Leviathan Jewish Journal at UC Santa Cruz

“Won’t You Be Kind? And Please Love Melvin Brooks”

Written by Raina Scherer

Illustrated by Nina Scherer (@nuheyenuh on Instagram & Twitter)


Mel Brooks is best known for his campy style of comedy that often features outrageous productions and provocative themes. He is a master of using satire, parody, and vulgarity to comment on human behavior and philosophical dilemmas. His work reflects aspects of his upbringing and early life, as he insists on putting his Jewish identity and inheritance at the forefront of his comedy. He does this by demonstrating Jewish themes and characters, and making allusions to Jewish culture. Although some may say his satiric treatments of sensitive historical events, such as the Nazi rise to power or the Spanish Inquisition, are in bad taste, Brooks uses his bold comedic style to ridicule those who committed atrocities as a way of reclaiming the Jewish historical narrative.

Early Life

Many aspects of Mel Brooks’s works are influenced by his childhood and early life. Mel Brooks was born as Melvin Kaminsky on June 27th, 1926 in his family’s sweltering Brooklyn apartment. His father, Max, died when Melvin was only two years old. Melvin carried the pain of never getting to know his father for his whole life, which later influenced the relationships between his characters in his films. Brooks explained, “Maybe in having the male characters in my movies find each other, I’m expressing the longing I feel to find my father and be close to him.”1 These relationships between characters, such as Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock in The Producers, or Bart and Jim in Blazing Saddles, mirror qualities in father-son relationships: one party acts as the knowledgeable mentor while the other seeks their guidance.

Being the youngest of four boys, Melvin was regarded as the baby of the family. As a toddler, he was often doted over by friends and relatives and grew used to receiving attention from a broader audience. Because of this, Kaminsky developed a need to keep his admirers entertained in order to remain in the spotlight2, and his need for attention only grew with age. Additionally, Melvin would spend his afternoons with his friends out on the street corner in his Brooklyn neighborhood, where, as a small and unathletic kid, he was  the prime target for neighborhood bullies. Kaminsky quickly caught on that he could use comedy as a way to evade torment. He lived his childhood with this philosophy: “If your enemy is laughing, how can he bludgeon you to death?”3 Originally he turned to comedy as a means of social survival, but he soon found his calling within it. 

Kaminsky’s love for theatrical entertainment began at a young age. His fondness for movies was conceived when his family would visit the silent movie theater during trips to Coney Island.4 He would also frequent his local theater in Williamsburg to watch new talkies, movies with sound, with his friends. His appreciation for theater came from his Uncle Joe, who took him to see his very first Broadway show, Anything Goes. After being dazzled by the thrill of live performance, Brooks thought, “The real world stinks. This is the world I want to live in, the world of imagination.”5 Brooks’s desire to live in this “world of imagination” has been evident in his outrageous and campy productions.

 Around the time he was 13, during a brief period of time when his family moved to Brighton Beach, Melvin learned how to play the drums from the great Buddy Rich. He caught on very quickly because he had a natural knack for rhythm. He commented on why he pursued percussion: “I think I became a drummer because it made the most noise. Obviously, I wanted attention. I could have become a flutist, could have played the flute. Nobody pays attention to you.”6 The skills he learned from Rich would prove to be handy later on when he set off into the Catskills for a summer gig not too long after. 

Like many teens in the 1940s, Melvin trekked up to the Catskills mountains to work at a Jewish resort for the summer. His jobs were not glamourous and he was severely underpaid. After taking on many odd jobs around the resort, he landed the gig of being a pool tummler, essentially the equivalent to a court jester, for the guests. Being a natural entertainer, he took his seemingly minor role with the utmost seriousness. One of his shticks involved walking off the end of the diving board while decked out in a full suit and coat, holding a briefcase. Brooks did not know how to swim and had to be saved numerous times by the lifeguards at the pool, proving that he had an unwavering commitment to his craft.

