Mel Brooks as Jewish Comedian

Topics: Jews, Judaism, Mel Brooks Pages: 10 (4276 words) Published: August 11, 2011
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...
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