'American Carol''s right-wing roots
They meet discreetly once a month at a restaurant in the Valley. At first, there weren’t many — Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper — but now…there still aren’t many. Nevertheless, they’re a resolute bunch: proud, loud, and a little lonely. They are Hollywood’s conservatives. ”You sort of feel like you have to hide it,” says director David Zucker. ”When you meet, you give each other a secret look — ‘Are you a Republican too?’ It’s the new gay.”
On Oct. 3, Zucker and his lunchmates will out themselves when An American Carol, Hollywood’s first unabashedly right-wing comedy, opens in 2,000 theaters. Think Dickens’ holiday classic, spun by Pat Buchanan and infused with the gleeful absurdism Zucker and his brother Jerry (a Democrat) used in ’80s comedy touchstones like Airplane! and Naked Gun. Voight plays the spirit of George Washington, Grammer stars as George Patton’s ghost, and Hopper portrays a conservative judge who picks off zombie ACLU lawyers with a shotgun. In the Scrooge role is Kevin Farley (younger brother of late comedian Chris) as a slobby documentarian — named Michael Malone, for those who need to be hit over the head — who bah-humbugs the Fourth of July. Until, that is, Washington takes him to the World Trade Center after 9/11 and converts him into a patriot.
”Most political comedies say both sides are bad,” says Zucker. ”We’re saying, F— it. We’re taking a side.” Indeed, there is shtick in this flick that would offend even a pig in lipstick. There’s a jaw-dropping spoof of suicide-bomber training videos, and a bit about ”radical Christians” hijacking planes with weaponized crucifixes. Like Oliver Stone’s W., which opens two weeks later, Carol could be an October surprise that ignites huge controversy just before the election — or it could be ignored by moviegoers of both parties.
Zucker’s politics are slightly more nuanced than his movie’s. He’s pro-choice and a Sarah Palin fan; he drives a Prius yet supports a party whose conventioneers chant ”drill, baby, drill.” Like a few of his lunch buddies — Hopper, for instance — he started on the other side of the aisle. After 9/11, he switched parties due to what he saw as Democratic dithering. So he shot anti-John Kerry spots for the Bush campaign, which is when he hit on the idea for Carol. Not that he bothered pitching it to the studios. ”There’s no way they would have gone near it,” he believes. ”You go to meetings and everybody is talking about how Bush is an idiot. It’s part of the environment of this town.”
Still, even in Hollywood, Republicans are pretty good at raising money, and Zucker got $20 million from Mpower Pictures, which Passion of the Christ producer Stephen McEveety founded last year. Casting was a snap — Zucker’s lunch pals filled most major parts, along with tinier ones (look for Gary Coleman as a plantation slave). He wanted Dan Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy) or Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld) to play Malone, but they weren’t available. Then Zucker saw Farley on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and set up a meeting — despite knowing nothing about his leanings. ”He asked about my politics,” Farley recalls. ”I said to myself, ‘Okay, this is where I lose the job,’ and told him that I was a longtime conservative.”
Not everybody in Carol is a Republican — ”I’m pretty sure David Alan Grier was appalled,” says Zucker — but most were clearly energized by the esprit de Goldwater. ”When George Washington takes him to the World Trade Center, it made me cry,” says Grammer. ”A lot of people don’t want to admit that a threat to this country exists. We’re willing to admit it.” And to make outrageously over-the-top jokes about it, including a gag about how Hollywood is renamed ”Bin Laden Land” after the terrorists ”win.” Just how willing moviegoers will be to pay to go see Carol, especially in neighborhoods like Zucker’s and Grammer’s, remains to be seen. Whatever happens, though, there will always be a place for conservatism in Hollywood — at a restaurant way out in the Valley.
See what the right, left, and any-which-wing readers had to say about this story on our PopWatch blog!