We love Mel Brooks. He’s an EGOT award winner. He’s managed to anger every type of nationality while being funny. He was married to Anne Bancroft. We love Mel Brooks.
Today, May the 4th, we’re celebrating a few aspects of Mel Brooks.
2000 Year Old Man
I think my first love for “two-man” comedy started when I was about 12 and my dad gave me Cheech & Chong tapes. I didn’t get a lot of the references but I loved the banter and the range of characters they’d play. Much later I got really into Scharpling & Wurster calls on The Best Show [then at WFMU]. Scharpling, the voice of reason, battling with all the insane and unaware characters Wurster calls in as. Until recently, I’d somehow managed to never have listened to Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner’s 2000 Year Old Man sketch. This was recorded in 1960 but it holds up so goddamn well. I was blown away by how simple of a premise it is and how far reaching it’s influence on comedy has been since. Mel Brooks plays a man who is somehow 2000 years old. Carl Reiner plays the straight man, interviewing a 2000-year-old man alternating between asking questions and echoing the sometimes questionable answers Brooks’ character responds with, bringing out more and more of the absurdity. Please, if you haven’t heard it don’t be as dumb as I was and check it out. -Goodrich Gevaart
If Mel Brooks has taught us anything (of course he has), it’s that a truly great film parody has to have a love for the genre you’re parodying. While in today’s modern parodies, the filmmaker’s start with a general idea, then through whatever random shit that is popular at the time in, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles was able to create an absolutely hilarious parody, throw in the crazy shit as well, and still make it all work. With Blazing Saddles, Brooks created a classic comedy that does everything from absurdist, fourth-wall breaking, tackling racism and maybe the greatest fart joke of all time, all while creating a perfect homage to a genre that was fading rapidly from popularity. -Ross Bonaimehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLNQv19YpG4
Whenever people talk about how comedies get so little respect at the Oscars, I always think of Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.
Wilder’s transformation from reasonable, charming neurosurgeon to raving mad scientist is scary, arresting, semi-believable and quite simply grade-A acting, made no less so by the fact that it’s fucking hysterical.
Think of his pauses. The moment after he stabs himself in the thigh with a scalpel, before tearfully admitting: “Class is dismissed.” The moment after the hideous, bug-eyed hunchback he just met looks him right in the eye and says, “What hump?” Wilder owns the screen; there’s nowhere in cinema you’d rather be than watching him parse those silences.
“Abby … Normal.”
He leads a pack of scene-stealers in what has to be Brooks’s most subtle, yet densely rewarding, film. Cloris Leachman, frightening horses with her character’s very name. Teri Garr, game to the level of “Vud you like to haf a roll in zee hay?” Kenneth Mars, whose physical comedy with his “wooden” arm is so good, you want to invite him to parties.
I’m trying to pick a favorite scene and it just isn’t happening. Dr. Frankenstein vs. the Revolving Bookcase is the best vaudeville sketch that never was. Peter Boyle, himself carrying many a pregnant pause to term, comes to life with a grace befitting the use of the original Frankenstein sets.
The whole thing, in fact, is all the better for embracing its smoky black & white-ness. Madeline Kahn doesn’t linger on a train platform for just anyone, if you know what I’m saying. The Brooks silliness is there, and it lands (“What knockers!”), but this time it’s wearing its tuxedo.
Love to chat more about this movie, but I’m afraid I’ve just talked myself into re-watching it. So. -Tristan Lejeune
The Elephant Man
Mel Brooks is an uncredited producer of The Elephant Man, the 1980 David Lynch film. Between making High Anxiety and History of the World, Part 1, Brooks helped make a critically acclaimed, black and white film that garned eight Academy Award nominations. Without The Elephant Man, David Lynch maybe doesn’t make Dune and even if you hate Dune it led to Kyle MacLauchlan working with Lynch and that led to Blue Velvet and that led to Twin Peaks. Without Twin Peaks, we may not have the golden age of television. Two things you probably didn’t know about Mel Brooks before today, he fought in World War II and helped usher in the greatest television stories of all time.
Why didn’t you know Brooks produced this seminal film? He kept his name off it. Brooks is self-aware enough to distance his name from his works. Mel Brooks means funny and The Elephant Man is not a funny film, so he created Brooksfilms to keep things up front yet hidden. You know what else Brooksfilms has made? David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Mel Brooks is cooler than you thought. -Brandon Wetherbee
Robin Hood: Men In Tights
The best one-liner Mel Brooks ever wrote is in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Sure, the movie has so many dick jokes that only eleven year old can truly appreciate it, yet there is a throwaway gag that transcends its adolescent humor. The line is, “I have a mole?” and it’s spoken by Prince John to the Sheriff of Rottingham. It’s a meta-joke about how actors in period films take on affectations – there’s also a running gag about Robin Hood’s English accent – but Richard Lewis sells the line with sublime, pitch-perfect silliness. Like the Afro pick in the desert, the mole on Prince John’s face is absurdly funny without being vulgar. -Alan Zilberman
Mad About You’s Uncle Phil
Mel Brooks’ genius is usually celebrated in connection to what I like to call a “full Brooks” experience: movies he wrote, directed and often played a small-but-pivotal role in. Still, moments like his four episode arc in the 90s sitcom classic (shut up, it totally is one) Mad About You showcase that Mel’s unique sense of self (and the world) don’t have to be contained to big productions. Mel Brooks manages to be Mel Brooks and make EVERYTHING a little (A LOT) more Mel Brooks-y no matter how much time he’s given. The 50 second clip below is essentially a masterclass in stealing any scene or show in under a minute: EVERYBODY’S DOING IT (but not one ever quite like Mel)
I love musicals enough for the both of us, so strap in. Mel Brooks, with the help of his old friend Tom Meehan (author of Annie) transformed the 1968 film/cult classic The Producers into a successful Broadway musical to the tune, pun intended, of a 1950’s book musical and an homage to the classical Golden Era of Broadway culture. This era was wherein song first became an eruption from character, not plot, musical themes were integrated into the script, and the stage technicalities formed a quasi-reality, similar to a storybook. The comedy was Mel’s, the songs are funny and fluid, then drop in Susan Stroman’s choreography which was a nod to the era, all wrapped in the score by Gene Kelly, the man behind the piano. Mel Brooks formed the best damn team for the most effective and accurate revival of what made Broadway so popular. The movie was starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, so it made sense to get their modern counterparts, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, a comedic duo equation that has been alive since vaudeville. Are you not entertained yet?!
This musical is not only mathematically comedic, it respects the very stage its performing on with tons of allusions to past book musicals and little Easter eggs everywhere. In the second song, “King of Old Broadway,” there was a blind fiddler—Fiddler on the Roof. When describing himself, Max says, “A Ziegfeld, so they’d say” obviously speaking of Florenz Ziegfeld circa 1928 and comparing their amazing productions and women. Even Stroman’s choreography was reminiscent of a Gypsy dance with its Russian beat. Inside Leo Bloom’s “I Want to be a Producer” song there are tons of Follies girls all in a Chorus Line. Both Sardi’s, a classic deli where producers of the 50s and 60s would go and eat en masse, and Winchell’s column, the equivalent reviewer of The New York Times today, are pinnacle examples of Broadway culture during the Golden Era. When entering Roger De Bris, the director’s house, the door bell was “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. When Rodger needs motivation to pick up the part of Hitler when Franz has broken his leg, Carmen inspires with, “You can do it, you know you can do it, and I know you can do it. You’ve been waiting all your life for this chance.” This is very clearly a spoof of 42nd Street. “Springtime for Hitler” had a giant mirror behind and above it, immediately alluding to Cabaret and the use of mirrors and the Follies girls return once again but this time in extravagant parodies of German culture. The homage continues during “Prisoners of Love” where the lyrics are “Gotta sing… sing. Gotta sing… sing” which to the team, Brooks, Meeham, and Stroman, is an homage to Singing in the Rain, a wonderful example of emotions becoming so overwhelming that you have to use song to express them.
That is the beauty of The Producers. It pays respect to everything that was the Golden Era while the theatricality goes off the chart. Plus it is so god damned funny. 2,502 performances, 12 Tony Awards- beating Hello Dolly!’s previous 10, with a pre-Broadway advance of $17 million (amazing for an American show), and grossing over $1 billion internationally. That is musical theater history. -David Carter
Mel Brooks’ Grauman’s Chinese Theatre’s Concrete Block
There are so many reasons to love Mel Brooks. I love Mel Brooks for all those reasons, but I also love him because his concrete block at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre’s walk of fame has an extra finger on the left handprint. Brooks was finally honored at the Theatre just last year, which was also the 40th anniversary of Young Frankenstein. He received the honor with 11 fingers. The block is totally normal otherwise, signature, footprints, date, handprints; but there is an extra pinky on the left hand and it is fucking fantastic. Leave it to good ol’ Mel to satirize a Hollywood tradition. Of course, and I’m sure with a twinkle in his eye, he then tweeted a photo of his handiwork (heh). Which leads me to a whole other reason to love Mel Brooks — his Twitter presence. He uses it mostly for promoting whatever project he’s working on, or showing gratitude to fans (which is hilarious in and of itself that he uses Twitter as a medium for sincerity), but there are a lot of humorous 140-character gems. Just the fact that he’s on Twitter is so great. He really is the best. -Melissa Groth
I desperately need to wash my hands. pic.twitter.com/fKVl4FyMFt
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) September 8, 2014