Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks For The Loud Laughter

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: Remembering Leslie Nielsen

Looking back, it is no wonder my slow departure from Mormonism progressed alongside The Naked Gun series. When the first installment opened in 1988, I was an active Mormon. My hands were covered in eczema and I was having recurring nightmares about being trapped in a box. Add to that, I regularly attended the temple where I was instructed to "avoid all lightmindedness, loud laughter, and evil speaking of the Lord's anointed." I didn't laugh much. But when I did, it was a freakish, hysterical laughter that climaxed in an endorphin fueled high that for a few fleeting moments made me feel alive.

In those days, laughter was serious business.

Enter my hero, Leslie Nielsen, who in the persona of Lieutenant Frank Drebin, provided me with a series of ninety minute uninterrupted happy highs that lifted my spirits like no temple session ever could.

My local Mormon leaders discouraged the faithful from seeing the films because of their sexual content. What should have worried them was the irreverence they inspired. Whether he was knocking Barbara Bush off a balcony, botching our National Anthem, flinging O.J. Simpson into the stands at Dodger Stadium, dismantling The Oscars under the guise of Phil Donahue, or locking Queen Elizabeth II in the coital position, our man Drebin never tired of poking fun at the "anointed." (I remind my gentle readers that immediately before Her Majesty wrapped her royal thighs around Lt. Drebin, the city of Los Angeles had presented her with a Revolutionary War musket.)

Face it Abbottsville Fourth Ward. Loud laughter's not only a good thing. It's downright healthy.

Those who fear leaving Mormonism because of all they've invested in the faith could benefit from the example of Mr. Nielsen, who spent 20+ years of his own life trapped in the wrong genre. He began his career as a dramatic actor, delivering stock performances in films such as The Forbidden Planet, Tammy and the Bachelor, and The Poseidon Adventure. Then in 1980 he was cast as Dr. Rumack in the film, Airplane! His character was to be a supporting role to larger parts played by Peter Graves and Robert Stack. But he stole the show with his comic timing and droll delivery.

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to the hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.
After that it was nothing but lightmindedness, loud laughter, and evil speaking of the Lord's anointed.

Mayor: Now Drebin, I don't want any trouble like you had on the South Side last year, that's my policy.
Drebin: Well, when I see five weirdos, dressed in togas, stabbing a man in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that's *my* policy!
Mayor: That was a Shakespeare In The Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones!

Mrs. Nordberg: Oh, my poor Nordberg! He was such a good man, Frank. He never wanted to hurt anyone. Who would do such a thing?
Drebin: It's hard to tell. A gang of thugs, a blackmailer, an angry husband, a gay lover . . .

President George Bush: Frank, please consider filling a post I'm creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society.
Drebin: You want me to be in your cabinet?

Drebin: I can't hear you! Don't fire the gun while you're talking!

Commissioner Anabell Brumford: (on telephone) Hello? He did what? How many animals escaped? Oh my god. (hangs up phone.)
Drebin: Good evening, commissioner. You're looking lovely tonight.
Commissioner Anabell Brumford: Do you realize that because of you this city is being overrun by baboons?
Drebin: Well, isn't that the fault of the voters?

I pity the priesthood holder who is assigned to do Leslie Nielsen's temple work, as it would be impossible not to envision Frank Drebin doing the same. Here's my take on that fantasy:

Lieutenant Drebin takes an unassuming seat some three rows back from the altar. The officiator dims the lights and begins the film. Only instead of God creating the universe, we get The Three Stooges bonking each other on the head. Drebin leaps from his seat, rushes up the aisle, knocks over the officiator, and begins fooling with the knobs behind the altar. The lights flicker on and off, the curtains go up and down, and The Three Stooges keep bonking each other. Then the altar explodes and sends Drebin flying through the veil and into the Celestial Room where he dangles from the crystal chandelier. The chandelier crashes down, the player piano blares from the speakers, and Drebin careens through the temple on a madcap romp that ends when he knocks the temple matron into the baptismal font, just after accidentally ripping off her dress.
Nothing to see here!

Comedies don't win many awards. It's usually the tragedies that attract the critics' attention. While I admire performers who accurately reflect real people's suffering, I sometimes wish we gave more credit to those who help to alleviate that suffering. To those who make us laugh. Leslie Nielson certainly made me laugh, and at a time in my life when I dearly needed to. He also taught me how to respond when a member of the Abbottsville Fourth Ward asks:
Well meaning ward member: Donna, surely you want to go to General Conference. What is it really?
Me: It's a mind-numbingly boring meeting run by a bunch of misogynistic homophobes, but that's not important right now. And don't call me Shirley.  
May he rest in peace.


  1. Leslie Nielsen will be missed by many!

  2. I had a friend in high school with the loudest, most beautiful, contagioius laugh that lit up a whole room, but her parents were always correcting her for laughing too loud. It was such a shame because she developed a complex about it and began to cover her mouth every time she laughed. Wth is wrong with people?

  3. What an elegant post. Leslie Nielsen and the 3 Stooges -- That would be one endowment session I would enjoy! Three cheers for loud laughter!

  4. Ahab, I know what you mean, Britta, what the hell is wrong with laughter!!! As for you CD, I've a feeling we'll be there together in the CK as witnesses. Thanks guys!

  5. Thanks for a wonderful tribute to Leslie Nielsen. I kinda liked him in Forbidden Planet, so I wouldn't say he spent 20 years trapped in the wrong genre. Instead, I'd say that he learned how to deliver lines when surrounded by craziness. He learned his craft, and delivered.

  6. Good point, Goldarn. Forbidden Planet is a cult classic.

  7. Love it. Awesome post.

  8. Becky, thanks, and too funny. I was just commenting on your last blog post, then came back here to see you had just commented on mine. Are we addicts or what?

  9. Wonderful essay Donna. I too will dearly miss Leslie Neilson but he did something that many award winning dramas don't get to claim, he delivered lines and created a character that almost every American knows well and recognizes instantly. Just envisioning him in a large body condom or reaching up to take hold of Priscella Presley's furry beaver brings a huge grin to my face.

    Cheap humor but funny even after the 200th time.

    Some LDS would shun such movies because of the cheap humor or bawdy sexual nature but they short themselves of a genuinely unifying American experience.

    Thanks for your insightful take on the value of irreverence, loud laughter, and especially evil speaking of the Self Appointed. Those are some of the most treasured skills that I hope you nor I will ever lose.

  10. Thanks Insana D. -- Evil speaking of the Self Appointed. Love it!

  11. So, I woke up this morning and one of the first things I thought to do was read your blog. You always write clever posts. And once again, you didn't dissapoint. Love your blog!