A Lesson From Mel Brooks

“Those who are creating humor and parody claim specific common experiences with those who are laughing at the joke.”

(Jenkins, Ford, and Green)

Yes, Mel Brooks, a man that everyone should definitely know at some point in their lives. For me, I was introduced very early with Young Frankenstein, which made it to my top childhood comedy influences in film. Although I love Mel Brooks with all my heart and consider him to be a genius and one of the greatest writers and directors out there, some people don’t appreciate his work. Why is that?

A lot of people don’t like the sense of parody in film, the idea that a film is mocking one thing or another. However, if I could play devil’s advocate for a moment, I would like to go against those that say that. Are there bad parody movies? Oooooh yes, and I’m sure we all can name a handful of ones we’d like to lock away forever. In Brooks’ terms though, a parody is a work of art. Parodies allow us to let loose for a brief moment, get us laughing, while also reflecting on what the movie is parodying. Young Frankenstein? Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Spaceballs? Star Wars. Blazing Saddles? Westerns and the culture surrounding them.

Blazing Saddles is always the one to get the controversy. Even Mel Brooks claims it would never get released in today’s society. Yes, the language is crude and inappropriate at times, but I would argue that Brooks’ writing and directing help us reflect on how African Americans were treated and how they still are treated in the country, and this all happens as he makes us laugh hysterically. It’s genius. To use humor in order to have those reflect on themselves and the behavior of others. All from a parody. Mr. Brooks is and will always remain a hero of mine. His decades of making people laugh are ones that I can only dream of being able to have as well.

“Life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around.”

-Mel Brooks

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My Movie Comedy Influences As A Child

I didn’t simply wake up one morning and find a love for comedy, as I’m sure none of us did. It took VHS tape after VHS tape and countless viewings as a kid to form the love I have for it today. Now, I’m aware parents today would never let their children watch some of the movies I watched as a toddler, but my mom is cool….she also was studying to get her teaching degree and was in another room in the house. SO that being said, these are (in no particular order) the comedy movie influences I had as a child.

#1: Tommy Boy (1995)

Ok remember how I just said these are in no particular order? That was a lie because if anything influenced me as a kid, this was it. I was three years old and my aunt gave me and my brother a VHS copy of this movie and from that moment on, the movie was playing everyday. I had never followed a movie so thoroughly, for christ’s sake, I was three. This movie taught me a great deal of sarcasm, slapstick, as well as tug at my heartstrings at certain moments. It also taught me to keep my mouth shut sometimes, as I got in serious trouble for threatening a fellow preschooler with “wailing on him”. Oops.

This was the foundation for my love of Chris Farley and there’s no other movie that influenced my love of comedy quite as much as this one.

#2: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

I know, I know, I’ve professed my love of Robin Williams plenty of times on this site before but….come ooooon! I can’t talk about childhood influences without him. As a kid who had divorced parents for the duration of my life, this movie held a special place in my heart for teaching me that it was ok. It taught kids that having separated parents didn’t mean you didn’t have a family. It showed the hardships of divorce and the nastiness of court hearings and custody battles, while also making audiences laugh away at a father’s determination to go as far as impersonating a British nanny in order to see his children.

To this day, I can’t watch it without crying.

#3: Young Frankenstein (1974)

I’m convinced this movie aged me by forty years after watching it so many times. Gene Wilder captivated me with his descent into madness, but it was Marty Feldman’s performance as Igor that had me acting out scenes to my mother. It gave me a sense of goofiness and a touch of insanity to my joke telling.

This is my favorite Mel Brooks movie and if the world worked my way, everybody would have seen this by the time they turn thirteen. There’s never been a parody movie like it since and in my opinion, none could top it.

#4: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Another movie that aged me by forty years and left the kids in my classroom scratching their heads as I quoted it religiously. This movie is set in stone ridiculous. It’s a movie that can be quoted relentlessly and for good reason. Watching it now, it’s understandable to see a child watching this and laughing uncontrollably.

The gore of the Black Knight, the killer rabbit, Patsy being the pack mule of the group, this movie is always a refreshing and laugh-filled watch. It will never go out of style.

#5: The Mask (1994)

I’m surprised I didn’t ruin this VHS tape with how often I rewatched it. This was the movie that introduced me to the whirlwind that is Jim Carrey, and I remember being enthralled with this man’s physicality on screen. He is a ball of energy for an hour and forty minutes and you better believe I learned from him. Not to mention that great Cuban Pete musical number.

Those were some of my childhood movie influences into the world of comedy, but what about yours? I feel like nostalgia has always been a major component in the way we view media today, so I’d love to hear from you all about what movies influenced you and brought you into the world of comedy.