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April 14, 1989 - Image 110

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-14

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FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 1989

Comedy Is 'Big Business'
To Film Maker Abrahams


Special to The Jewish News


ig Business is comedy.
And today comedy is
big business.
And in a business where
funny movies are taken
seriously, director Jim
Abrahams is laughing all the
way to the bank. He has made
a mint, thanks to his work on
the hits, Airplane, Ruthless
People and now Big Business,
boasting a cast of Bette
Midler and Lily Tomlin.
But Abrahams is much
more than a breathing money
market account. He is a gifted
film maker with a natural
sense of the outrageous; Big
Business is a major-league
screwball comedy hangin on
a tale of mixed-up identities.
Midler and Ibmlin portray
two sets of twins whose
shenanigans double up au-
diences in laughter.
Abrahams should be singl-
ed out for praise on this ven-
ture; he shared the directing
credits other times. On
Airplane, Top Secret and
Ruthless People, Abrahams
co-directed with Wisconsin
childhood friends David and
Jerry Zucker.
They proved a triumphant
triumvirate. "For a long
time?' says Abrahams, "we've
talked about doing things in-
dividually as well as together.
We've just matured and
grown within the partner-
ship, and that allows us the
flexibility of working one or
two or three at a time."
It is a friendship based on
trust and respect — and
laughs. These good-humor
men made book on their
talents to make others laugh
early on. In their native
Wisconsin, they rented out
part of a bookstore to stage a
comedy act.
That act, the Kentucky
Fried Theater, had a long
shelf life in Madison; the trio
eventually packed up their
bag of funny shtick and head-
ed out to Los Angeles, open-
ing an open-ended run in a
More than 150,000 fans
bought their goods over the
next four years. After raising
some $35,000, Abrahams and
the Zuckers filmed part of the
act, acting on a hunch that
there was a movie crowd out
there for their special brand
of humor.
They were right; John Lan-
dis wound up directing The
Kentucky Fried Movie.
Paramount gave them an

Jim Abrahams directed the..new Lily Tomlin-Bette Midler film, "Big

all-clear to direct their next
project, the parody Airplane
which took wing with au-
diences and critics alike.
"It took a long time for
Airplane to get off the
ground," recalls Abrahms.
"One of the reasons was that
another paradoy in
Hollywood, Big Bust, was a
big bust."
But Abrahams-Zucker-
Zucker earned their wings in
their movie, which lambasted
everything from airline food
to disco suits.
Was Abrahams always so
well-suited for what has turn-
ed into a big business career?
"There was nothing about me
growing up that said I would
be doing this?" he says with a
chuckle. "Nothing to make
me stand out."
He's a standout talent now
He owes a lot, he says, to a
sense of humor that comes
with a heritage. "No question
a lot of my sense of comedy
comes from my Jewishness,"
he says. "Our families — the
Zuckers and mine — are
Jewish. The three of us are
benefactors of thousands of
years of humor."
Audiences are benefactors,
too. The threesome took to
television in 1982 with
"Police Squad!" another
paradoy, which copped laughs
by sending up old cop shows.
Critically acclaimed, "Police
Squad!" was a six-shooter —
it bit the dust after six
episodes. However, it is serv-
ing as the source for
Abrahams' next film project:
Naked Gun.
Gunning for laughs was not


always how Abrahams
thought he would earn his
keep though his future wasn't
exactly a mystery. "Prior to
hooking up with the Zuckers,
I was a private investigator,"
says Abrahams. "I worked for
a law firm, snooping around,
taking pictures of people who
phonied up injury cases."
Honest, he says, "I would
have been happy doing what
I was doing. I was pretty con-
tent living in Milwaukee,
where I worked. I had a nice
apartment for $75 a month."
He also had a magnum of
talent to unload — so he
found out. "David and Jerry
were ambitious and talented;
they had goals," Abrahams
recalls. "I rode the wave of
their ambition?'
In reality, they all shared
the driving, "I certainly did
one-third of the work," he
says. "But they had to talk
me into leaving Milwaukee,
for which I am grateful."
He is not the only one.
Momma Abrahams is quite
proud of her son, too. She feels
very much part of his movies
— in more ways than one.
"My mom has been in our
films," he says. "She usually
doesn't get a part as big as
Mrs. Zucker" — mom to
David and Jerry — "but
there's a reasaon for that. She
can't act."
But she can act the part of
a supportive mother. "She's
been sweet," says Abrahams.
"Actually, she's been dumb-
founded by what has been go-
ing on in my life. But she
likes it now. She gets nachas
from it."

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