Monday, 23 August 2010


At the weekend, my sisters and I threw our wonderful parents a surprise party to celebrate their Pearl wedding anniversary. The surprise part was a bit of a first for us, but we pulled it off (as my dad's best man later remarked, it had better-kept secrets than parts of the Gulf War.)It was a truly lovely day and I felt it somehow refreshed my attitude towards life; not merely making me feel hopelessly single and miles away from my dream career, as I had suspected, but renewing my belief in several more fundamental things. Firstly in people genuinely enjoying each others’ company and being good to each other for such an impossible time span as thirty years - rare, but it happens - and secondly in lasting friendships, as I watched them greet people they’d shared their younger years with, as well as our childhoods, and who we knew as the cast of many fond and hilarious stories.

Something else that celebrated thirty years of success this month is the excellent film Airplane! which my parents, who have impeccable taste in comedy as well as life partners, introduced me to years ago. The Guardian celebrated it with this article, and even more significant than their hefty praise are the 129 (and counting) comments that come below it. I am a little bit obsessed with reader comments, as you may have realised from my posts about other online press, but I find the comment function a fascinating cyber-addition to the press. You can absorb a massive wave of public feeling, wit, anger or mockery just by scrolling down a little further than the last published line. The Guardian website’s commenters are also very, very funny (although they have competition from the Daily Mail’s less intentionally hilarious readers.)

Obviously with the mention of 30 years of Airplane! came a lot of quotation. It is probably one of the most-quoted movies of all time, and even before I can remember cracking up at the laugh-a-millisecond script, I know my parents were saying things like, ‘…and don’t call me Shirley.’ I caught a bit of Team America: World Police last night – very funny, but still one I can promiscuously channel-flick during – and it struck me how Airplane-ish the humour was, with a much more four-lettered Parker/Stone twist. While the design & puppetry are sheer genius, Team America just feels so heavy-heanded in its delivery, and sacrifices all the lightness and joy of its 1980 predecessor in favour of more accepted obscenities and racial issues. This year one of my favourite nights in included having some good friends round and watching Airplane!, and we still chuckled our socks off at the brilliant disaster movie parody and off-the-wall moments. There are too many sublime gags to pinpoint; it makes more recent comedies just look lazy. Someone commented on the Guardian article that they’d been on a plane recently where a small boy was taken by cabin crew to see the cockpit, and a nearby passenger couldn’t help leaning out and commenting ‘Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?’ These moments just lodge themselves in your funnybone and refuse to leave.

I love how the combination of silliness and deadpan have made this film so enduring, where the swearing, puppet-sex and casual racism might make something like Team America more divisive (the Airplane! team also didn’t need to resort to a five-minute vomiting sequence to pad out their story.) The latter is probably top of my comedy list, and if somehow this cultural gem has passed you by, I suggest you grab the DVD now.

Incidentally, I believe a capacity for silliness and humour is a large part of my parents’ success, and their shared love of films like Airplane!, along with Monty Python’s Life of Brian and these days, everything from The Simpsons to Gavin and Stacey, have made me able to laugh at others and myself in a good way, I think. I can only hope the film-makers of this century’s teens will rise to the challenge and create more stellar comedies that will stick around into their tricenarian years (and if someone wants to stick around with me for that long, I’ll count it as a huge blessing too.)

'Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue...'

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