Mel Brooks (born Melvin James Kaminsky; June 28, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York) is probably one of the funniest men in Hollywood, and Broadway, and life in general.
Co-creator of the James Bond parody series Get Smart (with Buck Henry), and producer and director of many fine films — most of them affectionate parodies — such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, To Be or Not to Be, Spaceballs, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Notably, Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein occupy spots 6, 11 and 13 on the AFI's list of the 100 best comedies of the last 100 years. Did we mention that he's really funny?
He also produced David Lynch's drama The Elephant Man and David Cronenberg's The Fly but removed his name because he didn't want people to think they were comedies.
His record as writer, producer and comedian has resulted in him being one of the fourteen people to be an EGOT (An Emmy (4 of them), a Grammy (3 of them), an Oscar, and a Tony (3 of them)), the top awards of television, music, film, and theater, respectively), a lifetime achievement award from the AFI, as well as a fellowship from the BAFTA. Brooks himself jokes that the only award he hasn't won is "Woman Of The Year."
In the new millennium, he co-wrote and produced successful musical versions of The Producers and Young Frankenstein for Broadway. Following the success of The Producers, he and Anne Bancroft appeared as themselves on Curb Your Enthusiasm, intent on casting Larry David and David Schwimmer in the show in the hope that they'll kill the show and they won't have to bother with it. In other words, it's a Springtime for Hitler. Of course, like all Springtime for Hitler schemes, it fails.
Brooks is responsible for launching and boosting the careers of many comedians. It was he who gave Dave Chappelle his first credited role.
He also rapped as Hitler once. In an interview for 60 Minutes, he stated that his life's goal was to reduce Hitler to a figure of such ridiculousness that no one would ever take his ideas seriously again. (If the numerous Tonys that The Producers won are any indication, it's working.) Being both Jewish and a World War II veteran, if anyone has N-Word Privileges to joke about Adolf Hitler it's him.
He met Anne Bancroft on a talk show and then bribed a woman in order to create a Meet Cute with her. Proving that being Genre Savvy has its perks, he was somehow able to convince Mrs. Robinson to become Mrs. Brooks. Their union resulted in Max Brooks, probably one of the foremost experts on how to repel and survive the oncoming Zombie Apocalypse. He has three other children from his first marriage to Florence Baum, which only lasted a few years. He attributes this to both of them being too young to know what they were getting into, and they've remained on good terms in all the decades since.
If you were a kid at The Turn of the Millennium, you probably know him best as the voice of either Wiley the Sheep on Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks or Bigweld in the 2005 animated film Robots.
And lastly, he is a Retired Badass World War II vet who used to defuse Nazi landmines for the Allied Forces. Then at the Battle of the Bulge, when the Nazis set up loudspeakers to play Fascist Propaganda at the Allies, Brooks set up his own loudspeakers and played the works of Jewish musical artist Al Jolson right back at them. He was making fun of Nazis back when they were still relevant ...and lived. It's good to be the king, indeed.
Films of note:
- The Critic (1963)
- The Producers (1968)
- The Twelve Chairs (1970)
- Blazing Saddles (1974)
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
- Silent Movie (1976)
- High Anxiety (1977)
- History of the World Part I (1981)
- To Be or Not to Be (1983)
- Spaceballs (1987)
- Life Stinks (1991)
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
- Robots (2005)
- The Producers (2005)
- Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)
- Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)
- Toy Story 4 (2019)
- Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (2022)
- Your Show of Shows (Writer)
- Get Smart (Co-creator)
- When Things Were Rotten (Co-creator)
- The Nutt House (Co-creator)
- The Simpsons (Guest Star)
- Spaceballs: The Animated Series (Co-creator, executive producer)
- History of the World Part II (Writer, executive producer)
- Little Demon (Guest Star)
Tropes named by his works:
- Affectionate Parody: Arguably the king of this trope. His movies mock what we enjoy, but it all comes from pure love and understanding of the genre he's satirizing.
- Bad News in a Good Way
- Good Is Dumb
- Just a Stupid Accent
- Just You and Me and My GUARDS!
- Ludicrous Speed
- The Mel Brooks Number
- Springtime for Hitler
- Where da White Women At?
Tropes associated with his works:
- Actor Allusion: Several of his movies make references to Mel, both as the actor and the director. Most notably, Adolf Hitler in To Be Or Not To Be is introduced in Bronski's play by saying "Heil Myself!".
- Though that was also a joke in the original film. It's being used again in the Broadway production is a definite allusion, though.
