Noxious Tales of Leslie Nielsen’s Legendary Fart Machine
Wherever Leslie Nielsen went — be it a movie set, a talk show or a private dinner with a friend — one thing always remained constant: the presence of his trusty fart machine. He’d pull out the handheld device made of plastic and rubber, lick it to be sure it had the correct amount of moisture, and then squeeze it, letting out a variety of different fart sounds, all of which were equally convincing.
Nielsen usually played it off as though he didn’t hear anything, on occasion though, particularly on talk shows, he’d delight in explaining how it worked.
“Leslie was a closet comedian who only starred in serious roles until Airplane!,” one of the film’s directors, David Zucker, tells me. But when that jokester was finally let out of the closet, he delighted in making people laugh, especially when it involved his signature fart machine. It produced a mighty (faux) wind, and its stories still bowl over those in its blast zone to this day.
David Zucker, co-director and co-screenwriter of Airplane! and the first two Naked Gun films: Leslie Nielsen was the last person we cast in Airplane!. Jerry (Zucker), Jim (Abrahams) and I had been turned down by three or four other actors for the role of Dr. Rumack. Then we went to our casting director and said, “We’ve got a great idea — Leslie Nielsen for the doctor!” He said, “Leslie Nielsen? Leslie Nielsen is the guy you cast the night before!” We still had six weeks left, which meant we still had more time, but we wanted Leslie because he was this journeyman character with no hint of any humor to him.
We didn’t know this at the time, but apparently, when Leslie was offered the part, he said to his agent, “Don’t tell those guys this, but I would pay them to do this.” He understood what we wanted. He understood that he shouldn’t wink and that he had to do it totally seriously. Even though he’d had humorless roles his whole career, he was a closet comedian. He was really this goofball who was very rebellious and subversive.
Even before he met us on Airplane!, he’d carry that fart machine around. He’d carry on seriously with somebody, then he’d adjust his seat and fart. On Airplane!, I’d say he waited until about the second week of filming to try it out on set, then he started doing it all the time. He was always trying to crack up the other actors while they were doing their takes.
Leslie even began selling them on set, and everyone on the crew was buying them — it was causing a big disturbance. Eventually, the assistant director couldn’t control anyone, so he wouldn’t allow them on set anymore. Leslie gave me one, too. I put it in a glass case, and I still treasure it to this day.
Kelly Hu, Nielsen’s co-star in Surf Ninjas: When you first met Leslie, he would act as though he was this very dignified older man. Then you’d hear all of these noises coming out of him. And it was not as though he’d bust out laughing at the end of it — he’d just walk away! He left me wondering, “Was that real?” It wasn’t until I asked someone in the makeup trailer about it that they told me that he had this little thing in his hand. He was such a prankster.
David Lawrence, Nielsen’s co-star in Doctor*Ology: I worked with Leslie in 2006, so he was 80 years old then; yet he was still really spry, and he taught me a lot. I remember him with that fart machine — he was really quick with it. Out of the corner of my eye I’d see him pull it out of his pocket, then he’d give it a good lick to get that sound just right.
He never did it to me. He would usually just do it around a PA or the costume people. He’d pull it out, lick it and put it to the side and squeeze. Then he’d look over like, “Where’d that come from?”
Neal Israel, director of Surf Ninjas: Leslie did that constantly. Every friggin’ take it’d be, “Ready, here we go, roll camera,” and then there’d be this huge fart sound. Sometimes he even did it as we were shooting. At first, people didn’t know it was a thing in his hand. They thought this poor old guy was farting. That thing never got old for him, and it never stopped. What a lunatic he was.
Gino Salomone, friend of Nielsen: I don’t like that people call it a fart machine. It was not a fart machine. It was a device made by a guy in Oklahoma. It was like black rubber with two sides to it and a hole, and Leslie would work it like an impresario. It was a musical instrument in his hands. Nobody else could get the same sounds out of it that he could.
When we’d go out to a nice restaurant, he’d lick his hand and hide it. The waitress would come up, and that was my cue to say, “Leslie, are you feeling any better?” He’d make this face and squeeze the thing. If you could just see the face he made when he did it — it was the best acting he ever did.
He said to me a few times that he thought it was the great leveler of people — it always broke the ice. I never once saw anyone get angry or offended, and he loved to bring it out. I used to ask him, “Are you traveling alone?,” and he’d say “I never travel alone. I brought my friend with me.”
There was mischief behind him, and he lived life with a gleam in his eye. I miss him a lot.