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The King of Comedy

by Josiah Spyker

No this isn’t about Robert De Niro’s character in the 1982 classic. Instead, this is about a true king of comedy, the great Mel Brooks.

Brooks is the man responsible for comedy classics like, the Producers, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein and the History of the World Part One.

From an early age Brooks would turn his anger into comedy, something he would do throughout his career.

His father died from kidney disease when he was two-years-old, and the tragedy helped shape Brooks as a person and how he saw the world.

“There’s an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I’m sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility,” Brooks once said. “Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems—like a punch in the face.”

Brooks also believed the hardships Jewish people have gone through has given them their sense of humour and comedy is how he deals with what goes on in the world.

“If you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry and never stop crying – that’s probably what’s responsible for the Jews having developed such a great sense of humor,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “The people who had the greatest reason to weep, learned more than anyone else how to laugh.”

It was this type of attitude that led to one of his most well-known lines from the movie, the 12 Chairs, released in 1970.

“Hope for the best, expect the worst. Life’s a stage, we’re unrehearsed. Some reach the top, friends, while others flop, friends. Hope for the best, expect the worst.”

Another defining time in Brooks’ life was when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944.

Brooks served as a corporal in the 1104th Engineer Combat Division, defusing land mines, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and using his talent for entertainment by organizing shows for captured German soldiers and the American Forces.

After World War Two, Brooks began writing for different television comedies and co-created the spy parody Get Smart.

Brooks had aspirated to be a comedy director and for years had been working on an unconventional movie, a satirical, musical comedy about Adolf Hitler, called the Producers.

If the 2019 movie JoJo Rabbit had scrutiny because it was a satire about Nazi Germany, imagine the backlash Brook’s faced when he released the Producers only 22 years after World War Two.

Although Brooks found two producers to fund the movie, the idea was so divisive and no major studios would release the movie.

The film was released independently but became very successful after it won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. While the movie is loved by many, there are also a lot who are offended by it.

Brooks understands why the film is so divisive, but to him the movie was important as a Jewish-American man.

In an interview with Susan Stamberg and published in NPR in 2018, Brooks says there were protests after the movie was released, but he still feels making fun of terrible things is the best way to get back at the people who committed them.

Every rabbi in the world sent me a letter,” Brooks recalls. “I said: Listen, get on a soapbox with Hitler, you’re going to lose, he was a great orator. But if you can make fun of him, if you can have people laugh at him, you win.”

Now 94-years-old, Brooks is still working in the industry, albeit not as often.

Brooks often made his movies to help put a spotlight on under-marginalized groups in the industry.

Take his hit Blazing Saddles for example which isincredibly offensive at face value, but the movie has a much deeper meaning. The satire made fun of westerns and the casual racism found in many of the mainstream westerns at the time.

Although his movies aren’t for everyone, the success and influence on comedy is undeniable.

Brooks is on the short list of EGOT winners, those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

His impressive resume over the years has cemented him as one of the true kings of comedy and as Brooks says in his movie, History of the World Part 1, “it’s good to be the king.”

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