I cover Hollywood, America's great liberal oasis, where there is an organic boneless breast of chicken in every pot and a Prius on every block. So when I recently canvassed my friends, the verdict on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's fiery speech Wednesday night at the GOP convention was clear: She's a menace to society, a hockey mom whose tough talk fell on deaf ears. She may be a hit with the Republican base, but in Hollywood, Palin's strident attacks on Barack Obama and her skepticism toward evolution and global warming make her something of a pariah. As one liberal commentator put it, it was the Speech to Nowhere.
But what do Hollywood conservatives think? I called up David Zucker (best known as one of the funny guys behind "Airplane!" and the "Naked Gun" series) whose upcoming film, "An American Carol," spoofs a cynical anti-American filmmaker (think a right-wing vision of Michael Moore) on a crusade to abolish the Fourth of July holiday. Zucker was impressed by Palin's composure, her feisty delivery and appalled by what he saw as the media's double standard toward her. I mentioned that many in the media view her as a character out of an outlandish reality TV show, not a particularly experienced or thoughtful politician.
"That's totally unfair," he says. "Why put that label on her? I'd rather see her criticized for the shape of her eyeglasses. Actually, I'm a fan of reality TV shows, but I guess they're something liberals look down on. Look, we shouldn't be surprised, since the whole media is biased -- including Fox News. But at least they admit it. It's the networks and the national press that won't admit it. Why won't Katie Couric admit that she's as biased as anyone at Fox News?"
As for Palin, Zucker says he agrees with 90% of her views. "I'm still pro-choice and I know there's some kind of climate change going on, though we may not know why. But it's a matter of priorities. The Democrats think the biggest threat to the world is global warming. It doesn't bother me that Sarah doesn't believe that. There are more important things to believe in, starting with the war on terror."
Zucker was in Minnesota the other day, showing an early cut of "An American Carol" to a friendly audience -- 2,400 convention-goers along with the families of veterans who'd died in Iraq. Even in that setting, he managed to keep his comedy bearings. How funny was he? Keep reading:
Joined by Jon Voight, Kevin Farley and other cast members, Zucker got up to introduce the film to the large crowd. He reminded them that he was a recent convert to the cause, noting that he'd voted for Bill Clinton (twice) and Al Gore in 2000 before the events of Sept. 11 edged him further right. "I told them that being a relatively new convert, I still had a lot of stereotypes of what Republicans were like, you know, corporate raiders out on the golf courses and at country clubs and, of course, all the lonely guys in airport restrooms."
That got a laugh, proving either that Republicans haven't entirely lost their sense of humor or that Larry Craig jokes kill, no matter who's in the audience. Zucker went on to introduce "American Carol" producer Stephen McEveety, who'd produced Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ." "I said, 'This guy obviously knows what audiences want -- three hours of Jews beating up God's son.' "
It reminded me that Zucker is something of a fish out of water -- an ex-liberal Jew whose most loyal audience may well be evangelical Christians. It hardly bothers him. "I know that liberal Jews regard evangelical Christians as persecutors, but they're actually the best friends Jews have. They are loyal supporters of Israel, along with wanting lower taxes, smaller government and a strong defense. To me, they are my best allies."
So would Zucker make the ultimate sacrifice -- if Sarah Palin asked him to write jokes for her, would he take the job? "So far, they haven't come to me, probably because there are lots of joke writers that are lots better than me," he says. "But I do sometimes see the joke potential. When McCain introduced Palin for the first time at this huge rally, where they were surrounded by 10,000 or more people, she got up and said it was her wedding anniversary. The moment was perfect. I wanted her to point to her husband and say, 'And I promised Todd that we could be alone.' "