers, a comedy group whose work is available on trutv.com.
“I can’t even watch more than 20 minutes of them at a time, because I’m just laughing too hard,” he says.
Asked about political correctness and whether it cramped his style these days, Zucker insisted it was not a problem.
“I’ve always been extremely comfortable offending people. It’s never bothered me.” He did acknowledge, however, that there is “some women’s stuff that’s not so funny in 2018.”
But Zucker fans need not worry. He will keep on making any joke that he finds funny.
“If an audience laughs, then you got away with it.”
His playful sense of humor served him well on set and at the OneFamily benefit.
“Life is full of challenges, triumphs and tragedies. I’ve never taken everything seriously. Jews have always done that,” he said, before turning back to the scene where the bartender gets brained with the prop beer bottle.