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Winging through “Airplane!” on Blu-ray with Robert Hays

Winging through “Airplane!” on Blu-ray with Robert Hays (photo)

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One of the greatest movies of all-time is coming out on Blu-ray. What is it? It’s a polycarbonate disc that contains the digital files of a movie, but that’s not important right now.

What is important is the classic comedy “Airplane!” available on Blu-ray for the first time. To celebrate the occasion, we spoke with “Airplane!” star Robert Hays — Ted Striker himself — about working with writer/directors David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, battling the late Leslie Nielsen’s infamous fart machine, and trying not to freak people out when they recognize him on airplanes. Disengage your autopilot, put down your copy of “Famous Jewish Sports Legends,” and enjoy.

How did you get the part? Did you audition?

Yeah, I did. My agency had a new agent and she had just come into the office. She called [“Airplane!” producer] Howard Koch, who she used to work with. They’d been all over the country having auditions, looking for Ted Striker, and they couldn’t find him. She called them up and said, “Hey, I’ve got your Ted Striker for you!”

They sent over a script; I actually read it on an airplane. Every single page had something on it that made me laugh. I met with them the next week and really liked them, they liked me. Then I read for them, and they liked my reading, and then I screen tested with Julie [Hagerty]. They really liked us and that was it.

I don’t know if people realize “Airplane!” is actually a very faithful — albeit much sillier — remake of a ’50s disaster movie called “Zero Hour!” The lead character is even named Ted Stryker. Did you watch that movie or study its Ted, Dana Andrews, before you played the part?

I didn’t really see it until after we’d made the film, but [the directors] had it queued up in their little trailer or their little hut if we were shooting on a soundstage. They had a video feed from the cameras, and the monitor was taped off so they could see just what was going to be on the film. So they would set it up so they could get the same angle and the same lighting for certain scenes.

They were that focused on it looking authentic?

Well, just in certain things — the lighting and the camera angles. But they didn’t want me to see Dana Andrews, they didn’t want me mimicking him. Which is good; I wanted to have my own character. I just did it really seriously and really straight. That was one of the important ingredients of doing the film.

Did each of the three directors have their own responsibilities or did they all do everything?

They would all confer and then Jerry [Zucker] would speak to us. David [Zucker] and Jim [Abrahams] watched the monitor. Sometimes they would all talk, but usually it was just Jerry talking on the set with the crew and the actors.

Were they always in sync or were there occasionally disagreements over things?

If there were, I never saw them. It was like three bodies with one brain. They just were so in tune with what they were doing.

I’ve read that Leslie Nielsen liked to play pranks on his co-stars.

He wasn’t known for it at that point, but he had this little fart machine that he would have in his hand. So when I was in the cockpit with him and Laura Patterson and he said “Mr. Striker, can you land this plane?” when we shot my close-up, it was “Mr. Striker, [fart noise] can you [fart noise] land this [fart noise] plane?” Farting the whole time! That was the hardest day to keep a straight face. He was very funny.

I’m sure when people recognize you, they quote lines from the movie. I imagine you hear “Surely you can’t be serious!” a lot, but what’s your favorite line from the movie that you don’t often hear from fans?

Gosh, I don’t know. One time I was racing cars, and I flew to a track north of San Francisco, in Sonoma. I got to the airport, landed, and went to get my car. The girl behind the counter says “Are you Robert Hays? You were in ‘Airplane!”” And I said “Yup.” And she said “Oh my God, I love that film! My favorite scene was…” And I’m expecting the dance scene or “Surely…” or one of those. And she said “It’s when all the people come down the baggage claim chute and the luggage is sitting there waiting for them.” I said “Oh good!” but I’m thinking, “Gosh, what a strange choice.” So she went to the back to look for my paperwork and I turned around and leaned on the counter. I look over and I realize, that’s what she looks at all day long: the conveyor belt with all the luggage! So it all depends on who it is that you’re talking to.

Do people see you on airplanes and get nervous?

[laughs] Soon after the film came out I was in New York. And I was at the airport getting ready to get on a plane and they had this little waiting room that you went into, and then after it was filled they’d wheel the room over, and that’s how you got in the plane. And when I first got there, there was only one other guy in there, and he was all dressed in black, very dramatic, with a long cape. He had a big sombrero-like black hat. He looked very fashionable, like he was some designer or something. He leaned against the opposite wall and stared at me. He never said anything until the entire room was filled, and then he very dramatically pointed his finger at me and said “I’m not getting onto any plane with that man!”

I used to get invited up into the cockpit in all the foreign carriers. On U.S. carriers it’s illegal, but in foreign ones you can go in the cockpit. All over Europe and Australia, everywhere, they’d invite me up and it was a lot of fun. And in American planes, pilots would come back and kneel down and whisper something to me like “If I need some help will you come up and land the plane?”

Of course all the problems in “Airplane!” started when the pilots eat some tainted fish. Would you ever eat fish on an airplane?

My own private, personal little joke is that ever since the movie, I’ve never had fish on a plane. It’s 31 years now. And I love fish.

There’s one thing that’s always bugged me about the movie. In the flashback scene where Ted meets Elaine, there’s a scene that spoofs “Saturday Night Fever” where you dance to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. For some reason, the song is played at a faster speed than it should be. This has bothered me for years: why play the song at the wrong speed?

I don’t know. It might be just because it’s funnier.

“Airplane!” will be available on Blu-ray Sunday, September 25 as a Best Buy Exclusive. What’s your favorite line from the movie? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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