- Adolf Hitlarious: A life goal of Mel Brooks is reducing Hitler to a punchline. He's notable for re-Codifying this trope in the post-World War II world. While this trope was a stable of Allied anti-Nazi media both before and after the war, it disappeared overnight at the end of the war when the public discovered the full extent of the Nazis' atrocities. It helps that he a) started doing this nearly a quarter century after the war had ended, b) still refuses to cross certain boundaries in lampooning Nazism (see Everyone Has Standards below), and c) is a Jewish-American World War II veteran and thus has about as many N-Word Privileges as you can get when it comes to deriving humor from the Nazis.
- Affectionate Parody: A consummate master of this. He once stated that making fun of a bad movie is easy, but making fun of a good movie is a challenge.
- He takes authenticity serious as well; for example, much of the lab equipment in Young Frankenstein were from the original production of Frankenstein (1931).
- Anachronism Stew: He had a tendency to blend the time frame of his works. Blazing Saddles is supposed to be a parody of Westerns, but it ends up with the characters running around a movie studio.
- Arch-Enemy: Adolf Hitler. Brooks' drive in life is to mock Hitler and the Nazis so much that their ideas can't be taken seriously ever again.
- Author Appeal: The Nazis, who he frequently puts in his movies in defiance of historical logic. Brooks once said that he wanted to be the first Jew to make a million dollars off of Hitler.
- Associated Composer: John Morris composed and conducted the scores to all of his movies up to Life Stinks.
- Big Bad: A supervillain who makes a fool out of himself is usually present.
- Black Comedy: His films have made jokes of things like war, execution, terrible history, and even Hitler. However, see "Everyone Has Standards" below.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Frequently, It's less "breaking the fourth wall" and more "gleefully smashing through it with a bulldozer". Blazing Saddles spends its entire final act with the fourth wall broken, as the characters break out of their own movie to trash a sound stage and movie theater and Spaceballs even has the characters watch the film during the middle of it.
- In an interview with Conan O'Brien He says that he got his first laugh after having to be a last minute replacement for a performance when he was 14. When he ended up dropping and shattering a glass of water in the middle of a show, he blurted out to the audience "I'm 14! I've never done this before!" The audience fell out laughing, and a spark was ignited.
- Casting Gag: Famous mime Marcel Marceau in Silent Movie is ironically the only character to ever speak a word.
- Cool Old Guy: A WWII vet and comedy icon with just about every award to his name and who hasn't lost any of his spark or wit even in his nineties. They don't come any cooler than Mel.
- Creator Cameo: Sans The Producers and Young Frankenstein (and even then, he still does some voiceover work), he acts in all of his films as a secondary character and occasionally as the lead. History of the World: Part I has him playing no fewer than five characters.
- Double Entendre: Whether it's through Punny Names or incredibly suggestive dialogue, expect a little raunch thrown in.
- Dumb Blonde: Chances are, if there's a love interest for the male lead in his movies, she'll be blonde, and a complete moron.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: His first two films, The Producers and The Twelve Chairs, are much more low-key and are closer to Black Comedy than the parodies he'd later be famous for.
- Everyone Has Standards
- While widely regarded as a legend in making comedy about things that people don't normally like to talk about (and a frequent example used, unfortunately, by people trying to pass off racist jokes as satire), Brooks has made it clear that there are lines he is not willing to cross. He'll make fun of Hitler and the absurdity of fascism until the cows come home, but stops short of concentration camps and genocide because there's nothing funny about them at all, famously ragging on Life Is Beautiful for more or less trying to do just that. In Blazing Saddles, he deliberately put in a scene of Bart escaping the gallows because there was no humor to be derived from a black man being hanged, especially not in a movie written by a white filmmaker. Even negating the racial content, there was one gag that he had cut on the grounds that even he found it tasteless ("I hate to disappoint you ma'am, but you're sucking on my arm"). And this was a movie where he had complete creative control over the final cut!
- As he's recounted several times, he was once a guest on a celebrity week of the game show Eye Guess in 1966. As the taping was wrapping up, he walked over to host Bill Cullen, only to notice that Cullen was walking weirdly. Thinking it was a joke, Mel started imitating how Bill was walking. When they reached each other for a hug, Cullen told him "You know, you're the only comic who's ever had the nerve to make fun of my crippled walk. Everyone's so careful, it makes me feel even worse." Mel hadn't known that thanks to a combo of polio and a motorcycle accident, Bill always walked that way (and the shows he hosted took measures to make sure it wasn't noticeable) — so Mel promptly felt horrible about it. As it turned out, Bill liked it — up until then, he felt that others were being too pitying of him.
