Did your comedic obsession with Hitler grow out of your time in the Army?
It must have been a lot of conscious and unconscious frustration and hatred. If you’d said to me, Mel, you’ve just turned 84, you’ve lived a long time, what is the most significant item or phenomenon in all of history? Immediately I would say the Holocaust. It’s unbelievable and unforgettable. During my life the most significant historical fact is that there was such a thing. This unholy and unbelievable thing. I could make some sense out of everything else, but I couldn’t make any sense out of that. That there was a meeting and they coldly said, these people, women, children, should be exterminated. I think that started my hatred, that molten ball of hatred for Nazis and Hitler. Instead of just screaming, I used my talents to make it at least enjoyable so the world could get a look at it. If you don’t make it interesting or funny, then who cares? You’re just a bore if you’re going to complain.
What was the first time you incorporated Hitler into your comedy?
I was in the Army and they asked me to do a sketch. I found a German uniform with a cap and I got a Hitler mustache and I just made fun. I did a lot of physical stupid things, screaming, blowing my head off. My hat would fly off, my mustache would fly off. I knew I could get a lot of laughs making fun of Hitler.
Do you think you can go too far in comedy? Is there a subject that’s just off limits?
Yes, you can go too far if you make a comedy about the Holocaust. You could make a comedy about the Germans, you could make a comedy about the Nazis. But not the Holocaust. Some things, no matter what you do, just ain’t funny… Look, I’m the original politically incorrect, but I would never.
What about Springtime for Hitler?
It’s not about the Holocaust. Springtime for Hitler is making fun of Hitler and his dreams of conquering the world, and the genius of Springtime for Hitler was that the producers wanted to put on the worst show in the world so it would flop in one night and they could collect their money and go to Rio. It was a good excuse for a bad show about Nazis.
Does Jewish humor still exist?
No, I think humor is now regional. I think what people talk about as Jewish humor should be called New York humor because it isn’t particularly Jewish in terms of yiddishkeit. I don’t know if there is anything anymore like Jewish humor because third- and fourth-generation Jews have become totally integrated. We don’t live in ghettos anymore. Therefore, no Jewish humor.
Mel Brooks Bonus Round Questions
Favorite comedian today?
Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy. I think Family Guy is really very good. Cleveland is a brand new show he’s done. Very little makes me laugh out loud, but that makes me laugh out loud.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
Tisha B’Av. Jews will get a kick out of that. I’m just saying that because I like the sound of it. Shavuos comes in second because I like the sound of Shavuos. But Tisha B’Av is my favorite. I don’t even know what the holiday means but I like the sound of it.
Favorite Jewish saying?
I have a few, I’m just trying to think what’s my favorite. I think, a gezunt dere in pipuk. Bless your belly button. It just means have good health. It’s a cute Jewish expression.
Best Jewish tradition?
As far as I’m concerned, the best Jewish tradition has always been Passover. Except for the wine, which is horrible, everything else is delicious. You get a good meal and more important, you get the family bonding and loving each other across the dinner table.
Worst Jewish tradition?
I would say tsimmes. I’m not crazy about prunes, especially mixed with onions and sweet potatoes.
It’s always been Hitler who’s made a very good living for me.
Favorite Biblical Character?
Moses. I love him.