In 1980, "Airplane" was the funniest thing my 13-year-old self had ever seen. I wasn't alone.
It may be the most quoted movie ever among men. There's a certain symmetry to a guy saying to another guy, "Surely you can't be serious," and the second guy responding, "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
Sometimes, if someone asks how I want my coffee, I want to quote the little girl in "Airplane" who says "Black. Like my men." When the movie came out, it was a hilarious line.
However, 34 years later, it seems weird to think of that as funny. Same for the scenes of the two black men needing Barbara Billingsley to translate their "jive" talk into English. It seemed funny and harmless at the time -- to a 13-year-old white suburbanite.
Can we still laugh at these films? Actually, it's not much of a choice. I still laugh. I can't help it -- though I feel a little strange doing so now.
Political correctness wasn't a thing when movies such as "Airplane," and "Blazing Saddles" came out. Comedy has obviously changed, and probably for the better. The NFL is discussing making rules about whether the N-word can be used on the field. We've become more sensitive to using words that some find offensive, which is a good thing.
But I can't help feeling a bit strange about laughing at race-based humor in movies made back when society wasn't so sensitive.
Even the stuff on television has changed pretty dramatically. Go to YouTube and look at some of the Dean Martin roasts from the 1970s. Not only was racial humor pretty common, but many of the participants were smoking and drinking on camera -- a giant no-no in 2014.
It seems weird. Celebrities still smoke and drink and some may even tell race-based jokes, but the idea of political correctness has sunk in to the point where it feels almost unsettling to watch these movies and shows and find them funny.
One thing is clear: These movies would never be made today. Not with the same jokes.
Mel Brooks, the comedic genius behind films such as "Blazing Saddles," said as much to Jimmy Kimmel on his show in 2012. Even during the 1970s, studio executives thought he was pushing it.
Jon Calley and Warner Brothers chairman Ted Ashley attended the preview of "Blazing Saddles," then approached Brooks afterward.
"We had a preview, and the crowd went crazy, everyone loved it," Brooks told Kimmel. "And afterwards, (Ashley) grabs me by the collar and shoves me into an office. And he says, 'OK, here's a legal pad, here's a pencil, take these notes.' He says, 'N-word, OUT! We don't say it. No punching a horse. Around the campfire, cut out the farting. ... You can't punch an old lady. Lily von Schtupp and the black sheriff ... you can't -- OUT.'
"So, I said, 'Yes, sir, it's gone. You come here tomorrow, and it's all out of the movie.' He leaves, and I crunch it up, and I go all the way across the room and I put it in the wastebasket. John Calley says, 'Nice filming! I had final cut, so what did I care?"
Brooks, who is Jewish, spared no one in his films. "I may be angry at God or at the world, and I'm sure that a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility," he said on the Jewish informational website www.ikehillah.org.
"It comes from a feeling that as a Jew and as a person, I don't fit into the mainstream of American society. Feeling different, feeling alienated, feeling persecuted, feeling that the only way you can deal with the world is to laugh -- because if you don't laugh, you're going to cry and never stop crying -- that's probably what's responsible for the Jews having developed such a great sense of humor. The people who had the greatest reason to weep, learned more than anyone else how to laugh."
He makes a good case. Maybe we're laughing at the absurdity of racism. I hope so. Because either way, however it makes me feel, I can't really help laughing.