The Making of the Famous Jive Talk Scenes from Airplane!

Like films by the Marx broth­ers, Air­plane! cre­ates a feel­ing of gid­dy, exu­ber­ant anar­chy by hurl­ing a non-stop bar­rage of jokes at you. It is the sort of movie that view­ers risk hyper­ven­ti­lat­ing from laugh­ing so much. Yet among the all gags and one-lin­ers — “I picked the wrong week to stop sniff­ing glue.”– pos­si­bly the most mem­o­rable is the famous jive talk­ing bit. You can watch it above.

The gag fea­tures two African Amer­i­can guys speak­ing with each oth­er in an impen­e­tra­ble patois of jive. Lat­er, one of the guys — the char­ac­ters are sim­ply cred­it­ed as First Jive Dude and Sec­ond Jive Dude — is suf­fer­ing from a stom­ach ail­ment. When the stew­ardess can’t under­stand what they are say­ing, Bar­bara Billings­ley – A.K.A. June Clever, A.K.A the whitest lady on the plan­et – stands up and starts to talk to the guys in flu­ent jive. It’s a jar­ring and hilar­i­ous moment. Jim Abra­hams and David and Jer­ry Zuck­er, the writ­ers and direc­tors of the movie talk, about that scene below.

“The whole notion for jive dia­logue orig­i­nat­ed from when we saw Shaft,” said Abra­ham. “We went and saw it and didn’t under­stand what they were say­ing. So we did our best as three nice Jew­ish boys from Mil­wau­kee to write jive talk for the script.”

Dur­ing the audi­tion, Nor­man Alexan­der Gibbs and Al White, old high school friends, deliv­ered a spot on exchange in jive. They were imme­di­ate­ly cast as First Jive Dude and Sec­ond Jive Dude respec­tive­ly. “We had to apol­o­gize for what we had writ­ten,” said David Zuck­er.

“We came up with the indi­vid­ual dia­logue in the movie,” said White. “They want­ed jive as a lan­guage, which it is not. Jive is only a word here or a phrase there.”

“We actu­al­ly cre­at­ed a lan­guage,” said Gibbs.

“I was sent the script and I thought it was the cra­zi­est script I’ve ever read,” recalled Billings­ley in an inter­view you can see below. “My part wasn’t writ­ten. It just said I talked jive. I met the pro­duc­er and I said I would do it. I met the two black fel­lows that taught me jive. … It wasn’t hard for me to learn.”

Thanks to Erik R. for send­ing this our way.

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.


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