Leslie Nielsen Had Surprisingly Little Input On The Naked Gun Script

When you look at the world of big screen parodies, there's truly nothing like what David Zucker and company were doing back in their heyday. I grew up in the era where Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer were in the business of pumping out absolute dreck year after year, confusing half-baked references as comedy. I'd gotten my first real taste with "Scary Movie 3," which still holds a special place in my heart, but once I'd become acquainted with Zucker's previous work, I knew what I had been missing out on all this time.

The humor in "Airplane!" involves very specific references, but the key to its longevity was taking an absurd series of events, and taking them very seriously. With that comes the comedy emergence of "Forbidden Planet" actor Leslie Nielsen, who had primarily played more dramatic characters prior to this role. It's no wonder his comedy career soared after this when you look at how he takes every ridiculous thing he's given, and says it with the utmost sincerity.

Going into "The Naked Gun," a big screen adaptation of the sadly failed 1982 ABC sitcom "Police Squad," it's a wonder how it took this long to realize Nielsen's potential as a comedic actor. If you've seen him in interviews, you'll know he's quick on his feet, but it might surprise you that all of your favorite gags from "The Naked Gun" weren't actually inspired by anything Nielsen did.

Nielsen trusted the comedic sharpness of Zucker's script

In an interview with Little White Lies, Zucker talks about how Nielsen was always playing pranks on set, but once it was time for him to turn into the bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin, he was as professional as professional could be. Despite his incredible sense of humor, Nielsen stuck entirely to Zucker's script:

"There was no improvising on set. He knew where the joke was and knew better than to mess with the style, try to wink or be funny. He absolutely trusted me and never tried to gild the lily. We purposely used straight actors in all roles and the humor came from behind the camera."

It may sound surprising at first, but when you look at how carefully constructed a lot of Zucker's jokes are, it makes total sense. That's why they mostly hold up among some of the greatest sight gags. The genius of Nielsen's comedic presence was in his delivery. You could ask him to read off your grocery shopping list, and his cold sober demeanor would make it the funniest thing you heard all week.

Nielsen is not without his own sense of exaggeration, but he almost never lets the audience in on the joke. Commandeering a vehicle with a student driver in it isn't funny, but guiding said driver, along with the teacher, to catch a murderer during a high-speed chase is hilarious. He may not have had any input in the script, but without Nielsen, it wouldn't come to life in nearly the same manner.

"The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" is currently streaming on Showtime.