The Naked Gun and Modern Slapstick Comedy (Stewart Clark)

James Agee begins his article by analysing a typical formula for a silent slapstick film set piece. He mentions the “boffo” being the “laugh that kills,” following slight sniggers from an audience. [1] He goes on to state that, “the reader can get a fair enough idea of the current state of screen comedy by asking himself how long it has been since he has had that treatment.” [2] Although I can agree with Agee that some types of gags in a silent slapstick film are not as commonplace today, slapstick humour and the genre’s star prominence is very much present since ‘Comedy’s Greatest Age’.


The first film that comes to mind when I think of modern slapstick is The Naked Gun (David Zucker, 1988). The film features slapstick humour and Leslie Neilsen’s portrayal of Frank Drebin is influenced by those from the silent era. Some of the film’s key comedic scenes tap into the same humour as set pieces from the silent era and the film acts as evidence that disagrees with Agee’s argument.

For example, the scene where Officer Nordberg is shot and repeatedly keeps walking into numerous hazards is something akin to a silent star being hit with objects and making comedy out of their apparent pain.

When Frank investigates the main villains apartment, he performs completely over-the-top acrobatic moves. Although performed by a stunt double, the humour brings to mind the movements of Buster Keaton and other silent slapstick stars. 

Or when Frank is unaware of his car rolling towards him and its subsequent explosion is again a gag in the style of one from a silent slapstick film through its dramatic irony.


Agee further argues in his article that “the only thing wrong with screen comedy today is that it takes place on a screen that talks.” [3] The Naked Gun debunks this statement by providing an example of a modern and adored slapstick comedy film which suggests that the genre is still effective and vibrant.


[1] James Agee, “Comedy’s Greatest Age,” Film Writing and Selected Journalism (Washington: Library of America, 2005), p. 70.

[2] Ibid., p. 70.

[3] Ibid., p. 71.




One comment

  1. I think this a great example of slapstick employed in a film of the modern era of cinema. The Naked Gun’s protagonist certainly fits the bill as a suiting victim of slapstick inconveniences. Another film which comes to mind, and may also be relevant to last week’s discussion of jokes, is Airplane (1980). Although not mentioned by Bergson, I think its use of prop comedy also touches upon the mechanical principles that Bergson also believes are crucial to slapstick

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