Its detractors describe it as shamelessly cretinous, while Nielsen himself proudly describes it as 'dumb'. Yet it was only 13 years ago that people thought Nielsen best suited to straight roles. L Frank Drebin wasn't even a twinkle in Paramount Pictures' eye and Nielsen was best known as the ship's captain in The Poseidon Adventure. He would spend hours making comic faces at himself in the shaving mirror but, he says, didn't have the courage to take it any further.
The comedian in him was strictly closeted, and he made do by telling himself that life wasn't all bad. After all, his agent had kept him in work with over 60 motion pictures and 1000 television appearances.
The agent, however, wasn't interested in giving Nielsen his comic relief; it took Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers, the team behind Airplane], to do that in 1980. 'They kept on knocking on the door and saying 'Come on out Leslie'. They had me pegged,' Nielsen says, recalling the sense of liberation that coupled this first comic role, and how he then ended his association with his agent. 'He wasn't exactly interested in guiding my career, he was interested in making money from it.'
Were it not for the poor judgement of his agent, Nielsen would certainly have more to list on his comic CV. Besides Airplane], it is most notable for the TV series Police Squad, the Red Rock cider ads and the Naked Gun films, a litany of lunacy that Nielsen says is his sense of humour entirely. 'At the bottom of it, I'm a clown. . . I like putting on that red nose.'
The break into comedy allowed him to play himself on screen as well as off; hence the GMTV performance. 'It adds up to freedom,' he says. 'You have a license to be nuts, to be bonkers. I find people no longer point at me and say 'What a fool.' Now they laugh and let me get away with being who I am.' On GMTV, these words proved true: Holmes just laughed and let him get away with it.
The same tomfoolery fills Bad Golf Made Easier. Short of farting, Nielsen recommends almost any sort of noise to put off your opponent mid-swing: not exactly subtle, but Nielsen carries it off. There are many similarities to his other comedies: Naked Gun is packed with parodic film references, while Bad Golf is a spoof of the golf instruction manuals, containing the standard pack of visual gags and absurdities ('When you stop your backswing at the top to look at the position of your hands, you'll learn two things: how many hands you have and which hand has the glove on it.')
Beside the gags, there is the repeated message: 'I don't play golf to feel bad, I play bad golf to feel good.' The motto is Nielsen's own (though the handicap of 19 suggests his game isn't as 'appalling' as he makes out) and he was extremely keen to have it included in the script. It reflects his own life code: Enjoy.
'There's no point in doing anything at this stage in my life if you're not going to have some fun,' he says. You wonder how much fun he'd be having if his funny faces had been restricted to the shaving mirror. 'They were just dumb faces. I just did them because they amused me, never wondering whether I would use them in movies. Now that's all I'm doing and I love it.'
'Bad Golf Made Easier' is on retail (Polygram) pounds 9.99