The 50 Funniest Moments in ‘The Naked Gun’

Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker break down the gags in Lieutenant Frank Drebin’s big-screen debut
The 50 Funniest Moments in ‘The Naked Gun’

As far as I’m concerned, the single greatest joke in The Naked Gun is when Lieutenant Frank Drebin is pining for his ex while driving. As the camera pans over to a nuclear power plant that resembles a pair of breasts, he says, “Everywhere I look, something reminds me of her.” It’s a perfect visual gag that makes perfect use of a real nuclear power plant. The joke has even become a popular internet meme that’s still going strong. 

But in terms of ranking the rest of the jokes in The Naked Gun, because there are so many of them, and because they so often piggyback on top of each other, I found it difficult to separate one joke from another. Which, of course, is what’s so wonderful about the movie — the jokes come so fast that, if you don’t like one, you only need to wait a few seconds for the next one to come around. So, instead, I took the 50 best jokes from the movie and arranged them chronologically. (Rest assured, though, “Everywhere I look, something reminds me of her” is still the single best joke in the movie.)

For additional context and commentary, I reached out to Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, the famous ZAZ trio that created the Naked Gun characters for the short-lived TV show Police Squad! and then adapted them for the big screen along with screenwriter Pat Proft. 

And so, here, in chronological order, are the 50 greatest jokes from the 1998 Leslie Nielsen classic The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!... 

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Drebin vs the Dictators

The very first scene of the movie finds Drebin, who is disguised as a waiter, beating up nearly a dozen of the world’s most dangerous dictators. “It was just the idea of Leslie doing away with every modern villain at the time,” David Zucker tells me. “Today, we’d choose a lot of different people, but at the time, those were the main bad guys in the world, and the idea that he would just do away with all of them was very funny.”

Jerry Zucker adds that “it’s kind of like James Bond starting with the last mission,” in that they needed a splashy opening. However, the first scene wasn’t unconnected from the rest of the film, as the dictators are conspiring about how to kill the Queen, which more or less becomes the plot of the movie. “We learned on Airplane! to make the jokes plot points and the plot points jokes, and this was a big plot point — that these guys were conspiring to do some big terrorist act,” David Zucker explains.

The Opening Siren Sequence

To make it seem like the siren is driving through all these different locations, David Zucker says they put the siren on a rolling dolly with a camera attached to it. “You’d push it forward like a wheelbarrow,” he recalls. “That was adapted from M Squad, which is what Police Squad! was based on.”  

Or as Abrahams jokes, “Somewhere, somebody cut together the opening titles of M Squad and the opening titles of Police Squad! — it’s incredible how little imagination we had.”

‘Police! Throw Down Your Guns!’

At the start of the film, O.J. Simpson’s character, Detective Nordberg, struggles to bust down a door on a ship. When he finally gets it open, seven bad guys have their guns drawn on him, yet one goon still drops his when Nordberg shouts, “Police! Throw down your guns!” The joke is one of the movie’s first big laughs. “That guy was a grip, not an actor,” explains David Zucker. 

Nordberg on the Ship

Nordberg then gets repeatedly shot, causing him to stumble, bump his head on a pipe, burn his hand on a stove and get wet paint on his coat. Next, a window lands on his fingers before he falls into a wedding cake, steps into a bear trap and tumbles into the water. 

David Zucker says that, as a comedic actor, O.J. Simpson improved with each movie. “He gave us all autographed footballs,” adds Jim Abrahams. “I played with mine though, and the autograph wore off. You could get a fortune for it on eBay now.” Jerry Zucker says his is still legible — and in his possession — but he’s not quite sure what to do with it. “I had it out for a long time, but then after he murdered two people, I tucked it away,” he explains.

‘Weird Al Yankovic Is on the Plane’

After Drebin busts up the meeting of evil dictators, he returns home to fanfare he thinks is for him, only to be told, “Frank, they’re not here for you. Weird Al Yankovic is on the plane.” David Zucker credits producer Bob Weiss with bringing Weird Al into the film. “Our producer knew Weird Al, and Weird Al was a fan of Police Squad!Airplane! and Top Secret!,” Zucker tells me. “He was obsessed with Top Secret!, actually. He really wanted to be in it, so we had him in every Naked Gun in a cameo.”

