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Surely the six best Leslie Nielsen lines

November 29, 2010 |  1:20 pm

He became known as a serious actor in the 1950s and then reinvented his career with spoofy turns in “Airplane!," “Police Squad” and “The Naked Gun” in the 1980's and '90s. Leslie Nielsen, who died Sunday at the age of 84, was part of numerous comedies and even more water-cooler conversations. He didn’t write his trademark lines, but you wonder if we’d remember any of them if he didn’t deliver them in his daffy deadpan.

Herewith, then, a quick study in Nielsenology. Your contributions welcome.

--The hospital quip. (“A hospital? What is it?” “It's a big building with patients but that's not important right now.”) Admittedly an overused one compared to his other misplaced-modifier specials (“That's the red-light district. I wonder why Savage is hanging around down there.” “Sex, Frank?” "Uh, not right now, Ed.") But still a classic.

--The political Leslie, as evidenced in an exchange with George Bush in “Naked Gun.” “Frank, please consider filling a post I'm creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights, surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society.” “You want me to be in your cabinet?” Before the tea party, apparently, there was Leslie Nielsen.

--The Goodyear blimp gag. “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.” “Goodyear?” “No, the worst.” Never fails to get a laugh. Who else could pull off wordplay involving vulcanized rubber?

--The moment-of-panic Leslie, with a who’s-on-first spin. “Captain, how soon can you land?” “I'm just not sure.”  “Well, can't you take a guess?” “Well, not for another two hours." “You can't take a guess for another two hours?”

--The standard-bearer. "Can you fly this plane and land it?" "Surely you can't be serious." "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."

--And finally, not from a movie, but somehow appropriate the day after Nielsen's passing. “Doing nothing is very hard to do -- you never know when you're finished.”

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Leslie Nielsen in "The Naked Gun." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Leslie Nielsen dies

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Hi folks,
A very sad day to lose such a great comic actor, but his wonderful films and great lines live on and I don't know of one professional pilot that did not love the film Airplane.
Leslie Nielsen was the only comic that ever managed to tell a good joke about the Goodyear blimp. If you are interested in more Helium sniffing comedy try www.hybridblimp.net for the worlds only lighter than air comedy web site.
I am sure many pilots will watch Airplane and Naked Gun one more time this week.
Regards JB ( www.hybridairship.net )

Honestly delivered the funniest lines of my 31 years on the planet. I watched Airplane on Sunday with a lady friend and she didnt get it. I had to put it off as I couldnt get why she didnt find it funny!! I use the lines LN delivered every day as do many of my friends, they never fail to bring a smile. Sadly - Surely he cant be dead? Dont call me Shirley. God Bless..

Was this true for anyone else? I wonder if part of Leslie Neilsen's strength, A's a comic actor, was that you just didn't expect him to be so adept at comedy? I think that was true for why I loved him so much. It wasn't that what he was just saying that was such a surprise; thus, so funny---But it was dimensionally funniER because there was always such a surprise (doubled) at Neilsen's delivery. Exponential surprise, because he just seemed like a cardboard actor, and he would deliver the lines with such a strong deadpan, like a cardboard actor! Therein, was a certain genius.

I find, when coaching actors on comedy, that it is very difficult for many NOT to give the joke away. To treat a funny laugh line as any other line. 'Deadpan' is the advanced version of that. Deadpan is risky too, far riskier than making something funny, which naturally funny people are adept and gifted at. But deadpan risks the audience missing that something funny just went by.

In comedy, it's an extremely advanced skill.

My phone, from which I typed my comment, changed the word "as" to "A's".

"I haven't had so much sex since I was a boy scout leader...."

And my personal fav for times when something seems impossible...

"Good luck, we're all counting on you"

"Nice beaver" "Thanks, I just had it stuffed"

"Have you ever seen a grown man naked?"

"Who are you and how'd you get in here?"
"I'm a locksmith, and, I'm a locksmith.

The writers wrote the lines, but Nielsen brought them to life and made them classics.

My favorite: From Naked Gun II or III,

Stacked girl at pot store asks, "Is this some kind of bust?"

Response: "Yes mam, very impressive."

Seeing Airplane in 1980 was the funniest time I ever had!

Simon: Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet your captain, Captain Oveur.
Clarence Oveur: Gentlemen, welcome aboard.
Simon: Captain, your navigator, Mr. Unger, and your first officer, Mr. Dunn.
Clarence Oveur: Unger.
Unger: Oveur.
Dunn: Oveur.
Clarence Oveur: Dunn. Gentlemen, let's get to work.
Simon: Unger, didn't you serve under Oveur in the Air Force?
Unger: Not directly. Technically, Dunn was under Oveur and I was under Dunn.
Dunn: Yep.
Simon: So, Dunn, you were under Oveur and over Unger.
Unger: Yep.
Clarence Oveur: That's right. Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn.
Unger: So, you see, both Dunn and I were under Oveur, even though I was under Dunn.
Clarence Oveur: Dunn was over Unger, and I was over Dunn.

Yes, I had the lasagna.

"Johnny, do like gladiator movies?", "You ever been in a turkish bathhouse?"

From the first moment we meet him in "Airplane", when Elaine asks him, "Excuse me, sir, are you a doctor?" and he's sitting there with a stethoscope in his ears, Leslie Nielsen was wonderful. "Not only do we have to find someone who can fly this plane, we have to find someone who didn't have fish for dinner." I think it's time for yet another viewing of one of my very favorite movies!

The writers of Airplane! must have known about today's TSA when creating the line: Do you like gladiator movies?

When that question is asked of TSA applicants and the answer is in the affirmative, it's an automatic hire.


Cute article. Shame you had to take a cheap shot at Tea Party activists. Supporting limited government equates to scum now?

Michael, you seem to misunderstand the meaning of Steven's reference to the tea party. In fact, you've got it 180 degrees wrong. But at least you've now verified your tea party qualifications.

Careful! Some lines in these comments were actually by Peter Graves (whom we also lost earlier this year)

Some of these were Peter Graves, not Leslie Neilsen, like the gladiator line.

I doubled over with laughter. What a wonderful feeling!

"Your husband has only a 50-50 chance of making it. But there's only a 25% chance of that."

Usually I see a movie and go, Who Wrote This Mess?
Here I want to know the authors of Nielsen's deathless lines


For all his wonderful comedic talent, didn't Leslie Neilsen play in an NBC drama series called BRACKEN'S WORLD in the 60s or 70s? He was totally enjoyable in all his roles and will be missed.

"Like a midget at a urinal I was going to have to stay on my toes."

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