Leslie Nielsen isn't one bit offended to be called a "living lampoon," which is how he was introduced as host of Showtime's "National Lampoon's Comedy Playoffs."
"I'm always glad to be identified as living," Nielsen said recently from his home in Los Angeles. "It's very reassuring, because a lot of times I feel dead."Dead may be the word for "Comedy Playoffs," an hour that seemed like a year in which nine comics vie for the title of "Funniest Guy We Could Find." Taste is an individual thing, but the winner - Amos Ewing of St. Louis, and that's not giving much away - seemed mostly a one-joke wonder.
Nielsen, though, manages to look pleasantly baffled - part of proving that he knows how to keep a career very much alive. From a start in radio, the native of Saskatchewan moved into a series of dramatic roles. That was until he turned in a marvelous deadpan bit in the first "Airplane!"
Although he liked clowning around, he called himself "timid about comedy. It was always in my life, and I did it behind the camera. I needed to be reassured and led by the hand by some strong people to make me believe that I could do it and that I could be funny doing it."
Those "people" were Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrams, who created the first "Airplane!" and TV's "Police Squad," (eventually transformed into the movie "The Naked Gun").
Next month, production begins on "Naked Gun 21/2." Then, he'll see how the film "Repossessed" does with its attempt to poke fun at "The Exorcist."
"It's not poking fun, it's taking a steamroller over it in fun," he said. "It's an absolutely dumb and stupid movie. `Naked Gun' was also dumb and stupid and wonderful. If you're going to see the movie looking for wit, sophistication and intelligence, then stay home."
Comedy is not the only thing in his future, but he has no specific dream projects in mind.
"I don't have any goals or any ambitions. My only hope is to keep working in my profession sufficiently so that I'll maintain any celebrity status that I have so that they'll keep inviting me to golf tournaments. I'm not dying to do Hamlet."