‘Everywhere I Look, Something Reminds Me of Her’

I’ve said everything I need to say here, so I’ll let Abrahams do the rest: “That’s one of those jokes that hasn’t timed out. People are going to get that joke for all eternity, I think.”

The Hospital

“On the side of the building it just says ‘The Hospital,’” notes David Zucker, pointing out a tiny background joke.

Our Lady of the Worthless Miracle

Later in the film, the hospital is called “Our Lady of the Worthless Miracle,” but that wasn’t its original name. “The original name was ‘Our Lady of the Never Had the Pickle,’ but Ricardo Montalbán (who played the villain, Ludwig) objected, so we changed it,” explains David Zucker.

‘Mrs. Nordberg, I Think We Can Save Your Husband’s Arm. Where Would You Like It Sent?’

“What I remember about this joke is that it didn’t get a laugh until the third preview,” says David Zucker. “Originally, we said the joke up front, but it didn’t work until we put it on his back, going away from the camera. The line needed to be thrown away more because it’s too much of a Vaudeville-type joke.”

Nordberg Getting Hurt in the Hospital Bed

“The special effects guys put together that bed with two fake legs,” David Zucker explains. “It was all really good physical gags, which is one of the reasons all the Naked Guns did well internationally, because everybody knew the references of cop movies, and they could all laugh at visual gags.”

‘Nordberg, That’s a Pretty Tall Order, You’re Going to Have to Give Me a Couple of Days on That One’

When Drebin visits Nordberg in the hospital, he tries to get information from him as he’s slipping in and out of consciousness. Nordberg explains that he was gunned down during a drug bust, but when he says “drugs,” Drebin thinks he’s asking for pain meds. So when Nordberg follows up with, “Cocaine,” Drebin replies, “Nordberg, that’s a pretty tall order, you’re going to have to give me a couple of days on that one.” 

“It’s great that Drebin’s so thick that he interpreted everything Nordberg said wrong,” David Zucker laughs.

‘I Realize That… Now’

Nordberg also utters the name of the ship where the drug bust took place: “I LUV YOU.” Drebin, naturally, misinterprets this as Nordberg professing his love for him, to which Drebin replies, “I love you too, Nordberg.” Later, when Captain Hocken tells Drebin that Nordberg was referring to the ship, Drebin says, “I realize that… now.”

The line is great, but it’s Nielsen’s reaction that really provides an extra punch. When he realizes Nordberg wasn’t telling Drebin he loved him, Drebin looks over at Nordberg, sad and wounded. As Jerry Zucker notes, “Leslie was brilliant at that kind of stuff — that double thought — ‘Wait a minute… he didn’t mean he loved me?’”

‘Let’s Grab a Bite to Eat’

When leaving Nordberg’s hospital room, Drebin tells Nordberg’s wife, “Wilma, I promise you, whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest for one minute until he’s behind bars.” Then Drebin turns to Hocken and says, “Now let’s grab a bite to eat.” “This is another line that Leslie delivered perfectly,” Abrahams says.

‘No Matter How Silly the Idea of Having a Queen Might Be to Us’

At a press conference, the mayor announces that Police Squad will be protecting the Queen of England on her visit into town. To that, Drebin says to the crowd, “Protecting the safety of the Queen is a task that’s gladly accepted by Police Squad. For, no matter how silly the idea of having a queen might be to us, as Americans, we must be gracious and considerate hosts.” “That’s such a great line,” says David Zucker. “Probably Pat Proft wrote that.” 

The Live Mic

“One of the jokes that’s very well remembered is when Drebin is peeing with the mic on during the press conference,” says Jerry Zucker. “I love the jokes where we can just keep milking it.”

The Floating Outline

“The body outline on the water is a great gag,” laughs David Zucker. Jerry Zucker can’t precisely remember what that outline was made of, but he says, “The effects guys found some white stuff that would float, and they made a body outline out of it. I don’t think it was too difficult.”  

The Bribery Scene

In Police Squad!, a recurring gag involved Drebin giving cash to a shoeshine man for information. The joke was carried over for the movie, but another level was added. In The Naked Gun, Drebin bribes a dockworker for information. When the dockworker wants to know more about the case, Drebin says he can’t reveal anything, so the informant bribes him to find out more.

