Zucker sees threats to America and Israel mounting, and he believes the Democrats are unable or unwilling to confront those challenges, so he has decided to go public with his belief that the Democrats have lost their way. Starting Oct. 9, the first of two ads Zucker directed and co-wrote will begin running on the Internet in hopes of helping the Republicans retain control of the House in the November elections. Like his movies, Zucker's edgy spots employ his trademark fast-paced, gag-a-second-slapstick humor that has made him the undisputed king of spoof.
But Zucker believes his Republican boosterism carries some professional risk, as well. Hollywood happily forgives druggy actors and boozy directors, Zucker said, "but I don't think a Republican can be rehabbed." Still, at 58, he has decided to take a high-profile stand.
Zucker's first Internet ad spoofs the Democrats' reputation as the party of tax-and-spend liberals. It opens with a shot of a couple peacefully sleeping in bed. A narrator's voice interrupts the calm: "What if you woke up a year from today, the Democrats had taken over and you were able to see their new taxes?" Suddenly, a man in a dark suit, the Democratic tax man, appears in the bedroom and holds out his hand for a payoff. He shows up again and again. He hits up a woman who has just given birth and even demands payment from her newborn. The 90-second spot ends with an army of ominous-looking Democratic tax men, briefcases in hand, marching down the street like some spooky army.
A second spot charging Democrats with being soft on foreign policy is expected to be posted soon.
Funded by pro-Republican, tax-exempt 527 groups, the ads will appear on YouTube, the Drudge Report and America Weakly, a new parody site run by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that purports to show what the country would look like under Democratic control. The RNC asked Zucker to make the spoof ads because of his "stellar reputation and high-quality production," said Tara Wall, director of outreach communications.
Political strategist Arnold Steinberg thinks such ads "can be very effective" in making an impact. Although Steinberg had not seen Zucker's Internet ads when he spoke to a reporter, he said humorous spots might generate lots of media coverage, thereby broadcasting Zucker's message to a larger audience extending beyond the Internet.
Zucker's foray into political advertising comes at a time when he is taking stock of himself. Having spent nearly 30 years spoofing police dramas, disaster flicks and horror films, beginning with the 1977 cult classic, "The Kentucky Fried Movie," he now wants to turn his withering satirical eye to politics.
Without divulging too many details, Zucker said he plans to make a film lampooning politics, sandwiched between a superheroes spoof and "Scary Movie 5."
"You have people like Michael Moore going into foreign countries saying Americans are the stupidest people in the world," Zucker said. "I want to tell the real America story, that America is a force for good."
Politics became deadly serious for Zucker on Sept. 11; he was disturbed by liberals who, he said, blamed America or spoke of root causes. Zucker said he found himself supporting Bush's robust response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As time passed, he tired of listening to calls for "talk, talk, talk" and the United Nations to solve the world's most tangled problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite his continued pro-choice, anti-nuclear power, pro-environmental beliefs, he found himself drawn to Republican national security policies. In 2004, he re-registered, made the anti-Kerry ad, appeared on a few talk shows to discuss his political conversion and "fell in with the dark side," quipped his brother Jerry Zucker, director of "Ghost" and "Rat Race," among other films.
"I still can't believe I'm a Republican," Zucker said. "There are just certain things ingrained in our Jewish roots. Our fathers voted for Roosevelt, and we voted for JFK, [Hubert] Humphrey and Clinton. But the Democratic Party has changed."
He is not the only Jew to have defected to the Republican Party in the post-Sept. 11 world. Concerns about American national security and Israel have helped the Republican Jewish Coalition attract thousands of new members in recent years, RJC California director Larry Greenfield said.
Jews still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and the party is fighting back against the Republican strategy of portraying them as weak on terrorism or anti-Israel (see story, p. 17).
But in 2004, this state's RJC had 2,000 members and three chapters. Today, it has 7,000 members and 10 chapters. Zucker will speak at a national RJC gathering in December.
Sitting in his Santa Monica office, Zucker exudes the calm and confidence that comes with age and success. He looks much younger than his years but not in that unnatural skin-stretched-tight-as-a-drum sort of way. Perhaps having a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son keeps him youthful.
Alternately energetic and thoughtful, it quickly becomes clear that his actions are considered. Which is why he called his business manager before agreeing to make these new attack ads: He wanted to know whether he could afford a Hollywood shunning. The answer: "I'm OK as long as I don't buy an $8-million mansion," he said.
Surrounded by Davy Crockett memorabilia, including comic books, a framed first-edition autobiography and a rifle owned by the legendary 19th century American folk hero, Zucker said he admires Crockett's willingness to speak out for his beliefs. In the early 1990s, Zucker spent two years working on a Crockett screenplay with University of New Mexico historian Paul Hutton. The historical drama never got made, much to Zucker's chagrin.
"I see great similarities between [Crockett and Zucker]," Hutton said. Both have stayed true to their principles.
He likens Zucker's political change of heart in Hollywood to Crockett opposing President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act on moral grounds, a stand that cost him his House seat in the 1830 elections.
Raised in Milwaukee, Zucker said he grew up in a loving, tight-knit Jewish family. At dinner, brother Jerry Zucker recalled, "getting a good laugh was a value in our home." Their deadpan father became the inspiration for "Airplane's" Rex Kramer, played by Robert Stack. David Zucker said he developed his iconoclastic ways from his mother, who would often talk back to characters on TV.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Zucker, brother Jerry and friend Jim Abrahams moved to Los Angeles in 1972. The trio, later known as "ZAZ," opened the Kentucky Fried Theater, which featured filmed and live sketches of biting satire.
In 1980, the trio co-directed "Airplane," a comedy without comedians that helped create a whole new film genre: the spoof. ZAZ later collaborated on the secret-agent spoof, "Top Secret!" with Val Kilmer and the hit, "Ruthless People," starring Bette Midler and Danny DeVito. Despite that film's success, the threesome split amid increasing desires to do independent projects.
After the breakup, David Zucker kept the spoofs coming with "The Naked Gun" and the "Scary Movie" series.
Despite his rightward drift, Zucker said he has lost little of his inner 14-year-old kid.
"On movie sets, including my own, I'm the oldest guy around," he said. "I've had people young enough to be my son say, 'You can't do that.' I say, 'Yes, you can. You've got to go for it.'"