Yes, I know Mel Brooks did a lot of work for television too. Unfortunately, that was aired well before I was born and consequently I have not seen much of his great writing or stand-up, nor heard the album versions of his stand-up. The only TV show I can think of that he worked on that is still available is “Get Smart” and he only worked on the premise, not the writing of most of the show. But that is a really funny show.
What I do know of Mel Brooks is primarily his movies (the funny ones; he had a company to produce serious ones), and that he topped this Cracked.com’s list of secretly badass celebrities, which is just icing on the awesome cake. Brooks’ is a deranged man. There is no other way to say it. Actually, he’s credited as saying it – “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall in a sewer and die.” Most of his movies are affectionate parodies although some are pretty original. Briefly:
The Producers, obviously. An individual who can dream up “Springtime for Hitler” is a very deranged, but funny individual. The plot is that a broke producer tries to de-fraud all his investors by putting on the worst play ever. I like the original version and I like the musical re-make/update equally well. The take-away lesson – “That’s our Hitler!”
Blazing Saddles, in which Mel Brooks gets away with naming a main character a vulgar word for sexual intercourse because apparently no one on the project spoke Yiddish. The plot is that a new sheriff comes to an Old West town and both racism and hilarity ensue. It makes sense in context. The take-away lesson – when in doubt, break the fourth wall.
Young Frankenstein, which is just fantastic. They even used the original props from the 1930s version of Frankenstein. They also work in a shout-out to Bride of Frankenstein. This movie is actually kind of a sequel and reboot to the original Frankenstein well before that was the popular thing to do with movies. The take-away lesson – “Put the candle back!”
Silent Movie, in which the only spoken word is by the only person who had a reputation for never speaking. This movie is more like a series of sight gags and absurd chase scenes than a coherent movie, although there is a loose plot. It features cameos of pretty much everyone famous of the day, and the plot, such as it is, is rather meta in that Mel Brooks’ character is trying to convince famous actors to be in his upcoming silent movie. The take-away lesson – Engulf and Devour.
The Twelve Chairs, which I have not seen yet and almost no one has heard of.
To Be or Not to Be, one of the few movies to only star Mel Brooks and not be written, directed, produced, or otherwise have his involvement. It’s the story of two entertainers in Poland at the start of WWII. Not typically the sort of material mined for comedy gold, but it works. The take-away lesson – Anne Bancroft was a funny lady.
History of the World, Part I, in which there is a musical number that is so wrong, yet so funny, only “Springtime for Hitler” comes even close to that level of wrongness and humor. This is actually a loose series of sketches more than it is a coherent movie, and it also indulges in a bit of meta-humor. I wish Brooks would actually make History of the World, Part II. The take-away lesson – it’s good to be the king.
High Anxiety, in which all of Hitchcock’s best work is totally made fun of. It’s pretty coherent and features some fun work with the camera (a slight meta touch), although the parody of The Birds is a little shoe-horned in. The take-away lesson – “I’m afraid of parents!”
My favorite movie is Spaceballs, even though it was not well-received when it came out. However, the “Star Wars” movies were iconic for me, so a parody of those movies particularly resonated with me. It may also have the most meta-humor of any of his movies, and I love some meta-humor. Also, considering how the “Star Wars” franchise has endured, this movie is still fairly relevant (and also touches on some other sci-fi classics). I really wish he had made Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money. The take-away lesson – “#@$&! Even in the future nothing works!”
Robin Hood: Men in Tights, in which Mel Brooks finally gets to go all out on that Robin Hood parody he couldn’t make work as a TV show. This makes fun of most notably Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves but also pokes a lot of fun at Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, particularly in the costume choices. The take-away lesson – when in doubt, check the script.
Dracula, Dead and Loving It, in which Brooks doesn’t quite manage the fine balance between horror and comedy. This makes fun of the various Dracula movies and not so much the book. Leslie Nielsen is a great deadpan Dracula, and Brooks himself is a great Van Helsing, but the mix of subtle humor, over-the-top humor, and horror wasn’t quite right. The take-away lesson – the secret to success is location, location, location.
He is very deft with the casting choices, and most of them are so perfect I can’t imagine anyone else filling out the role. He liked working with some of the same actors over and over again, and that’s fine. Good chemistry is as vital to comedy as it is to romance (maybe even more so). Okay, so he did recycle some jokes and some tunes, but hey, why let a good joke go to waste by just using it once? Yes, many of the affectionate parodies are starting to be subject to the Weird Al effect but because I am so familiar with parodies of those classic movies if not the movies themselves, I still laugh at his parodies. So if by some chance you haven’t seen his movies, do so, and unedited.