The Wet Handshake

While visiting Ludwig’s office, Drebin accidentally kills Ludwig’s priceless fish with Ludwig’s priceless pen, only to give Ludwig a hilariously wet handshake afterward. David Zucker is particularly fond of Ricardo Montalbán’s reaction to the handshake. “It’s really great,” he says.

‘The Saltwater Preserved Him Until He Was Found’

When Drebin meets Ludwig, he mentions Nordberg, and Ludwig asks, “He is still alive, then?” Drebin’s reply: “He was shot six times. Fortunately, the bullets missed every vital organ, and the saltwater preserved him until he was found.” When I mention this line to David Zucker, he laughs and says, “That’s so stupid,” while Abrahams adds, “You’re making me want to see the movie again.”

‘The Kind of Legs You’d Like to Suck on for a Day’

“Every line where Drebin would make a simile, that was Pat Proft,” explains David Zucker of the film’s fourth screenwriter.

‘Nice Beaver’

“The most bang for your buck for a two-word joke is Leslie Nielsen saying ‘Nice beaver,’” David Zucker argues, referring to the scene in which Priscilla Presley is going up a ladder, and it looks as though Drebin is peering up her skirt. 

During our conversation, Abrahams went to retrieve a small bronze statue of a beaver with a plaque that reads, “Respectfully presented with appreciation from Lieutenant Frank Drebin and the men of Police Squad.” He thought Nielsen had given it to him, but Jerry Zucker is pretty sure they’d each gotten one from the studio. Regardless, it’s helped to keep the beaver gag fresh in Abrahams’ mind.

‘Anybody Catch the License Plate?’

David Zucker cites this as yet another masterful piece of work by Nielsen. Drebin forgets to put his car in park outside the station, which causes it to roll out-of-control down the street. Drebin, however, thinks someone is recklessly driving, fires at the car with his gun and yells out, “Anybody catch the license plate?” He then slowly realizes it was his car. As David Zucker explains, “It’s funny because the audience really got to follow Leslie’s thought process.”

Going Around the Edge of the Set

“I love the joke where one guy goes through the door, and the other guy goes around the edge of the set,” says David Zucker, referring to the scene in the police station where the lab technician goes through the door to enter the lab, while Drebin walks around the set wall into the nest room.

This was another joke recycled from Police Squad!. “We had a lot of favorite jokes that we loved on Police Squad!, and we felt that no one ever saw them,” David Zucker explains. “It seems like it was wasted on TV, so we saved them.”

Mr. Pahpshmir

“One thing that always gets a laugh that I never quite expect is when we introduce the character Mr. Pahpshmir,” says Jerry Zucker. “That name always gets a laugh.” David Zucker notes that his and Jerry’s mom plays the secretary in that scene, and that the idea of hypnosis being used as a way to program someone to kill came from the 1977 Chales Bronson film Telefon.

Drebin vs the Pillow

Another joke used in both Police Squad! and The Naked Gun is when someone throws a pillow at Drebin’s face, and he yells in agony. “The pillow is so unnecessary,” David Zucker laughs. 

The Driving Instructor

“With that whole bit,” David Zucker explains. “It’s not like we wrote a bunch of funny lines or anything, but we could write situations, and the great situation that we all came up with was Leslie jumps in a car and it’s a driving school car. Then it kind of wrote itself. The premise was the important thing.”

‘Nothing to See Here. Please Disperse’

The driving-school chase culminates in one of the film’s most iconic shots: Drebin in front of a building exploding with fireworks saying, “Nothing to see here. Please disperse.” David Zucker notes that those were all real explosions going on behind Nielsen, but he was far enough away never to be in danger.

‘Where the Hell Was I?’

During a scene with a noir-style voiceover, Drebin is putting the pieces of the case together while wandering the city. At the end of the sequence, he finds himself somewhere in the woods. 

Nielsen does some very funny mugging here, which stands in contrast to the dogmatic “play it straight” rule the ZAZ guys had for Airplane!. But as Jerry Zucker explains, “In this case, Leslie carried the movie. He had to be the comedian. While I love his performance in Airplane! and how absolutely straight it is, in The Naked Gun, it’s much better that he’s slightly goofier.”