After his stint as a tummler, Kaminsky auditioned to be a drummer for the house band at the Butler’s Lodge. Nightly entertainment called for comedians in the Catskills resorts to be in high demand (or the “Borscht Belt Circuit” as it was often referred to). Brooks lucked out one night when the resort’s usual comedian fell incredibly ill and Brooks was asked to fill in. His first night, despite his nerves, was an overall success and inspired him to continue. He experimented with different material, and often it was not well received— especially his more obscene humor. According to Brooks, “I wasn’t a big hit, not at first… The Jewish ladies with blue hair would call me over and say ‘Melvin, we enjoyed parts of your show, but a trade would be better for you.’”7 Although not all of his jokes resonated with the audience, Brooks was not discouraged and persisted on with his comedy career. At this point in his life, he rebranded himself from Melvin Kaminsky to Mel Brooks— Brooks being a derivative of his mother’s maiden name, “Brookman”.

 At the time, although many entertainers with ethnic names changed them for more ambiguous ones in an effort to conceal their identity, Brooks never hid his Jewishness from the world. He described: “I was never religious, but always terribly Jewish… I would say socially, societally I was always very Jewish— I love being Jewish.”8 Growing up in Brooklyn surrounded by Jewish culture built up a strong Jewish identity that existed independent from the religious aspects of Judaism. 

Engulfed in Jewish culture with his Brooklyn roots and Catskills summers, Books was kept away from a lot of antisemitism at the beginning of his life. According to him, “[In Brooklyn] we didn’t feel any antisemitism or any strangeness. Had we been transported to Nebraska or Kansas or Abilene, Texas, Yes, we would have felt.”9 Antisemitsm became a much more prominent part of his life when he departed from his familiar Brooklyn and headed off for the army.

Shortly after graduating highschool in 1944, Brooks enlisted in the U.S. Army. While in basic training, he experienced a great deal of antisemitism and harassment from his peers. In one interview, Brooks recalled an incident: 

Oh, I was in the army. ‘Jew boy! Out of my way, out of my face, Jew boy.’ This guy called me Jew-something and I walked over to him. I took his helmet off. I said ‘I don’t want to hurt your helmet, cus it’s GI issue.’ And I smashed him in the head with my mess kit.10 

Bravely, Brooks was not afraid of the consequences that would come as a result of him standing up to antisemitism. His experiences caused him to not only refrain from concealing his Jewishness, but actually infuse it as a main feature in all of his work so his audiences were unable to ignore or overlook it.

Brooks was assigned to the 1104th Engineer Combat group and sent overseas to fight in Germany during World War II. He arrived just in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. Although in a literal war zone, Brooks managed to let his true personality shine through into battlefield antics. In one instance, Brooks responded to German harassment by singing to them over a bullhorn. He often behaved this way on the front in an effort to break the tension from the looming fear of death that followed the soldiers around. After the war ended, Brooks was offered a position as a comedian to follow around the U.S. troops and entertain them. He was promoted to corporal status and enjoyed his life on the road, indulging in the pleasantries that 19 year old boys love the most: alcohol and women. Eventually, he was relieved from duties and shipped back to America.

Much of Mel Brooks’s work is influenced by his experiences as a Jew in the US army in World War II. When reflecting back on his time in the army, he said that he was “grateful”11 His experience in the army motivated him to retaliate against Hitler on behalf of the Jews through his comedy. Through ridicule and mockery, Brooks aimed to belittle Hitler and the Nazis into laughing stocks and take away any inkling of dignity. This was a common theme throughout his career.

Upon returning to America, Brooks tried, and failed, to attend Brooklyn College before finding a job with a producer named Benjamin Kutcher. Kutcher proved to be a failure, and was unable to ever produce a hit play. In order to collect funding for his productions, he seduced old women and collected checks from them. This employer was the obvious inspiration for the Max Bialystock character in The Producers. Brooks then left this job for a summertime stagehand position with a theater group called the Red Bank Theater. After the head of the company quit on account of an unsuccessful season, Mel seized the opportunity to direct their productions. He thrived in his new position and it reaffirmed his love for theatrical production. This experience boosted his confidence and inspired him to use his chutzpah to continue pursuing his dreams.

