Photo: Alan Light

D. Zucker: You know who came in to read for Ted Striker? Bruce Jenner came in to read.

J. Zucker: That’s right. That was funny. And David Letterman tested, too. Letterman was really funny, because… I’m not sure why he tested. I think maybe his agents pushed him to come in or something, because he really didn’t want to. It’s funny, because Letterman’s a satirist and a comic, and he doesn’t take himself seriously enough, in a way, to be an actor.

D. Zucker: Yeah, he didn’t want to be an actor, although—I don’t know if you remember, but he actually came in to read for Kentucky Fried Movie.

J. Zucker: Oh, did he really? I’d forgotten about that!

D. Zucker: Yeah. So we knew him from then, and every time he came in to read, he would have us cracked up for five or 10 minutes before he actually went through with the reading.

J. Zucker: I think acting, to David, there’s something phony about it. I don’t know if he thinks about it that way, but I just feel it’s not his thing. But he actually wasn’t bad. He’s just not an actor. He looked great, and his comic delivery for all those lines was good, but I’ll never forget when we were on the set and did a screen test with him. One of his managers was there, and I sort of came up to him with a big, optimistic smile and said, “Well, I think we’re making an actor out of him!” And his manager’s response was, “Fat chance.” [Laughs.] I must’ve drawn the short straw—and I say that because nobody wants to tell someone that they didn’t get the role—but I ended up being the one to call David and tell him. And he was just relieved. I’ve never seen an actor so happy to be told that he didn’t get the role. A few years later, though, we ended up going on Late Night With David Letterman, all three of us, and we showed the clip of his screen test for Airplane!.

— From The AV Club’s oral history of Airplane!, which looks back on how the hit 1980 comedy was made.

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