Monday night marks the national premier broadcast of the American Masters installment on Mel Brooks. To mark the occasion, we’ve put together a collection of Brooks’ best Jewish clips.
What exactly that means is a good question. As with two others recent subjects on the PBS series — Woody Allen and Phillip Roth (hey, guys, maybe change it up a bit, before Pat Buchanan notices) — you could make the argument that Brooks’ entire oeuvre is an extension of his very Jewish background, sensibilities, hang-ups, etc., and hence any and all of his work can be considered Jewish. Take “Young Frankenstein”: It lacks any explicitly Jewish gags, but some critics (here and here) have no trouble making the case that the film is very Jewish.
Similarly, take what might just be my favorite Mel Brooks scene of all time, courtesy of “Blazing Saddles” (see below). The genius comes in his ability to highlight the racism of God-fearing white folk, while simultaneously leaving us with hope that their better angels will eventually kick in. It wouldn’t be too hard to explain this all as somehow being the product of Brooks’ Jewishness.
5 & 6) Yogurt & moychandizing (“Spaceballs”) and missing the boat on crosses (“2000 Year Old Man”)
Two classic takes on Jews and business/pushcartism, the latter also capturing a sense of how too often it’s not so good to be the Jews.
4) Hitler Rap (“To Be or Not to Be,” sort of)
The first clip was made in conjunction with Mel Brooks’ remake of “To Be or Not to Be”. It was world famous… in Warsaw. Plenty of good Nazi stuff in the film, but I had trouble finding good clips on YouTube, so the trailer will have to do.
3) The Inquisition Here We Go (“History of the World Part I”)
He does Sephardic suffering too…
2) Yiddish-speaking Indians (“Blazing Saddles”)
You want to know the difference between Woody Allen and Mel Brooks? Woody Allen takes his neurosis, sense of outsiderness, otherness, and he bathes in it. Mel Brooks comes from the same place, but turns all that baggage on its head — and gives us Yiddish-speaking Indians. (No good version with embed code, so click here.)
1) Every second of “The Producers”
First, this film reminds us that Mel Brooks can create works of genius on his own, not just brilliantly spoofs of the works of others. And, more importantly, he taught us how to laugh at Hitler.