November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen 1926–2010

I hadn't planned to write much here about Leslie Nielsen, who died on Sunday—if you'd like some especially valuable insight, read what the great Matt Zoller Seitz has written on Salon—but a distracting few minutes on YouTube has forced my hand.

I'm especially fond of Nielsen's work in the great, insane Police Squad.

This show lasted a mere six episodes back in 1982—it was famously canceled because, and I'm paraphrasing here, the viewer had to pay too much attention to get the jokes. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, cursed to exist in a pre-Simpsons, ante–30 Rock world. Regardless, it spawned the Naked Gun film series, whose humor is so mighty as to still make O.J. Simpson likable.

The clip below is worth watching all the way through: It's as clear an example as you can find of why Nielsen had such a wonderful comic touch. No one was better at playing silly straight (no pun intended here…)

Whoever uploaded this clip labeled it the "greatest line in the history of comedy," and they're not too far off:

From the same episode: This clip is such a purely hilarious example of the old comedy technique, "start with the believable, then build to the ridiculous":

There's a lot more for free online, but most of it in large chunks that you're best exploring on your own. Or better yet, pick up the DVD of the complete series, which includes commentary from Robert Wuhl, about how he can barely remember working on the show. I love the '80s.