Throwaway Jokes That Required A Lot More Work Than You'd Think
Sometimes, coming up with a good joke takes more effort than simply feeling inspired and tweeting an Updog equivalent while enjoying some me-time on the toilet. A good one-hit joke is one thing, but what you really want is a gag that’s layered so deeply it becomes more than just your meme-of-the-day or whatever.
In filmmaking, and specifically comedy, there are basically two options: 1) Either write a one-line gag and hope audiences catch it, or 2) spend a bogus amount of time and manpower to create a running joke so good that people like us will one day write about it.
These, then, are those jokes.
The White Zone / Red Zone Scene in Airplane!
The 1980 parody lampooning all those disaster movies from the 1970s has been sitting comfortably at the top of the all-time spoof list for quite some time — all thanks to three filmmakers who accidentally recorded the 1957 disaster movie Zero Hour! while studying late-night television for some comedy routine material. Airplane! is the send-up version of Zero Hour!, with jokes aplenty and lines so quotable, surely you know all of them (speaking of which — don’t call us Shirley!).
One of the movie’s first great gags happens during the opening credits outside a terminal at LAX, as cars pull up and we hear a man and a woman bicker about the white zone/red zone over the airport’s PA system. You know the one, but here’s a refresher anyway:
What starts off as a joke about which zone is for stopping or not soon turns into a hilarious psychodrama between these two announcers who clearly have issues. It’s a great background joke to kick off the absurdity of things to come, and it turns out that David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker — the writers and directors collectively referred to as ZAZ — ended up hiring two actual LAX staffers to play out this little runaway gag of “Sh*! we’re pregnant.”
Team ZAZ originally went the standard route of auditioning voice actors to play the ambiguous couple, but it seems no one was able to provide enough authenticity the filmmakers were looking for. A brainwave led to them ultimately casting a real married couple who had previously recorded announcement tapes for LAX. We trust that’s where the realism of the situation ended.
In fact, their dialogue about the unwanted pregnancy was directly lifted from Arthur Hailey’s 1968 novel Airport (Hailey also wrote the Zero Hour! screenplay). It seems, at least, that the real-life couple didn’t mind joking about it at all since David Zucker said they totally “got a kick out of it.”
The ‘Good Afternoon’ Musical Number in Spirited
The new Apple TV+ musical comedy that sees Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds go Broadway in a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol is delightful. Sure, it might feel a tad overstuffed at times — especially in the sentimental department — but it’s a fine Christmas romp that features one particular musical number standing above the rest. The lead-up to it sees Ferrell’s character Roberto (as he likes to be called) tell Reynolds’ media brat Clint Briggs about how, back in the day, bidding someone “good afternoon” was seen as a “sick burn" and an insult of the worst kind. Of course, this is not a historically accurate tidbit — Scrooge simply shouted it at everybody in the Dickens story — but the joke worked so well it ended up getting its own sing-and-dance number.
Initially, the gag about figuratively slapping someone in the face saying, “Good afternoon,” was nothing more than a throwaway joke in the script. Reynolds, though, came up with the idea to turn the quip into a full-blown musical number. We like to think it was done so he could finally realize his lifelong dream of tap-dancing alongside Ferrell while sporting a cockney accent. Which is great because instead of just one joke, we got a number filled with visual gags, self-referential humor, and even a wonderful cameo from a certain great Dame. Said director Sean Anders: “We wanted to make this one the most comedic song in the film. It took a lot of work because it’s so over-the-top and ridiculous and has so many moving parts, but it’s just so much fun.”
Justin Paul, one of the songwriters who worked on “Good Afternoon,” said it was a bit of a task getting it right. “We were all working together in a 20-page Google Doc every night, trying to figure out the best lines possible and making each others’ jokes better and better.” The sequence was then filmed over four days in Boston, and is certainly a lesson in the value of expanding on a good joke by allowing everyone to go all Hugh Jackman on it.
The Drug Doll Gag in Booksmart
We probably don’t talk enough about Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut about two best girlfriends who want to shake off their good-grades personas and break some rules on the last day before high school graduation. It’s a sharp comedy with great scenes and even greater acting chops from Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, and it features a particularly hilarious scene where they trip on a hallucinogenic — and by trip, we mean turn into Barbie-like dolls.
It’s as bizarre as it is provocative, and while the idea seemed simple enough, the gag took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to ultimately produce two minutes of jokes about women’s cognitive dissonance when it comes to body image. Wilde asked ShadowMachine — the animation studio that did BoJack Horseman — to help her create the dolls-gone-wild scene that features the classic line, “You have to put my heel in your hole.” The studio made drawings of both Feldstein and Dever, and created hard molds filled with silicone from those drawings. There were multiple bodies and four different heads to convey the different emotional beats these dolls portray throughout the scene.
Puppeteers then moved the dolls in stop-motion style while each frame was photographed in the studio’s built bedroom set. All in all, it took around five months to plan and produce the scene — the bit was also rewritten a dozen times — all because Wilde wanted to make a joke about how getting stuck in a Barbie is every feminist girl’s worst nightmare.
The Fake Gangster Movie in Home Alone
In keeping with the classics, let’s now turn to the most famous fake movie of all time as we re-watch Home Alone’s “Angels with Filthy Souls” while stuffing our face holes with garbage and calling Snakes a “filthy animal.”
A true classic, especially since Kevin McCallister later uses the movie to both prank a pizza delivery boy and fool the Wet Bandits. The gangster movie was filmed on the final test day before the Home Alone production officially kicked off, and the authenticity of it clearly shows. As director of photography, Julio Macat has said, “We had nothing to lose. We went for it.”
Macat managed to convince director Chris Columbus to film the movie using 1940s filmmaking techniques, giving it a film noir feel but also leaning toward early television works. The set was built on a soundstage in an old high school gymnasium due to budget constraints, but it was meticulously filled with textures to create the old-school film effect, and decorated with such detail that you can even spot a coffee cup, slightly out of frame, releasing steam into the air. You can see it clearly in the full clip below:
The set was also steaming hot thanks to the oldie film stock needing four times more light to expose properly. The actors were sweating heaps underneath those trench coats, but in the end it was all worth it, since these days it just isn’t Christmas until someone quotes Angels with Filthy Souls.