The life of young Melvin Kaminsky is ever present in the works of the older Mel Brooks. Being coddled as a child instilled a hunger for constant attention, a hunger that  he has strived to satisfy his entire career. Growing up as a small, meek kid required him to adopt a powerful command of comedy in order to avoid getting pummeled by bullies, and the  Brooklyn street corner gave him a stage to practice his material. The tragic loss of his father shaped the relationships and dynamics of his film characters, and being a drummer contributed to his musical tendencies, ensuring that he would be the loudest in the room. As a teen, his time performing stand up in the Borscht Belt provided him with his first experiences in front of a proper audience, the opportunity to hone his craft, and imbue within him a keen sense for live performance. 

Finally, his time in the army tuned him into how Jews are seen in the world outside of Brooklyn. This perspective affirmed his sense of identity and provoked him to make it a primary aspect of everything he did. He also assumed a responsibility to ridicule antisemites like Hitler and the Nazis through comedy in order to strip away any legitimacy or dignity from them.

The Sid Caesar Years

Mel Brooks’s career took off when he joined forces with the king of slapstick, Sid Caesar. Like Brooks, Caesar also performed standup gigs at Catskills resorts. However, being older and more experienced, he had honed his craft to a deeper and more unique level than Brooks. Brooks looked up to Caesar as a role model, but he also felt inadequate compared to him because of his sophisticated humor and dashing good looks. The two were introduced to each other by their mutual friend, Don Appell, after a show Caesar had at the Copa in 1947. After Caesar gained more popularity through his series of live shows at the Roxy Theater, he was offered to produce a weekly television revue show for NBC called Admiral Broadway Revue

Although Brooks was not a part of the production at the time, he hung around backstage at the studio often; Caesar described Brooks as “sort of a groupie”.12 One day, Max Leibman, the producer of the show, came to the studio to chat with Ceasar. Caesar asked Brooks to perform his signature opening song for Leibman that he often sang before his shows:

Here I am, I’m Melvin Brooks

I’ve come to stop the show.

I’m just a ham who’s minus looks

But in your heart I’ll grow

I’ll tell you gags, I’ll sing you songs,

Just happy little snappy songs that roll along.

Out of my mind

Won’t you be kind?

And please love Melvin Brooks13

Brooks sang this crooner song with gusto and passion, dramatically ending on one knee. Unfortunately, Leibman was not impressed and discounted Brook’s potential, referring to him as a “meshuggener”14. Regardless, Brooks was determined to wedge his way into Caesar’s inner circle, so he attempted to show up to more rehearsals. This led Sid’s manager, Leo Pillot, to advise security at the International Theater, where the show was produced, to keep him out of the building. However, Brooks refused to give up despite many ejections. Luckily, the commotion caught Caesar’s attention and he was able to put Mel on the list on the condition that he stayed away from the bulk of the production. Brooks’s tenacity paid off when Caesar and his writing team reached a block in one of their skits.

Caesar instructed Brooks to “Do something. Write!”15 to fix the scene. Proposing that they add a ridiculous animal noise to the scene to elevate it, he succeeded in proving himself to the writing team. Sid allowed him to hang around if he provided insight on skits. Appreciating the struggle of being a poor comic, Caesar took it upon himself to personally pay Mel $40 a week for his work— a stipend which increased to $50 a week, once Caesar assessed Brooks’ squalid living conditions. After the 19th episode, the show was canceled due to a pulled sponsorship, and Brooks found himself out of work. 

By this point, Brooks had been presented with numerous obstacles in his pursuit of a fruitful career. He had followed around Sid Caesar like a puppy for years before he was able to give input on sketches. He had been ignored and invalidated by Max Leibman on multiple occasions and was not taken seriously. Along with his failure to exist in the limelight, these shortcomings caused Brooks to be incredibly insecure. Fortunately, his connections with Sid Caesar presented a new opportunity to express his craft with Your Show of Shows.

Although Max Leibman was adamant about Brooks not joining the original writing team for Your Show of Shows, Sid Caesar’s influence over the matter outshined Leibman’s. Once again, Brooks was hired on with Caesar’s personal funds. Max begrudgingly allowed it, but only if Brooks agreed to stay out of his hair unless explicitly asked to advise a skit. For the first few episodes, he was sparsely involved, but in the seventh episode, Brooks contributed an entire scene— earning him screen credit at the end of the program.

