Book Reviews,  History,  Humor,  Memoir

Book Review: Surely You Can’t Be Serious

Surely You Can't Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! by David Zucker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book about Airplane!? What is it? It’s pieces of paper with pictures and words on them, pressed between colorful covers, but that’s not important right now.

I’ve been a fan of this groundbreaking, earnestly-comical movie ever since I saw it the first week it opened in Seattle, back in the summer of 1980. I’ve always been a fan of puns and playing with the meanings of words, so I was charmed right from the get-go. If you are too, you’ve probably watched the movie a dozen times already.

I’m not going to keep typing out “David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker” when it’s much easier to call them “Team ZAZ”. I’m certainly not going to call them Shirley. This book is refreshingly honest, and lacking the slick editing/airbrushing of history, as we take a look at the chain of events that led up to the making of a classic. Team ZAZ freely admits to mistakes and rookie errors made along the way. The actors are honest about their reactions and experiences. Robert Hays even admits to how much (or should I say how little) he was paid – and explains why he got a ‘bonus’ of less than a hundred bucks.

Every time Team ZAZ landed another big-name actor, they reacted with wonder, astonishment, and delight. These emotions seem to be a theme in their lives. From the day they packed up everything in a big truck and left the Midwest, to nabbing the perfect building to rent for their wacky stage performances out in Hollywoodland, they simply could not believe their luck! That sense of wonderment never left the team, and is responsible for Airplane! being the endlessly funny, timeless classic that it is. That feeling is captured in the anecdotes collected here.

This book isn’t written as a formal manuscript. It’s an entirely different kind of book, altogether. (I’ll pause while you take that bait.) Instead, it’s a big collection of pictures and anecdotes from and about everyone who had anything to do with the movie. Luckily for us, Team ZAZ and the cast and crew of the movie are a talkative, excitable bunch.

Everyone happily shares their first impressions of the project. Most of the cast didn’t ‘get it’ but came along for the ride, anyway. It was always cheering to read the anecdote where one of the principal actors finally realized what was going on and ‘got it’.

Something I didn’t realize, and loved learning more about, was the fact that Team ZAZ made Hollywood history. Airplane! was the first movie to have three people working as a team to direct a movie. Hollywood didn’t accept this arrangement easily, but the team refused to have it any other way. After you learn how far they’d already made it in life as a trio, you wouldn’t have it any other way, either.

This book is for fans of Airplane! of course, but should also appeal to young hopefuls needing inspiration as they struggle for their own big break. Fans of 1970s improv theater culture will get a kick out of it too.

My thanks to David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker (Team ZAZ!), St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.


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