- Funny Background Event: Rather common, natch.
- Genius Bonus: He's really good at these. Everyone gets the jokes about Jews, Star Wars, and Westerns in Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Spaceballs, probably a lot fewer people get the jokes about Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Murder, She Wrote and the works of Franz Kafka.
- Gratuitous German: Usually spoken by large women.
- Happily Married: To Anne Bancroft for a full 41 years until her death in 2005. In To Be or Not to Be, you can very much tell he's talking about his actual relationship with Bancroft when he says it's easy to fall in love with her.
- Hurricane of Euphemisms: If Mel Brooks can find a way to make a Visual Pun, rest assured, he'll do it. And the characters in his works will most certainly point it out.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Not that the characters in his movies think very much of them, but that's never stopped him.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Expect a cheery song-and-dance number to show up in less-than-cheery circumstances.
- Never Learned to Read: Despite being an accomplished and prolific songwriter, he is completely musically illiterate and his only experience with musical instruments was as a drummer. He hums all of his music into a tape recorder and then has an arranger transcribe it. Quite impressive, considering he'd later win a "Best Original Score" Tony for The Producers.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Most of the characters in his movies don't even bother with putting on accents that aren't Brooks' own Brooklynite one. It makes the few characters that do speak that way stand out far more.
- N-Word Privileges: Jokes about Jews and the Nazis that would probably be offensive coming from non-Jews are common in his work, though he absolutely draws the line at actual holocaust jokes. Blazing Saddles, meanwhile, deliberately overused the N-word and made all of the white characters who say it complete morons in an attempt to make it less offensive. (Note that while a lot of people assume Richard Pryor wrote those parts of the film, Brooks himself claims he wrote most of them. Pryor wrote most of the Mongo scenes.) Note that Brooks definitely has a lot more clout to make fun of the Nazis than most people, given that he actually fought the Nazis back when they were still very much a threat.
- Overused Running Gag: Very often. The pronunciation of "Hedley Lamarr" from Blazing Saddles and Frau Blücher's name accompanied by a horse's whinny in Young Frankenstein come to mind.
- Production Posse: A vast majority of his movies had starred not only Mel himself, but Madeline Kahn, Gene Wilder (who came up for the original idea of Young Frankenstein), Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, and Dom De Luise. Marty Feldman appeared in two of his films. Composer John Morris scored all of his movies except his last two.
- Reference Overdosed: Part of his style in parodying a movie or genre is referencing lots of other works in the same genre. Blazing Saddles parodied a lot of conventions of the Western genre, while Robin Hood: Men in Tights references a lot of other Robin Hood movies.
- Refuge in Audacity: A master of politically incorrectnote comedy, his personal philosophy with "bluer" jokes is that they're only funny if you go hard or go home with them. In his words, "If you're going to go up to the bell, ring it!"
- Running Gag: All over the place, but a notable one is making some sort of reference to a previous film (such as the Mr. Rental in Spaceballs having copies of every Mel Brooks film released up to that point). Another, particularly in later films, is plugging fake sequels to the movie currently being watched. "Walk this way" is particularly popular, thanks to the numerous spins that can be put on it.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: A variation. Mel Brooks was the executive producer of The Elephant Man and deliberately kept his name off the film, for fear people would expect it to be a comedy. He did the same with The Fly (1986). However, in the latter case when it failed, he attended the premiere and handed out toy antennae.
- Slapstick: Expect the characters in his works to take all kinds of comical physical abuse, all of it played for laughs.
- Soul Brotha: African-American characters tended to have at least a little bit of this in his comedies.
- Stage Name: Born Melvin Kaminsky, he originally planned to take his mother's maiden name of Brookman when he went into show business. He ran out of space painting "Brookman" on a bass drum head, so he went with the truncated "Brooks."
- Those Wacky Nazis: He made it a point to make them as "wacky" as humanly possible. Brooks has stated that it was a lifetime goal to reduce Adolf Hitler, in particular, to nothing but a punchline.
- Title by Year: An updated version of the "2000 Year Old Man" routine with Carl Reiner, titled "The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000" (performed in 1997).
- Uncredited Role: He was an uncredited producer on David Lynch's The Elephant Man and David Cronenberg's The Fly. He feared audiences would assume they were comedies because of his involvement, so he left his own name out of the credits and marketing.
- Visual Pun: My goodness! A shameless user. Radar, about to be JAMMED!
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Expect everything he writes to be peppered with Yiddishisms for comedy, especially if the speaker isn't Jewish. The man himself has a monologue of it in Blazing Saddles.