'Kentucky Fried Movie' reunion served up at TCM Festival

'Kentucky Fried Movie'

(CNN)"The Kentucky Fried Movie" has become a classic? Surely you can't be serious.

Gleefully rude and outrageous, "Kentucky Fried Movie" doesn't seem like obvious material for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. Yet the 40-year-old sketch comedy from the team responsible for "Airplane!" is noteworthy both for the kind of comedy that it helped incubate and the migration of that genre to other venues.
The trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker will be reunited with director John Landis at the festival, which runs April 6-9 in Los Angeles. "Kentucky Fried Movie," which featured a mix of movie and ad parodies (including a memorable "Enter the Dragon" spoof), will receive midnight-movie treatment, offering a chance for its creators to see the film with an audience for the first time in decades.
At the time, sketch comedy still had a place in theaters, with "Kentucky Fried Movie's" release preceded by "The Groove Tube," an equally raunchy collection of skits whose cast included a young Chevy Chase. Around the same time, though, "Saturday Night Live" brought sketch comedy to late-night TV, and in the intervening years such fare shifted almost entirely to television, where it has become a staple on networks like Comedy Central and HBO.
    For the Zucker brothers and Abrahams, "Kentucky Fried Movie" was a career-launching moment. Guided by Landis, they financed a presentation with about $30,000 they collectively kicked in along with the Zuckers' parents. The movie became an unexpected hit, giving them the leverage not only to make "Airplane!" -- which they had written first -- but to push for the opportunity to direct it.
    "It made so much money that the studio couldn't hide it fast enough," David Zucker told CNN.
    The trio had been staging material live in a small theater. They knew audiences responded to the jokes but had virtually no experience when it came to filmmaking.
    "'Kentucky Fried Movie' was going to film school," said Abrahams, to which Jerry Zucker added, "We had never been on a movie set before."
    The ribald nature of the comedy was partly calculated, since outrageousness was a key element in marketing the movie. While some of the racial humor might be a difficult sell today, other aspects -- from language to nudity -- seem relatively tame.
    Abrahams said that in terms of their comedic aims, the goal was always "genuine wit, as opposed to just pure shock value."
    "Kentucky Fried Movie" and subsequently "Airplane!" proved hugely influential, inspiring an explosion of similar satirical projects where gags flew by fast and furiously.
    Asked about all the projects that have taken pages from that playbook, Jerry Zucker said, "When I do think that, it's with pride. I take it as flattery. We were huge fans of the Marx brothers and Mad magazine."
    Although "Kentucky Fried Movie" was a success, "Airplane!," released in 1980, came to define the trio's brand of humor, yielding a series of movies and a spinoff series. Even then, several studios rejected the pitch, and they relied heavily on producer Howard W. Koch's connections to secure commitments from actors like Peter Graves and Leslie Nielsen, with the latter among the few who immediately got the idea of spoofing his straight-laced screen image.
    Looking back at "Kentucky Fried Movie," Jerry Zucker said, "I certainly never thought it would last the way it has." While making it, though, he said he recalls thinking, "Some day I'm going to get married and have kids, and I'm going to have to explain this to them."
    "Kentucky Fried Movie" will screen April 8 as part of the TCM Film Festival. CNN and TCM are both part of Time Warner.