‘I Just Wanted a Glass of Bosco, Then Slip Under My Blankets’

Continuing his internal monologue upon returning to his apartment, Drebin says, “It was almost midnight when I got to my door. I just wanted a glass of Bosco, then slip under my blankets.” David Zucker tells me, “That sounds like Pat Proft. Bosco, we didn’t know Bosco (a chocolate syrup that was added to milk a la Nestle’s Quik).”

‘I Was Young. I Needed the Work’

The funniest line uttered by Priscilla Presley is when she’s on a date with Drebin, and he says, “Interesting. Almost as interesting as the photographs I saw today.” To which, she responds, “I was young. I needed the work.” 

David Zucker says they originally wanted Bo Derek for the role of Jane, but they were unable to get her. They ended up going with Presley because she was a big name, which the studio wanted. “She was in for a penny, in for a pound,” notes Abrahams. David Zucker adds that Presley had some trepidation about the role because she said she didn’t know how to be funny. But he told her, “You don’t have to be funny. We just want you to play the same character you played on Dallas and just let the lines do the work.”

‘Goodyear?’ ‘No, the worst.’

When Drebin and Jane spend their first night together, Debin shares this tale about his romantic past: “lt’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.” Then Jane says, “Goodyear?” Only for Drebin to reply, “No, the worst.” 

“More puns,” laughs David Zucker.

Drebin’s Breakaway Suit

When Drebin and Jane are about to have sex, Drebin effortlessly tears his suit in two. “It worked perfectly, but to pull it off, they had to have guys below the frame pulling it,” says David Zucker. “It didn’t just fall.”

The Giant Condoms

“Priscilla was very uncomfortable in the giant condom,” says David Zucker. “For anybody, that would be claustrophobic. Later on, I realized what a stupid, rookie mistake it was not to use two stunt people there.”

Laughing at ‘Platoon’

“The love montage is funny all the way through,” says Jerry Zucker of the sequence where Drebin and Jane are falling in love to the song “I’m into Something Good,” mentioning them laughing together after having seen Platoon as his favorite bit within the bit. As for why, of all unfunny movies, Platoon was chosen, he says that the film was simply a recognizable, contemporary name. “There wasn’t anything special about Platoon except that you’re not supposed to laugh at Platoon,” he tells me.

‘Can I Interest You in a Nightcap?’

Coming out of the montage, Drebin walks Jane to her apartment, and she says to him, “Can I offer you a nightcap?” “No thank you,” he replies. “I don’t wear them.” 

“There were enough really good jokes so that we could fit in those really dumb puns,” David Zucker tells me. When I ask if there was a specific balance or ratio to the different kinds of jokes they included, he explains, “Nothing that we think of. Generally, there’s a lot of different types of humor. There’s visual, there’s a lot of Pat Proft verbal stuff — there’s a natural balance to it.” 

“Our rule is that if we think it’s funny, we put it in,” adds Jerry Zucker. Then it comes down to test-screening audiences. “It’s ultimately up to the audience, because if they don’t laugh, then we cut it,” Abrahams says.

The Song Credits

At the end of the “I’m into Something Good” montage, the song’s credits pop up like at the end of a music video. David Zucker notes that this was another contemporary gag: “It was the 1980s, and it was MTV.”


“A great moment is when Leslie is searching Ludwig’s office, and he goes ‘Bingo,’ only to reveal a bingo card,” says Abrahams. Jerry Zucker is sure to add, “Sometimes you can do puns and people just roll their eyes, but that’s a great example of a joke that’s just a stupid pun, but it’s also brilliant. When he opens that drawer, nobody’s expecting it, and it’s a huge laugh.”

The Player Piano

“I love when Leslie comes back to Ludwig’s office, and the fire starts and all this stuff goes wrong and he smashes into this player piano so the whole thing is accompanied by silly music,” Jerry Zucker tells me. 

Drebin on the Side of the Building/subtitle]

After narrowly escaping Ludwig’s apartment, Drebin is on the side of the building, where he has to grab onto nude statues to keep from falling. First, he grabs onto the female statue’s breasts. Then, when he slips, he grabs the penis of the male statue and pulls himself up by it. IRL, though, Nielsen wasn’t exactly in harm’s way. “That was a set two feet off the ground,” David Zucker explains. “We never did anything dangerous.”

