Mel Brooks is an award-winning American writer, director and producer of film and theater. His long career and many successes have been based on a unique approach to broad comedy. One of the only entertainers to have one an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, Mel Brooks has been a tremendous influence on the world of comedy for many decades.
Brooks was born in 1926 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. He was a sickly child, and a frequent target of bullying. Like many comedians, Mel Brooks learned to deal with his difficulties and make friends through comedy and humor. At popular resorts throughout the Catskills, he began his career as an entertainer, serving as a master of ceremonies and stand-up comedian.
At the age of 17, Mel Brooks joined the army and served as an engineer, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. After the end of the war, he resumed his stand-up jobs in the Catskills. One of his signature ways to wake up an unresponsive audience was to dash off stage, dive into the resort pool fully clothed, and then return and complete his act while soaked.
Brooks began writing comedy and working on early television sketch comedy shows, such as Your Show of Shows. He also started writing and producing live theater around this time, although he served primarily as a TV writer. In 1963, his first major success came with the short film The Critic which would win an Oscar for Best Short Subject Film. More success quickly followed with the TV show Get Smart, co-written with Buck Henry.
One of Mel Brooks’ best-known creations is The Producers, a film about two theater producers who wish to make a terrible Broadway show. Since the original film in 1968, which won Brooks an Oscar for best screenplay, The Producers has been adapted into an incredibly successful musical play and spawned a remake of the movie starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane.
A frequent collaborator of Mel Brooks was actor and writer Gene Wilder. Wilder starred in The Producers and Brooks’ 1974 film Blazing Saddles. Their third collaboration, Young Frankenstein, was co-written by Wilder and Brooks, and remains an extremely popular comedy in the 21st century. In 2006, Brooks wrote the script for a musical version of the show, which premiered on Broadway in 2007.
The style Brooks has developed over the years is very broad comedy. Most Mel Brooks productions feature many sight gags, pratfalls, and lots of sexual humor. He combines elements of farce and parody with parodies of authority figures and people in powerful positions. He is famous for ignoring any concept of political correctness in his writing and usually makes fun of people who are offended by his work.
When The Producers was revived on Broadway in the 2001, there was considerable criticism leveled at the portrayals of Jewish people, gays, and Germans. Mel Brooks, in his classic style, chose to completely ignore all criticism, even taking time in award acceptance speeches to thank Hitler for being so easy to make fun of onstage. His irreverent style of comedy has made him one of the greatest influences on modern humor in the 21st century.