After this victory, Brooks became even more motivated to prove himself further. He demanded to become a salaried employee of the show instead of Sid’s beneficiary. Upon winning that, he  pushed further for a full cast screen credit that named him a writer and not just a contributor, which he achieved in 1951. Caesar would later describe Mel’s journey: “He was pushing his way into the writers’ room through a combination of raw talent, inertia and sheer chutzpah”.16 

The writing team of Max Leibman, Sid Caesar, Lucille Kallen, and Mel Tolkin had functioned efficiently, but the new addition of Mel Brooks complicated team dynamics. Brooks’s manic demeanor, chronic insomnia, and secret professional insecurities made it difficult for him to mesh well with the rest of the crew. The eclectic mix of these personalities along with another addition, Carl Reiner, created a hectic environment of cacophonous chaos in the writers’ room— an environment that Brooks was constantly blamed for by Leibman, who continued to disregard him as a comic. One year later in 1952, Leibman finally accepted Brooks’s talent and regarded him as a team player. 

The new addition of Carl Reiner to the team proved to be an amazing compliment to Mel Brooks. The two Jewish men shared the same kind of spunky improvisational humor— the synthesis of which created one of Brooks’s most well known characters. While in the writer’s room one day, Reiner turned to Brooks pretending to hold a microphone and asked him, “I understand you were at the Crucifixion?” to which Mel replied in a thick, Yiddish accent, “Christ was a thin lad, always wore sandals. Hung around with 12 other guys”.17 And with that, The 2000 Year Old Man was born. 

Reiner purchased an audio recorder and used it to record his improvised conversations with Brooks as The 2000 Year Old Man. Brooks regards this character and other improvised characters like him all “challenge his creativity”18 because he was forced to have an immediate response that was witty and would invoke a positive reaction from the audience. Mel’s character is distinctly Jewish because he follows the theme of neurosis that is common throughout Jewish comedy. He kvetches like a Jewish mother and complains about how he has “over 42,000 children and not one of them comes to visit”19 him. The 2000 Year Old Man embodies the aura of in-your-face Jewishness that Brooks’s characters are famous for. 

As Your Show of Shows gained popularity, Brooks developed work related anxiety and would often have panic attacks throughout the day. This anxiety was a direct cause of the insecurities he had developed: he felt like a sham and didn’t feel legitimate enough to be considered a successful writer. According to Brooks when he acquired the title of “writer” he confessed, “I began to get scared. Writer! I’m not a writer. Terrible penmanship… It was unreal. I figured any day they’d find out and fire me. It was like I was stealing and I was going to get caught”.20 Brooks’s mother contributed to his anxieties by explicitly reinforcing his imposter syndrome and constantly ridiculing him for it. Brooks’s poor mental health began to take a toll on his physical health, so he sought out assistance from a psychiatrist. These experiences inspired the subject of his film, High Anxiety.

In 1954, due to drastic changes and the increased accessibility of televisions to less sophisticated audiences, Your Show of Shows aired its final episode. Sid Caesar signed a 10 year deal with NBC and got his own show, Caesar’s Hour. Brooks declined joining Sid’s show and instead found himself writing for Sid’s former co-star, Imogene Coca’s show. He did not fit in well with the dynamic of the show’s writing team and comedic style and was forced to work on his own and interact with the other writers only through writing. The unsuccessful show was pulled off the air and once again, Brooks found himself unemployed. By good luck, Sid Caesar was missing Mel’s companionship in the writers’ room, and the pair was reunited once again on Caesar’s Hour.

While at Caesar’s Hour, Brooks fell back into his tardiness, often barging into the writers’ room while they had already been working on a sketch, only to demand a rewrite. Most of the team resented him for this behavior, even though his insight was integral. According to Carl Reiner:

Because Mel is really one of the funniest human beings in the world, he was able very often to improve on the jokes that were already written. He had proved he could come in late and contribute at least his share or more. Mel at one [p.m.] was a better commodity to have than a bum who came in early.21

NBC canceled Caesar’s Hour in May of 1957 due to a dip in ratings, Sid Caesar’s refusal to comply with the network’s suggestions, and his substance abuse issues. Brooks, once again on the hunt for a new project, signed on to help write a play called Shinbone Alley, but that ultimately proved to be a failure. In September of that same year, he signed on as a producer and writer for The Polly Bergen Show until he was fired. These events contributed more to his already omnipresent anxiety about not succeeding in show business. Brooks was given another chance to write for Sid Caesar with Sid Caesar Invites You, but the show was largely unsuccessful, once again due to Caesar’s substance abuse issues and refusal to cooperate with the network. 

