Astronaut Academy is partially the outgrowth of a lifelong love affair with parody and satire. It probably started with the sketches on Sesame Street, which lead me to the Muppet Show and then Muppet Babies. All of these shows constantly did their takes on classic fairytales, TV shows and movies in ways that made my sister and I crack up. I’ll never forget the day in 1984 when Muppet Babies premiered. There was a scene where Baby Gonzo tries to hide in the nursery closet, only to find the Star Destroyer from Star Wars—not just a drawing in the style of the cartoon show, but an actual film clip from the movie! I ran around my house in giddy disbelief at what I had just witnessed (luckily I taped it on VCR so I could watch it again and again).
A few months into my obsession with Spaceballs, my friend Kevin Bulla (who also introduced me to Saturday Night Live) enlightened me about other films by the same guy! I think his parents had most of the Mel Brooks movies on VHS, but Blazing Saddles was the one that cracked us up the most. Talk about an inappropriate movie for two 10-year-olds to watch on constant repeat (with the occasional break to watch the first half of History of the World)! We were still too young to appreciate the social commentary, but we knew it was hilarious and saying something important in the process. I didn’t need to experience racism firsthand to know that a black sheriff saving a town full of naïve white people was extremely satisfying. And for two-preteen boys, any movie with that much cursing is going to go over like gangbusters.
My personal favorite memory related to these types of movies was when my father took us to see Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad. The movie was so absurd and so over the top with its onslaught of gags that I barely had a change to breathe…especially during a particularly raunchy scene where Leslie Neilson’s character is hanging from a window. That was the one and only time where I literally laughed so hard I fell out of my seat into the aisle! No joke!
Aspiring writers are often told it’s all about “story,” but there is something so pure about the way these movies’ only goal is to make you laugh. It’s pure entertainment, like an amusement park attraction. If you don’t like or get every bit of a joke, it doesn’t matter because plenty more are always on the way. Which I think takes a distinct type of craft and commitment to pull off successfully. A willingness to name characters Clarence, Roger, and Victor just so you can have a single line exchange like “We have clearance, Clarence,” and “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?” A movie like Airplane (possibly one the greatest of this genre) is relentless with its wordplay, but also has great visual gags (most of which are too racy to describe here).
I never consciously thought to produce a full-on parody when I started writing Astronaut Academy. But now whenever I revisit these films, it’s hard to deny the effect they had on my work. I can only hope that my comics have some of the same sense of anything-goes fun that lends itself to repeated viewings and readings.
*BTW: Many of the films mentioned are PG-13 or R, so viewer discretion is advised!