David Zucker is one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood, known to many as the man behind the hit movie Airplane and the Naked Gun franchise. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the longtime Democrat realized that his party had left him on issues of national security, so he left it and joined the Republican Jewish Coalition, which he joked was “like joining ‘Indians for Custer.’” In 2004, he teamed up with fellow producer and RJC member Myrna Sokoloff to produce an ad for the Club for Growth titled “Flip Flop,” which poked fun at… well, you know who.
This year the duo teamed up again to create a pair of ads for the RNC that are among the most downloaded videos on YouTube.com. “Basketball Diplomacy” spoofs the Democrats’ ill-advised approach to foreign policy, while “Taxman” mocks their bottomless appetite for taxpayer dollars. Zucker and Sokoloff spoke by phone with National Review Online’s media reporter, Stephen Spruiell, from their offices in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
NRO: You’ve cited national-security concerns as the reason why you switched parties, but your new ad hits the Democrats on taxes. Do you feel that Americans are overtaxed?
DAVID ZUCKER: Yes! Yes, it’s too much. Now I’m used to, okay, 50 percent of everything I make has to go to taxes. But what I find particularly galling are these propositions in California on everybody who earns more than a couple hundred thousand — these Rob Reiner propositions — that add on another one or two percent.
It’s so irritating, because it really is taxation without representation. I mean, the U.S. electorate knows that if they want Nancy Pelosi, they’re going to get more taxes. That’s fine. But with these propositions, a majority can actually vote to tax a minority. So anyway, you can hear how angry I am.
NRO: Oh, we understand. And that definitely comes through in the ad. Now, your ads have spoofed national Democrats, but you just mentioned some local issues. Is there any one particular race or politician that you’ve taken an interest in?
ZUCKER: I went to a fundraiser for Lieberman. Now, I really don’t believe in lots and lots of stuff that Lieberman believes in. But he is very good on security. So I’ll support Lieberman, because the guy he’s running against is one of these Howard Dean types — I mean, I wouldn’t say he’s a nutcase…
NRO: You could say that.
ZUCKER: He’s not that smart. He doesn’t go beyond the rhetoric of the far Left. There’s no nuance to the guy — he’s just following whatever Howard Dean and George Soros say. That’s ridiculous.
And this whole idea of being loyal to a party — you know, generationally it probably shouldn’t stay the same. A lot of Democrats still think they’re voting for JFK, or Roosevelt, or Truman, but the party has changed so much. They don’t realize it. It’s a lot like the traffic in LA. In 1972 it was bad, and now it’s a lot worse, but I didn’t really notice the change because it happened so gradually.
The same thing is true for the Democrats. I don’t think people realize how much they’ve changed and what they really stand for now. It’s run by the far-out nutcases. I still consider myself a JFK Democrat. Strong defense and lower taxes. That’s what Kennedy stood for, and that’s what Bush wants, so if I have to be a Republican, I’ll swallow hard and be a Republican.
NRO: The GOP decided not to use your Madeline Albright ad, which touches on a lot of what you just talked about, because apparently the criticism was too tough. Now some other ads, such as the Michael J. Fox ad, have been attacked by people who say that they cross the line. My question is, where should we draw the lines in such an important election? Do you think your Madeline Albright ad “crossed the line”?
ZUCKER: No, I don’t think it did, because what it said was true. The Democrats have pursued a policy of either non-engagement or taking a law-enforcement approach to these things — or just bald-faced appeasement. I mean, in the case of North Korea they gave them millions of dollars and food which they used to feed their army. It was disgraceful.
MYRNA SOKOLOFF: And we felt we weren’t attacking Albright personally, although we made it funny. We were attacking the policy.
ZUCKER: It wasn’t personal, but you have to use humor to get attention and make a point. I don’t think anyone can debate the point that we made. Even Madeline Albright herself didn’t make too good of an argument for her side. I mean, “He didn’t test any nuclear weapons while we were in office”? That’s ridiculous. I’m a real civilian on this stuff. I write jokes for a living, and even I can see that that’s just silly.
SOKOLOFF: But she did feel that she had to make a statement.
ZUCKER: We used Madeline Albright as a foil for this, but it was really to talk about appeasement.
SOKOLOFF: And they did bring him the basketball. That was true.
ZUCKER: Now, the Michael J. Fox thing… it’s kind of a different issue, but it’s kind of like during the silky ponies campaign when John Edwards implied that if you elected those two, people like Christopher Reeve would be able to walk again. That’s such an out-and-out lie, and it was not meant as a joke. Ours is plainly meant as a joke. I don’t think any rational person would ever believe that Madeline Albright herself was engaged in painting bin Laden’s cave.
NRO: Have you felt any backlash in Hollywood from colleagues upset over your politics or your political involvement?
ZUCKER: I can’t say that there hasn’t been, but we haven’t really felt… you know, Myrna and I did an ad for the 2004 campaign, which was a funny ad about Kerry. So we kind of came out then, and I think my friends, who are all Democrats, are kind of used to me. They kind of look at me like, maybe he’ll wake up and come to his senses some day.
SOKOLOFF: And my friends who are Democrats have seen the ad and said, “I don’t agree with it, but it was really funny.”
ZUCKER: When I work on the Scary Movies, for instance, people kind of find out. And what happens is, rather than me getting a feeling that there’s outrage, people kind of come out of the woodwork and come up to me and say, “I voted for Bush,” or “I voted Republican.” It’s always whispered. I guess it’s embarrassing.
NRO: If you could pick a prominent Democrat you would love to spoof in a movie, who would it be?
ZUCKER: There’s a bunch of them who are tied for first place. It’s so easy, it’s like a wide-open field. I feel like a kid in a candy store. There’s Jimmy Carter. He’s probably the number one biggest buffoon. And on the serious side, he’s the biggest embarrassment. You know, when I think of Jimmy Carter, I think back on my life to the most shameful things I’ve ever done, and one of the top five has to be voting for Jimmy Carter. And then there’s Howard Dean, who’s almost too easy. It’s like 30 years ago making Nixon jokes.
SOKOLOFF: John Kerry is still up there. He’s still funny.
ZUCKER: He’s still funny but a little less known, actually. I think Nancy Pelosi, if she becomes more famous, she’ll be great. And did I say Ted Kennedy? Ted Kennedy is perennially wonderful.