‘Best If Used by June 1982’

When Drebin is going through his fridge, he finds a jar of mayonnaise that reads, “Best if used by June 1982,” which was the month Police Squad! was canceled. Recently, the ZAZ guys did a callback to this joke in their new book, Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!. “On the back of the book, next to the price, it says, ‘Best if read by June 2037,’” Abrahams explains.

‘He’s Got a Picture of Your Wife!’

Prior to the reception for the Queen, Drebin and Hocken are frisking guests, and they double up on one guy. As they’re patting him down, Drebin unknowingly puts his hand in Hocken’s pocket and pulls out Hocken’s wallet. He then tells Hocken, “He’s got a picture of your wife!” Which is why Hocken proceeds to knock the guy out.

Hocken, played by George Kennedy, was a replacement for Alan Noth, who played the part in the TV show. The Zuckers and Abrahams explain that the studio wanted a bigger name; hence Kennedy being cast. The same was true for replacing Peter Lupus with O.J. as Nordberg.

Drebin Tackles the Queen

At the reception for the Queen, someone pulls a gun on her, but only Drebin notices. He tackles her, and the two slide across a long table in a compromising position. “The sliding across the table is great because it’s a big, funny visual joke, but it also sets up the whole third act,” Jerry Zucker says. “That’s why he gets kicked off the force.”

The Newspaper Pictures

David Zucker points out a tiny, easy-to-miss joke that follows the Queen scene. “When he slides across the table, he’s on top of her, then we cut to several newspapers that show photos of the incident, and their positions change,” he explains. In the first paper, Nielsen is on top of her. In the second, the Queen is on top of him. And in the third, he’s on top of her in a different position. “I love that gag. It’s a good, subtle gag,” says David Zucker.

‘Just Think, the Next Time I Shoot Someone, I Could Be Arrested’

The Zuckers and Abrahams still laugh at what’s the best “cop joke” in the movie.

Drebin Sings the National Anthem

“Leslie wasn’t a bad singer, so singing badly didn’t come naturally to him,” David Zucker tells me. “That took a lot of skill to hit the wrong notes.”

Drebin Frisks the Ballplayers

Looking for weapons on the baseball players, Drebin, dressed as an umpire, pats down every player on the field in the film’s final act. Speaking about the baseball scenes in general, Abrahams says, “The thing that’s great about the baseball game is that it took us from Airplane! until The Naked Gun to understand what a third act is about. You have to resolve the bad guy plot and resolve the love affair in the third act, and The Naked Gun does that pretty ideally. After Airplane!, I don’t think we completely appreciated how important the plot and character arcs were to a parody movie.” 

“It was the first time we got it on our own,” Jerry Zucker adds. “Airplane! was given to us by Zero Hour; then in Top Secret!, we didn’t get it. So this is the one where we finally figured it out.”

The Baseball Bloopers

During the antics on the baseball field, a blooper reel is shown on the jumbotron with various clips, like a player getting hit by a car, another getting mauled by a tiger and a third being decapitated. On the latter count, Abrahams says, “If you watch that slowly, first the head comes off, then the ball hits him. The special effect wasn’t perfectly timed.” However, the Zuckers both think it was the impact of the wall that beheaded the player, not the baseball. “For 40 years we’ve been explaining these jokes to Jim,” laughs David Zucker.

Reggie Jackson’s Robot Walk

When Reggie Jackson is put under hypnosis and is about to shoot the Queen, David Zucker says that “Reggie added the robot walk he was doing. We didn’t ask him to do that.” “He went on to direct a lot of comedy,” Jerry Zucker jokes. 

‘Two Can Play at that Game’

Yet one more joke recycled from Police Squad! is during the final gunfight where Montalbán uses Presley as a human shield, only for Drebin to grab an innocent bystander to use her as a human shield. “We’re keenly aware that God only allows so many jokes per person, and even per triumvirate, so we recycle them as much as possible,” Abrahams laughs.

Nordberg’s Final Fall

“The shot at the end, with O.J. going off into the stadium, is a brilliant way to end the film,” Jim Abrahams says of the film’s final gag, when the recovering Nordberg meets Drebin at the stadium in a wheelchair, but falls down the stairs and tumbles down to a lower level. 

Jerry Zucker jokes that, instead of using a dummy, “we should have really used O.J. We would have saved two lives.”

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