The History of Mel Brooks, Part I

Tells Difference Between Jelly Jars and Yahrtzeit Glasses

Showman of Showmen: Mel Brooks is the subject of a new PBS American Masters documentary and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.
Courtesy of Pamela Barkentin Blackwell
Showman of Showmen: Mel Brooks is the subject of a new PBS American Masters documentary and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

By Curt Schleier

Published May 13, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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“I was very lucky. I chose the path, and I had the three thirds that make one whole.”

He explained: “One third is the neurotic need for attention. That’s the first third. The second third is God-given talent, the ability to sing on key, to move your legs well and dance well, to machine gun a joke with the right rhythm. The third is unstoppable diligence and work. When I do a movie, it’s at least six rewrites of the script.”

Comedy, he claimed, is a way people work their way up the social ladder: “We [Jews] were replaced by blacks, and 40 years from now they’ll be replaced, probably by comics from Thailand. It happens in waves. Every immigrant society, all downtrodden and poor people want to make a living shouting their own praises.”

Towards the end of our interview, Brooks told me he recently had dinner with “two lovely Dutch ladies” who presented him with a plastic-encased chestnut from a tree that stands outside the home where Anne Frank hid in the attic. We took a few minutes trying, translating the Dutch words on the casing.

“I keep it on my desk,” he said. “Is there anything sweeter and nicer than that little girl still having faith in humanity?”

Curt Schleier writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.


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