As my attention spent Monday wading in the links to Cyber Monday deals and the 49ers-Cardinals Monday Night Football game that somebody had to win, I almost missed the passing of a great comedic voice.
Leslie Nielsen, who appeared in more than 100 movies and hundreds of television shows, died Monday at age 84. Whether he acted in serious roles or slapstick comedies, his dry delivery never failed.
His best lines are up for debate, but I know my favorites come from Nielsen’s first comedic role as Dr. Rumack in “Airplane!” and I have co-opted them numerous times.
There was the line about taking somebody to the hospital. The stewardess asked, “What is it?” in reference to the sickness. He responded, “It’s a big building where they take sick people, but that doesn’t matter right now.”
It helped me one summer, while working at a restaurant with an assistant manager who was very desired by her coworkers and very aware of it. Nobody really flummoxed her until we got a delivery that wasn’t on our radar.
“Hey Jennifer, there’s a box unaccounted for.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a cardboard structure that holds things, but that’s not important now.”
The line I’ve co-opted the most? If you know me, you already know the answer … and frankly, you’re surprised it took me 40 percent of the column to get there. When Ted Striker told Dr. Rumack, “Surely you can’t be serious,” the doctor responded, “I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.”
I’m reaching that point in adulthood that quickly turns to midlife crisis, when the actor I quote the most is no longer alive.
But I’m not ready to give up the punchline when people tell me, “Surely …” It’s made its way into dates (one girl learned to say, “Certainly…” and then she learned to break up with me). It’s made its way into interviews (ask my coworkers, and remember that a disappointed shake of the head means, “Yes.).
The sad thing is, there’s so much in the real world that deserves a, “Surely, you can’t be serious.”
I could give you hundreds, but my editors have told me I have to stop writing at some point … so I’ll just give you one. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian spent the weekend without an online presence. They wouldn’t Tweet, use Facebook, use MySpace, e-mail, etc. unless their followers donated $1 million for AIDS research.
This is why other countries tend to not like Americans. Comedian Daniel Tosh once noted we play a game called Survivor where we award $1 million to the American who can survive the longest in a place where people already live. And now celebrities want us to give them $1 million because they stopped using the Internet, something billions of people have never done.
If they were being serious, I told my friend Scott, they’d offer to stay off the Internet forever if we could raise $10 million. Scott said, “Throw in Justin Bieber and I’ll make it $50 million.”
As long as people are ridiculous, I’ll get thrown a “Surely, they can’t be serious.” And I’ll respond. And Dr. Rumack will look down from the heavens and smile.
Rest in peace, Mr. Nielsen.