Hollywood Writer, Director & Producer
Love it or leave it, Airplane! is often cited as the funniest movie of all time, and surely, Jerry Zucker BS1972 can be held responsible.
Zucker — writer, director, and producer of more than a dozen Hollywood films — found big laughs on campus in the 1960s as part of an outrageous comedy troupe, Kentucky Fried Theater.
The Milwaukee-area native joined his brother, David BA1970; and friends Jim Abrahams (attended 1966) and Dick Chudnow BA1967; to perform groundbreaking comedy shows in a variety of Madison venues, including their debut in the old Union South.
Their improv-inspired humor was what The Daily Cardinal called “innovative, imaginative comedy” from a “zany bunch,” and they wasted no time in launching a new era of smart-yet-slapstick satire. Their road trip from Madison to Los Angeles started on Zucker’s graduation day.
“On the way, I passed Camp Randall, where my college graduation ceremony was in progress,” Zucker told Badger grads in 2003. “I thought about going to the ceremony, but it meant I would’ve arrived in Hollywood one day later, and at the time, I just didn’t see the point. I wanted to get there.”
After morphing their live show into the irreverent Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), the Zucker/Abrahams directorial dream-team went on to create comedy classics, including Airplane! (1980), Top Secret! (1984), Ruthless People (1986), and Naked Gun (1998) and its sequels.
Zucker does have a more serious side, earning accolades working solo to direct the Oscar-nominated Ghost (1990), and producing films like A Walk in the Clouds (1995), and My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997).
Today, Zucker, and his wife, Janet, a fellow Hollywood producer, lend their talents as vice-chairs of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences. Zucker says that his role in connecting scientists and entertainers is inspired in part by the research that helped when his daughter was diagnosed with diabetes.
Zucker appreciates what entertainment and science share: “You have an idea of where you want to get, but you have to experiment your way through it, and it might take a long time to get there.”