It was clear to Brooks that he has to sever himself from Sid Caesar in order to make a career for himself. However, because of the sudden cease in income and marital problems with his first wife, Brooks fell into very dark times. His fears and insecurities had snowballed and were only proven to be more and more true to him as show after show got canceled. 

Mel Brooks’s Movies

Mel Brooks mastered the art of using satire, vulgarity, and parody in his movies to create a brand of dynamic comedy that presents profound philosophical suggestions about human behavior. He uses satire to make bold criticisms about humanity and vulgarity and to exacerbate those commentaries while also adding comedic relief from otherwise serious topics. His command of parody allows him to use genre as a device to more effectively convey his messages.

When describing a Mel Brooks film, one usually thinks of zany, campy productions dazzled with provocative antics and racy shenanigans. The word “serious” is probably not the first to come to mind, but according to Brooks, that is far from the truth. When interviewed about this topic, he said, “All my films are serious. You examine any one of them and they’re serious because they are passionate and they depict human behavior at given points in history of humanity.”22 His films, while not dramatic, still cover serious themes, such as racial discrimination and mental health. The messages within his films are illustrated through the lenses of the genres they parody. Brooks intentionally uses genre as a tool to enhance the gravity of his hefty themes. In order to balance these themes with comedy and to reaffirm his criticisms , Mel employs vulgarity and chutzpah. Upon examination of four of his most popular films, Brooks’s philosophical insights become more obvious.

One of Mel’s most famous films, The Producers, was the first feature film he ever directed— but it was a total flop at the box office. It was jam packed with satire surrounding Hitler, the Nazi’s and their rise to power, but in 1968, World War II was too recent in the collective memory of the world and people were not ready to make light of it. Nazi humor was highly contoversial for the time, and audiences weren’t ready for Brooks’s satire of this sensitive subject. Additionally, flashy musical numbers and description of Hitler as a laid back beat-nik stoner did not sit well with many, as it was interpreted as insensitive. To Brooks, however, this ridicule was incredibly serious. When talking about Hitler and his treatment to the Jews, Brooks justified his portrayals:

How do you get even with [Hitler]? There’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule. Because if you stand on a soapbox and you match him with rhetoric, you’re just as bad as he is. But if you can make people laugh at him, then you’re one up on him. And it’s been one of my life-long jobs to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler23

Brook’s goal was to paint Hitler and the Nazis as laughing stocks, thereby stripping them of all power and influence in order to triumph over them. When asked about his feelings about Hitler, he said, “I’m grateful for the army, grateful for Hitler too. The Producers made me the first Jew in history to make a buck out of Hitler”24 He sees this as a method of Jewish reclamation of identity by proving that he, a proud Jewish boy, would be more successful at the expense of Hitler’s dignity.

Brooks’s satire of the Nazis is made more effective by showing it through the genre of “let’s make a show” shows. The juxtaposition of flashy costumes and elaborate choreography— such as a swastika kickline— causes the viewer to see the Nazi’s as silly and illegitimate rather than giving them any sense of dignity. This choice of genre also acknowledges that the depictions of Nazis in the musical would be distasteful to the audience, as it was explicitly rendered in the film. However, the instance in which the audience changes their mind about the play is Brooks’s way of giving his audience permission to start laughing at Hitler too. 

Beyond denouncing the legitimacy and power of antisemites, The Producers explores another existential topic that haunts the psyches of many: the failure to succeed in a world where successess is everything. Leo Bloom and Max Biyalstock are both examples of the schlemiel character. Max is a failing producer that can only “succeed” in making money by sleeping with philanthropic old women and scamming them out of  their cash. He has never been able to produce a hit and is going bankrupt because of it. His accountant, Leo, manifests his schlemiel-ness paired with neurosis. He is spineless and is infantilized by the film. These two losers, in an effort to succeed, strive to make a failure— a feat Max had been achieving unintentionally. Ironically, the one time they strive towards the goal of failure, they ultimately have a stellar show, meaning they have failed their plan and are once again losers with success. Even though they chose the most controversial play they could find and produced it with utter insensitivity, they still somehow missed the target. The only place the men become successful producers is in the jailhouse. Biyalstock sums it up pretty well when he laments, “Where did I go right?”25 The moral of this movie suggests that no matter how hard one may try, failure will always find you in some capacity in the world. This idea may have been inspired by Brooks’s past experiences in his early career.

