Mel Brooks once said, “It’s my job to spot the insane or the bizarre in the commonplace.” With a plethora of movies, TV shows, Broadway plays and an EGOT credit to his name, the famed funnyman has either left us laughing so hard we’re reduced to tears or pondering his insightful pearls of wisdom (sometimes, even both!).
Brooks as we know and love him today was born in 1926 as Melvin Kaminsky. He began his career as a comedian in the famed “Borscht Belt,” and is best known for his satires and parodies such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs. Brooks’ shotgun humor was recently highlighted in the PBS biography American Masters Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, which was screened last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
Brooks used Skype video calling to connect from his home in Los Angeles, California with Joy Behar, Susan Stroman, and Robert Trachtenberg at the 92Y for a conversation about his life, career and the documentary. As they discussed different moments from the film, he revealed his biggest secret to success: “I do things for myself, and mostly the audience just joins me.”
Brooks shared a number of stories with us, including one about the time he waited an hour and a half to present Cary Grant with the album for the 2,000 Year Old Man. This segued perfectly into the gem about his close friend Carl Reiner who took a dozen of the albums to England as a gift for the Queen (or the biggest “shiksa in the world” as Brooks calls her).
Having previously hosted comedians such as Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Colbert and Woody Allen, the 92Y has a particular soft spot for comedy. When asked “why Mel Brooks?” Deputy Executive Director Henry Timms said, “There is probably no one who is more admired by the 92Y audiences than him. Being able to bring Mel Brooks here via Skype makes this event extra special. This kind of technology really allows 92Y to expand its reach and enhance its programming in wonderful ways.”
Brooks credited his success to Sid Caesar with whom he first began his professional career, stating “I don’t even know if I’m talented, but I’ve told so many people I am, and they believe me.” When questioned about what he was currently working on, Brooks deadpanned, “I’m working on a new suit that I got at Men’s Warehouse. I don’t want to get it tailored, because then you’re throwing out all the savings.”
American Masters Mel Brooks: Make a Noise premieres nationwide Monday, May 20 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and is available on DVD May 21 from Shout Factory. Tune in to catch the biography Brooks describes as “very, very moving… the stories and the strife, and my life.”