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I Don’t Think Funny, but I Am Funny

mel and carl

Cliff hipped me to a terrific interview with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner at the Onion’s AV Club:

AVC: Carl, you’ve said in other interviews that you’re against analyzing comedy. Why is that?

CR: Well, people have a comic bent or an angularity to their thinking, and those are the people who make jokes. And it’s usually people who were in an environment, when they were young, where jokes were at a premium, or at least considered important to a life. My parents always listened to the comedy radio shows, we went to the comedy movies, and my parents appreciated comedy. So kids listen and follow what their parents like.

AVC: Do you think comedy is something you can teach somebody?

CR: No. There are people born with intelligence; you’re not born with a funny bone. If you’re just a normal thing, the palette is there; it just depends on who puts the paint on the palette, and what they put on the palette when you’re very young. And then when you’re a little older and go to the movies by yourself, then you start making choices, and it’s usually honed by choices you made very early in your life.

MB: Where are you?

AVC: I’m in Chicago.

MB: I was always treated with love and respect and joy in Chicago.


1 The Mick536   ~  Dec 2, 2009 10:43 am

Great interview. Much better than Scott Simon's on NPR Saturday. I had the original record. Followed Steve Allen to late night after he left the Tonight Show. Edward G. Robinson. Just saw Cincinati Kid again, for the umpteenth time. Great poker film. Great Stevie and great EGR, who, by the way, was an avid art collector.

Two points worthy of consideration: (1) Do Jews hear the jokes differently from non-jews, a question which I think can also be asked of people who go to see A Serious Man; (2) Which Mel Brooks movie ranks #1. I have watched Spaceballs several times without sound and love it, but Young Frankenstein is my favorite. See if you can figure out who is still alive.

2 Yankee Mama   ~  Dec 2, 2009 10:47 am

I love those guys. They are the best at what they do. It was illuminating how they clarified the straight man as architect and funny guy as selling it.

Thanks for hipping us.

3 Yankee Mama   ~  Dec 2, 2009 10:52 am

[1] Only Mel, Cloris, Teri Garr and Gene Hackman remain.

Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle, not so lucky.

4 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:06 am

[3] Gene Wilder is not dead... just chivalry >;)

5 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:09 am

I think Young Frankenstein is the most accomplished-looking of all his movies. It is the most restrained but still has him at the top of his game. Laugh-for-laugh, I like Blazing Saddles just as much but it is close. The Producers has some moments but is grubby as hell. The Twelve Chairs, also played straight, wasn't memorable. Everything else has some moments--History of the World Part One, High Anxiety, and the lesser, Spaceballs and Silent Movie, but they aren't as good as YF and BS.

6 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:13 am

[4] Some creeps created an obit for Gene Wilder to promote their site, apparently...

7 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:22 am

My dad's first girlfriend after my parents divorce had Young Frankenstein on video tape. We watched it again and again. I've probably seen it over 50 times. LOL

8 Yankee Mama   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:25 am

Sorry Gene. My bad.

[5] I agree with you completely. YF and BS are the funniest of his films.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:30 am

[5] