8 Times Leslie Nielsen Played a Fart Joke on Someone
Leslie Nielsen was an unlikely comic powerhouse. After getting his start with dramatic turns in films like Forbidden Planet (1956), the performer became a household name for his deadpan work in satires like 1980’s Airplane! and 1988’s The Naked Gun. But was the real Nielsen more stoic or more of a joker?
If one goes by a love of flatulence, it would be the latter. Nielsen appeared to delight in nothing more than activating a fart noise machine and then watching chaos unfold. (Nielsen apparently carried different devices around, including a custom model as well as commercial units sold under the names Handi-Gas and Pooter Tooter.)
It was, he once explained, a way to put people at ease. “I’ve never found anything that gets people down to earth faster,” Nielsen told The New York Times in 1993. “People approach me as an authority figure, which isn’t in my makeup. Two cranks of this and people talk to me the way I want.”
Take a look at eight times—out of potentially thousands—the actor gassed up.
1. On the set of Airplane!
Airplane! marked the first time Nielsen broke from his dramatic acting career in such a broad fashion. The film, which spoofed the airplane disaster epics of the 1970s, cast Nielsen as passenger Doctor Rumack, who diagnoses a serious food illness onboard and may have the film’s single best line. (“And don’t call me Shirley.”)
If anyone believed Nielsen might not be up to the task, he quickly dispelled the notion by showing up on set. Speaking with The A.V. Club in 2015, actor David Leisure called Nielsen “the goofiest motherf***er you’ve ever met in your life” and “a virtuoso fart musician.” Leisure said Nielsen would sit down, act normally, and then activate a “fart machine” made by the prop department to produce fraudulent gas. Sometimes he would feign stomach upset, grabbing his torso in apparent agony; other times, Nielsen would use the fart machine between lines. He also peddled fart machines to cast and crew for $7 apiece, creating a fart orchestra of sorts that the directors eventually banned from the set.
2. In an elevator full of tourists.
According to his Airplane! co-star Jill Whelan, Nielsen spared no one when it came to passing bogus farts. She said Nielsen “always” had his fart machine with him; once, when the actor encountered a group of Japanese tourists in an elevator, he activated his device after boarding. “And [the tourists] all immediately got out on the next floor,” Whelan said.
3. Backstage on Late Night With David Letterman.
Nielsen was a frequent talk show guest, but appearing on television didn’t appear to afford him any sense of gastrointestinal decency. In 2012, comedian Larry Miller shared a story about how both he and Nielsen were set to appear on Late Night With David Letterman in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Miller was with his parents backstage when Nielsen appeared. “Leslie Nielsen, as you know, looked like he could have been Secretary of State,” Miller said. “He had a very serious joking kind of manner he would put on. There’s only one way to say it, so I’m just going to say it: He had with him, constantly, his entire life, he had a little device in his hand … a fart machine. ... He could make 12, 15 different kinds of sounds ... He thought that was the funniest thing in the world and he was never without it.”
According to Miller, Nielsen and Miller’s parents were chatting when Nielsen deployed his beloved accessory. “He starts to speak to them and say, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Miller, let me just say to you there’s nothing greater than a young comedian. There’s nothing more important than’ — brrrrr-arrrr. ‘I’m so sorry, forgive me.’” Miller said he kept it up, and continued apologizing for his “stomach” for about six minutes straight.
4. During a press junket interview.
Nielsen took his fart machine to press junkets, where he would encounter journalists and proceed to blame his flatulence on “the wrong piece of salmon.” In the above clip from 2003, reporter Fred Saxon endures Nielsen for well over a minute. “Was that you?” Saxon asks him. “Well, I don’t see anybody else in here,” Nielsen responds.
5. Flying first class and dining out with Ted Danson.
Nielsen and Cheers star Ted Danson appeared together in a segment for the 1982 film Creepshow. According to Danson, Nielsen was toting his trusty fart-maker at all times. “Most people would do something like that, get a few laughs, and put it away,” Danson said. “He ... would not. We literally got asked to get off an airplane because we were in first class, and when we sat down, he was on one side of the aisle and I was on the other side, and every third person who would walk by, he would do his fart machine. Restaurants would ask us to leave. He was relentlessly in love with his machine, with no sense of shame.”
6. In an Arizona courthouse.
According to Phoenix New Times writer Paul Rubin, he once encountered Nielsen in the Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix. Rubin was headed to an upper floor to watch a trial. When he got on the elevator, he noticed Nielsen. Diligent readers know this is a trap; Rubin did not.
“We hadn't even reached the third floor before the telltale sound of flatulence emanated from Nielsen,” Rubin wrote. “For the record, it was very loud. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, looking straight ahead as he immediately let another one go. ‘Sorry,’ he said impassively. ‘Whoops.’” As people exited in a hurry, Nielsen showed Rubin his prized fart box. “You all have a great day,” Nielsen said.
7. In the middle of a bar fight.
Nielsen’s fart machine could sometimes act as a mediator. Speaking with Esquire in 2008, Nielsen said he once used it to quell a problem in a bar. “I was at a bar once, going down toward the john, and these two guys were in a confrontation and things were getting a little dicey,” he explained. “As I got in between the two of them, I said, ‘Where's the john? Is it straight back there?’ Fffffhpppppffffft. Well, these guys look at each other and then look at me, and they both start laughing. Fight was over.”
8. During the recording of some DVD commentary.
Airplane! actor Ross Harris told The A.V. Club that Nielsen came in to record some DVD commentary for the film. “It was the last couple of years of his life, and I think he was starting to get a bit senile, but he was still carrying that thing around,” Harris said. “And, you know, you’d think that it would’ve become kind of a tired joke, or even a little bit sad, but I’ll tell you, when you combined that thing with the old age or senility or whatever, he really caught people off-guard. So, yeah, he was blasting that thing off even then, and people were, like, ‘Oh, my God: He’s still at it!’”