Although The Producers was not an immediate hit, Mel Brooks became a household name with his 1974 Western spoof, Blazing Saddles. This film explores the topic of racial discrimination through a genre that normally relies on consistency and predicatbilty. The notion of having a black sheriff, Bart, in the little, predominantly white boom town of Rock Ridge creates space for critical assessment of racial prejudice. Microaggressions towards Bart are sprinkled heavily throughout the film, despite the fact that he is the best sheriff Rock Ridge had ever known. He is consistently referred to with a slur over the course of the film, showing that his African American identity was always the first thing— and often the only thing— the characters saw. Even one of Brooks’s cameos as a Yiddish Indian serves as a politically incorrect representation of prejudice coming from someone other than the white townsfolk when he regards an African American family in a covered wagon as “shvartz”. 

Brooks’s message behind this film is that if you break from the norm, you will always be seen as an outsider. According to Brooks, “comedy comes from the feeling that, as a Jew, and as a person, you don’t fit the mainstream of American society. It comes from the realization that even though you’re better and smarter, you’ll never belong”.26 Bart, although better and smarter than his citizens he was protecting, would still always be “other” to his community.

This film— on top of tackling themes of racial prejudice— draws attention to more of life’s biggest unanswered questions. Brooks’s skillful way of incorporating vulgarity to explain these mysteries is exemplified flawlessly in the scene where the cowboys are eating dinner under the stars. Mel often wondered what cowboy diets were like in regards to flatulence. With beans being a staple in their protein consumption, one can only assume that there would be quite a bit of gas in the guts of these buckaroos. Brooks’s honest presentation of the symphony of toots phonating from the cowboys sheds light on a huge question that no one knew to ask. 

After his success with Blazing Saddles, Brooks was ambitious to create another film that would push the envelope with genre. After being traumatized as a child from watching Frankenstein, Mel developed a recurring nightmare. Growing tired of his night terrors, Brooks thought, “I don’t want this dream anymore. I want him to be a friendly guy. I wanted to exorcise this dybbuk, this devil, from my system”.27 This was his inspiration for making Young Frankenstein in 1974. In order to be true to the genre of old-time Hollywood horror, Brooks insisted that this movie had to be filmed in black and white. In order to use parody effectively, the entire genre had to be genuine in the film’s production. 

Young Frankenstein contains a few existential debates worth analyzing. The first is humanity’s discomfort with the permanence of death and the desire to reverse it, achieving immortality. The second is man’s desire, but inability, to conceive. The Doctor, at first, is very against subscribing to his grandfather’s legacy. Once he comes around, however, he is obsessed with creating his monster. He speaks to him as a parent and cooed over him and his dancing achievements when he taps to “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. This synthesized father-son dynamic is a product of Mel’s hang ups about never knowing his father and never having that kind of relationship. 

After successfully mastering the parody of yet another genre, Brooks decided to pay homage to the great Alfred Hitchcock and make a tribute to him. The 1977 film High Anxiety, is reminiscent of a combination of Hitchcock’s suspense films while grappling with the topic of mental health and the health care system.

 In this film, one of the world’s leading psychological professionals gets a position at “The Psycho-Neurotic Institution for the Very, Very Nervous.” He also suffers from “high anxiety”, a condition many of his patients also had. The neurotic professor is warned that, “if left untreated, high anxiety could cost you your life”28— a statement that foreshadows the resolution of him getting over his fear. Exhibiting this topic through a suspense genre gives the audience the opportunity to feel anxiety along with the characters, enhancing the intensity of the movie experience. 

