The three got their start with a sketch comedy theater group known as Kentucky Fried Theater while attending University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many of the sketches performed there would be adapted into the trio's first feature film, the low-budget Anthology Film The Kentucky Fried Movie. Though not directed by the trio (that duty went to John Landis), it established their Signature Style of delivering a hundred jokes a minute, a total absence of a fourth wall and heavy reliance on parodies of contemporaneous pop culture.
While researching late-night television for parody fodder for KFM, they came across an old airport Disaster Movie called Zero Hour! (1957) and found it so hilariously campy that they decided to remake it in their own style to be intentionally funny. The result was Airplane!, which brought their unique brand of feature-length parody to a mainstream audience and birthed the entire "Parody Movie" subgenre. It also ensured several other comedic roles for dramatic actors Leslie Nielsen (for whom this trope is named) and Robert Stack for the rest of their respective lives.
The trio directed two more movies together, Top Secret! (basically Airplane! WITH SPY MOVIES) and Ruthless People (their only "normal" comedy movie which they directed as a trio) before handing directorial duties to only one of them for all of their future collaborations.
They also created the short-lived Police Squad!, which is now famous for two things: being "too sophisticated" for TV audiences to handle, resulting in a swift cancellation, and being otherwise popular enough to spawn the Naked Gun trilogy, each installment of which had varying degrees of participation by the trio.
All three eventually drifted apart into their own respective writing/producing/directing careers in the 90s, often directing movies with similar brands of comedy.
Films directed by the trio
Films produced by David and Jerry Zucker
Films directed only by David Zucker
- The Naked Gun (first two installments only)
- For Goodness Sake
- My Boss's Daughter
- Scary Movie (The 3rd and 4th installments. The latter was co-written by Abrahams. Zucker also co-produced the 5th installment)
- An American Carol
Films directed only by Jim Abrahams
- Big Business (the 1988 comedy, not the Laurel & Hardy short)
- Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael
- Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux (Airplane! WITH ACTION MOVIES!)
- First Do No Harm
- Jane Austen's Mafia! (Airplane! WITH GANGSTER MOVIES!)
Films directed only by Jerry Zucker
Tropes appearing in the trio's work, either solo or together
- Author Appeal: A lot of sports jokes crop up in their projects.
- The Comically Serious: In addition to Rapid-Fire Comedy, a key ingredient in their features was playing absurd situations deadly seriously. It helped that the subjects of these parodies were already so dry and humorless that the only thing that would make it funnier would be to give the same delivery of actual jokes.
- Everyone Went to School Together: The three were childhood friends who all attended Shorewood High School, in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and later, the University of Wisconsin-Madison together. The town is occasionally referenced in their work.
- No Fourth Wall: It comes with the territory. The Kentucky Fried Movie took this to the logical extreme and had sets without ceilings, as the budget was such that they couldn't afford lighting and had to be lit naturally.
- N-Word Privileges: All three men are Jews, resulting in a lot of self-deprecating Jewish jokes.
- Only Sane Man: Inverted. Their work is notable for having all the actors play their roles straight in spite of the punny insanity around them. However, there is always at least one person who is vaguely aware that they're in a comedy and act accordingly. Like Johnny from Airplane! or Norberg from Police Squad!, for instance.
- Parody: All of their movies together either were a parody of a specific work/genre or relied heavily on parody for gags.
- Soul Brotha: If there's an African-American character in their films, chances are they're one of these.
- Spiritual Successor: Arguably to Mel Brooks. Both parties did feature-length parodies which relied heavily on hundred-joke-a-minute comedy, and had a decent helping of Jewish jokes.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Their modus operati. If you didn't like one joke, just wait five seconds and there'd be another one.