Your Moment Of Zen: Liam Neeson Explains The ‘Shirley’ Bit From ‘Airplane’ In An Interview

Liam Neeson has a new movie out this week, Marlowe, which I suspect not a lot of people will end up seeing, though I liked it fine. As he was doing the press rounds to promote the film, naturally some of his other upcoming projects came up. For instance, The Naked Gun reboot he’s starring in being directed by the Lonely Island‘s Akiva Shaffer.

I’ve interviewed Neeson before myself, and there’s an upright, old fashioned sort of dignity with which he carries himself (or that we impose upon him) that makes him doing anything banal and normal sort of incongruous and funny. I imagine that’s why Shaffer wanted him to play Frank Drebin in the first place. It’s also why, when Indiewire‘s Kate Erbland asked Neeson about his Naked Gun reboot this week, and Neeson went on to start just explaining bits to her from Airplane, I felt like I had to highlight and share:

At this point, is there any kind of film that you haven’t done that you want to do?

I’m going to do it this year. It’ll either be the end of my so-called career or it’ll be another little avenue. We’re going to reboot the “Naked Gun” franchise. We’ll see. The script is being developed. It’s still very funny. There’s very funny stuff in it. They were all a series of gags. Do you remember “Airplane”?

Of course!

That was a series of gags, too. Peter Graves says to the kid, “You ever seen a grown man naked?” The stuff! You couldn’t get away with that shit now. Leslie Nielsen, his whole career changed when he comes into the cockpit on “Airplane.” Peter Graves is piloting the plane and Leslie comes in and gives him some information. Graves says, “Yeah, but surely, we’ve looked at that” or something. And Leslie Nielsen comes back in again and goes, “Don’t call me Shirley.” That was the moment, I’m telling you, that changed his life, his career.

For whatever reason, Liam Neeson asking an interviewer if she remembers Airplane, and then her saying yes, and him proceeding to recount two full bits anyway, including the “don’t call me Shirley” line just because he can’t help himself, is endlessly funny to me. “They were all a series of gags! Do you get it??”

It makes me think Liam Neeson is the perfect choice to play Frank Drebin; this is exactly the kind of thing Frank Drebin would do.

In third grade, my friend Brendan got sent to the principal’s office because he started thinking about the Frank Drebin-peeing-with-a-live-microphone-on bit from the Naked Gun and couldn’t stop laughing during quiet time. “Let’s remember some bits from Naked Gun” is still one of our favorite games. As this latest interview proves, Liam Neesons is just like us.