This movie plays into the neurotic Jewish stereotype, but it is also inspired by Mel Brooks’s own experiences with anxiety and mental health. As a young man, he had depression and anxiety that were byproducts of his insecurities. He also had a profound fear of heights, as does the character he plays in the movie. His character, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, had to overcome his fear of heights in order to run up the bell tower to save Arthur Brisbane from being murdered at the end of the film. This is a metaphor for the effort one must make in order to alleviate their mental health concerns. Otherwise, one’s inner demons will end up engulfing them until they are unable to continue living a full life. 

Brooks incorporates another scene of vulgarity that, like the cowboys in Blazing Saddles, tackles one of life’s biggest unanswered questions. The scene in the park— an allusion to Hitchcock’s The Birds— presented another insightful answer to an underasked question. While swarming Brooks, the birds expel their droppings, leaving them subject to gravity. The droppings accumulate rapidly on the Doctor, exposing a reality that many of us know all too well: bird shit all over you. Brooks once again answered the questions nobody knew to ask.  

Conclusion

Mel Brooks’s comedy mirrors himself. Growing up, he used comedy as a means of social survival among his peers and then later as a tool to triumph over the effects of antisemitism. He grapples with existential questions and themes through means of satire, parody and vulgarity creating a thought provoking comedy that is still light hearted enough for audiences to laugh at. Although it’s not religious, his brand of comedy is inherently Jewish because it evokes upon Jewish character tropes and features allusions to Jewish culture. This integration of his Jewish identity and his comedic methods creates an entanglement that is impossible to sever— one does not exist without the other.


Bibliography

60 Minutes. “Mel Brooks On Broadway”. Produced by Jay Kernis. Columbia Broadcasting System. [New York, NY] Columbia Broadcasting System, 2001-04-15. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/mel-brooks-on-broadway.ooks-on-broadway.

Brooks, Mel, and Carl Reiner. “The 2000 year Old Man.” 1967.

Brooks, Mel, dir. Blazing Saddles. 1974.

Brooks, Mel, dir. The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy. Collection of essays, video, and audio.

Brooks, Mel, dir. High Anxiety. 1977.

Brooks, Mel, dir. The Producers. 1968.

Brooks, Mel, dir. Young Frankenstein. 1974.

Brooks, Mel. “The Playboy Interview: Mel Brooks.” Interview by Brad Darrach. Playboy Magazine, February 1st, 1975.

Crick, Robert Alan. The Big Screen Comedies of Mel Brooks. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Dauber, Jeremy Asher. Jewish Comedy: A Serious History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Parish, James Robert. It’s Good to Be the King: The Seriously Funny Life of Mel Brooks. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Trachtenberg, Robert dir. American Masters. Season 27, Episode 3, “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.” Aired May 20, 2013, on PBS. Shout Factory, 2013, DVD.

Yentob, Alan, dir I Thought I  Was Taller: A Short History of Mel Brooks. 1981.


Endnotes

  1. James Robert Parish. It’s Good to Be the King: The Seriously Funny Life of Mel Brooks. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007) 19.
  2. Parish, 17.
  3. Parish, 24.
  4. Parish, 26.
  5. Parish, 28.
  6. Mel Brooks. American Masters. Directed by Robert Trachtenberg. Season 27, Episode 3, “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.” 2013.
  7. Parish, 40.
  8. Brooks. American Masters.
  9. Mel Brooks. I Thought I  Was Taller: A Short History of Mel Brooks. Directed by Alan Yentob, 1981.
  10. 60 Minutes
  11. Parish, 49. 
  12. Parish, 61.
  13. Parish, 44.
  14. Parish, 62.
  15. Parish, 64.
  16. Dauber, 163.
  17. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. “The 2000 Year Old Man.” 1967.
  18. Parish, 116.
  19. ibid.
  20. Parish, 86.
  21. Parish, 101.
  22. Brooks, I Thought I  Was Taller: A Short History of Mel Brooks.
  23. Mel Brooks, 60 Minutes. “Mel Brooks On Broadway”. Produced by Jay Kernis. (Columbia Broadcasting System. [New York, NY] 2001-04-15. Accessed November 7, 2019). 
  24. Parish, 49.
  25. The Producers, 1968.
  26. Dauber, 259.
  27. Parish, 27.
  28. High Anxiety, 1977.

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