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Some Things You May Not Know About the Late Mr Neilson

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Some Things You May Not Know About the Late Mr Neilson

Andrew Ryan

Comic legend Leslie Nielsen died this week, at the ripe old age of 84. Since hearing about his death, everyone I’ve spoken to about it has been saying things like “Oh man, he was a funny bastard” etc, and for the most part, I believe it. However- and I could very well SHOCK many of you when I say this- if I saw any of the Naked Gun films, I don’t remember them. The only one of his films that I know I’ve definitely seen is Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and I barely remember that one. It would appear that as a youth, I missed out on his slapstick, deadpan influence on my comedy stylings. Who knows, maybe I’d be a hell of a lot funnier if I had grown up with his films in my family collection?

During my research into the comedic actor’s illustrious career, I discovered that, like many rich white guys, he was an avid fan of golf. I don’t know dick about golf. I don’t really want to learn, but I have begrudgingly done some reading for the sake of this article. I learnt that Leslie Nielson’s handicap was 17.8, which is apparently better than Ray Romano’s, but after clicking on the Wikipedia article to find out exactly what a golf handicap is, I was terrified by the presence of more than two thousand words about it, and couldn’t bring myself to read. It would appear that 17.8 is a good handicap to have, so good on him.

But getting back to comedy and golf and everything… unlike most rich white guys, Nielson was able to combine his love of the game with his career, by writing two comedy books and starring in three spoof training videos on the subject. I attempted to watch the films online, but could not find a good quality version of any of them. So instead I looked for some reviews of all of these golf-inspired creations, and while the books went down a treat, more than ninety percent of reviews for the films were of the bad variety. Very, very bad. My favourite: “One positive thing has come from this DVD though, it got me first prize for a local “worst movie ever” competition, resulting in some free beer.”- by HagenaarsDotNu, IMDB

Nielson’s comedic genius lay within his dead pan delivery, and his command of ridiculous visual puns and slapstick gags. It seems impossible to me that a man can create three entire films incorporating that sense of humour with a game like golf. Golf is a boring and, from what I can gather, frustrating sport, and there is only so many laughs that can be had at the expense of a bumbling caddy, a badly hit golf ball, or a wayward golf cart. Maybe enough for one film. Adam Sandler’s “Happy Gilmore” probably got it the most right, if you could call it “right”, and hopefully the mix of golf and comedy will be left the fuck alone for a long time.

As for the books, I imagine that they could only appeal to someone who has played golf more than five times in their life. The same as any topic specific comedy, you’ve got to have an understanding of the subject in order to laugh at it. Perhaps all the reviewers of the book read it because they were into golf, and Nielson was an added bonus. Were the books expected to be a hit amongst the golfer and non-golfer public alike, I wonder. If I had the opportunity to interview his ghost for this article, that is the main question I would like to ask Mr. Nielson. Do you believe that a non-golfer could find golf jokes amusing? I have attempted to answer this second question myself, by reading some golf based jokes (of which there happen to be A LOT on the internet). Some examples:

“I’d move heaven and earth to be able to break 100 on this course,” sighed Mac, the golfer.
“Try heaven,” advised the caddie. “You’ve already moved most of the earth.”

The bride came down the aisle and when she reached the altar the groom was standing there with his golf bag and clubs at his side.
She said: “What are your golf clubs doing here?”
He looked her right in the eye and said, “This isn’t going to take all day, is it?”

The schoolteacher was taking her first golfing lesson.
“Is the word spelt p-u-t or p-u-t-t?’‘ she asked the instructor.
“P-u-t-t is correct,’‘ he replied.
“Put means to place a thing where you want it. Putt means merely a vain attempt to do the same thing.”

That last one was the only one out of MANY that I wasted part of my life reading that received a very slight positive response from my totally-open-and-ready-to-laugh mind. If this is the standard of all golf humour, even if it is written and performed by Leslie Nielson, no wonder those films flopped.

BUT, contrary to advice given by most reviewers, if given the opportunity, I will watch them, because I very much enjoy really bad films. And I will also watch the applauded Naked Gun trilogy because I may as well see what I‘ve been missing out on, and if I deem them worthy, perhaps I will include them in my VHS collection for drunken viewing. I have much respect for a man who made people laugh loudly and probably embarrassingly for nearly 30 years. That is a damn fine achievement, more than most people could claim for themselves. You had a great run Mr. Nielson, well done.