Mel Brooks As Jewish Comedian
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Mel Brooks As Jewish Comedian
Mel Brooks\'s membership in the elite club of Jewish comedians is essentially
impossible to dispute. The question is whether or not his comedy is atypical.
Satirizing Jewish history and klutzy old Jewish men is normal for Jewish comedy.
However, "Don\'t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party,"
is something that you would not expect to hear in typical Jewish comedy (The
Producers). Defined broadly, there are two forms which Mel Brooks\'s Jewish humor
takes. The first form is to discuss specifically Jewish topics in a funny way.
This is evident in The Producers and in the Inquisition scene from History of
the World, Part I. The other form is to use certain aspects of Judaism for
comedic value. This form, is typically used by Brooks\' as a means for a quick
laugh as opposed to a major source of plot definition, and is most apparent in
such scenes as that with the Yiddish-speaking Indian in Blazing Saddles. While
exploring Brooks\'s types of Jewish humor, this paper will limit its scope. Only
four of Brooks\'s films will be discussed in this paper-The Producers, Blazing
Saddles, History of the World, Part I, and To Be or Not To Be. These films were
chosen because the quantity of Jewish content in all of them is considerably
more than in his other films such as Young Frankenstein or Silent Movie. The
four films chosen do an excellent job of portraying the complete range of the
types of Jewish-related humor, which Brooks uses. To understand Mel Brooks
identity as a specifically Jewish comedian it is important to understand how
Jewish he actually was. Melvin Kaminsky was born as the youngest of four
brothers in a crowded New York City apartment to Kitty and Max Kaminsky. He grew
up in a very Jewish area were on "Saturdays, the shops were closed, the
pushcarts parked, and Yiddish replaced with Hebrew in over seventy orthodox
synagogues." However, Brooks himself spent his Saturdays enjoying matinees
at the Marcy Theater. He married a non-Jewish woman and allowed his son, Max, to
be baptized only as long as he was allowed to have a bar-mitzvah. When asked by
the media if he wanted his wife to convert he replied "She don\'t have to
convert. She a star!" (Yacowar 10-14). Before discussing the films, it is
crucial to identify a recurring theme in Brooks\'s work-Germans and, more
specifically, Nazis. He had a brief military career in World War II with very
little combat experience, and he actually ended up being the entertainment
coordinator for the army. Yacowar analyzes Brooks\' later feelings towards
Germans as "subconscious frustration" because of his inability to
actually fight the Nazis (Yacowar 17). In an interview he was asked about his
obsession with Germans, and he replied: Me not like Germans? Why should I not
like Germans? Just because they\'re arrogant and have fat necks and do anything
they\'re told as long as it is cruel, and killed millions of Jews in
concentration camps and made soap out of their bodies and lamp shades out of
their skins? Is that any reason to hate their f-king guts? (Yacowar 32) Brooks
has mocked Germans in various works such as in Your Show of Shows and on the
Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes film festival audio recording.
Regardless, of the origin of his interest with Nazis, if one looks at enough of
his work, one cannot help but notice that this theme is an obsession for Brooks
(Yacowar 34-35, 48). Mel Brooks made his first feature film, The Producers, in
1967. It is about a Jewish Broadway producer (Max Bialystock) who convinces his
Jewish accountant (Leo Bloom) to finance a guaranteed to fail play with the idea
that they would take the profits and run to South America. The guaranteed to
fail play, "Springtime for Hitler" turned out to be a huge success.
The two main characters both represent completely different Jewish stereotypes
and the third area of Jewish interest in the film is the role of Germans both in
the play and the ex-Nazi author, Frank Liebkind (Altman 39). Max Bialystock
(played by Zero Mostel) is obviously not a first generation American because of
his name and his accent. Although he never does anything specifically Jewish, he
is still Jewish so it is relevant to look at his relationship to Jewish
stereotypes. In his book, Telushkin discusses the tradition of having big and
lavish bar mitzvahs, he say\'s "that the Jewish tradition has few curbs to
halt such excesses"(74). It is interesting to see how Bialystock chooses to
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Entertainment, Cinema of the United States, English-language films, American film directors, Films, American atheists, The Producers, Mel Brooks, Jewish humour, Springtime for Hitler, Zero Mostel, Blazing Saddles
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