Leslie Nielsen’s hyperbole crackled across the rhetorical ionosphere. His sentences took quirky, unexpected turns and electrified that part of the brain that makes us laugh.
Comedian Leslie Nielsen died this week at age 84. He delivered thousands of really silly, and to my mind, truly funny lines in his decades-long career.
”Surely, you can’t be serious."
“I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.”
That interchange is from the movie “Airplane,” in which Nielsen plays a clueless doctor aboard a flight filled with passengers suffering from possibly fatal food poisoning.
“You'd better tell the captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
“A hospital? What is it?
“It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.”
Nielsen played a lot of idiotic characters, including Lt. Frank Drebin from "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" (1988).
In “Naked Gun,” Nielsen’s hyperbole crackles across the rhetorical ionosphere. His sentences take quirky, unexpected turns and electrify that part of the brain that makes us laugh.
“It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.”
Or this one:
“It's true what they say: ’Cops and women don't mix.’ It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside.”
Perhaps his funniest line is one I cannot repeat here. It deals with a line he delivers after breaking up with Priscilla Presley in “Naked Gun.” Let’s just say it was a physical oxymoron.
Nielsen was a master at deadpan humor. He was also physically funny – falling and bumbling. He was the comedic equivalent of Wrong-Way Corrigan, who set out in a single-engine plane for California and ended up in Iceland.
He was funniest when he didn’t smile.
My last shoutout to Leslie Nielsen would have to be the very words he spoke to the panic-attack-prone ex-pilot Ted and his ex-girlfriend, Elaine, before, during and after the landing: “I just want to tell you both, we’re all counting on you.”
Peter Costa is a senior editor with GateHouse Media New England and is the author of two books of humor. His latest, “Outrageous CostaLiving: Still Laughing Through Life,” is available at amazon.com.