Mel Brooks makes a joyful noise
Posted January 14, 2013
There may be funnier people in America, though that's debatable. But none have more prizes the Mel Brooks.
He's won the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony and the Kennedy Center Honors, to name just the most prestigious of his awards. And on May 20, he'll get one more honor: a biographical salute from PBS' American Masters, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.
No doubt he'd like that "American" in that title, because Brooks thinks of himself as an American performer, without any qualifiers. Yes, he's Jewish - but like author Philip Roth, the subject of another American Masters film this season, Philip Roth: Unmasked, Brooks is not willing to be classified as a "Jewish artist."
"I think I missed the Jew boat by one generation. I mean literally. When I worked in the Borscht Belt in the mountains, I spoke in English. A generation before me, they spoke in Yiddish," he says. "It's not really Jewish comedy, though there are traces of it. But it is New York comedy. It's urban comedy. It's street corner comedy."
He got his start writing that comedy for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows - and he says Caesar was so good, it was almost intimidating. "When you're a comedy writer, you pray for a comic just to get the material right," he says. "Sid always raised it. … He was a bit of a genius, and that's why I didn't step on stage as a comic for a long time."
Your Show of Shows led to a career as a director, producer, writer and actor in film, starting with what he calls "the highest mountain I ever climbed" in his career, The Producers. "First of all, Springtime for Hitler was the title. It wasn't The Producers." He took that original title to Universal and was told they'd do the film -- but not with Hitler. "With Mussolini. He's more likable."
What comedy does he have in store for us next? He's thinking about doing Blazing Saddles as a Broadway musical. "Now that Django Unchained has literally used the 'N' word, I think I'm in the clear."
Brooks will talk, and joke, about many things. But there's one thing he says he still can't talk much about: his late wife, Anne Bancroft, who died in 2005. "It's a little too painful and private," he says. "She was the best dancer, the best singer and maybe the best actress in the world. It's very difficult - and I have great children, a great life - to go on without her."
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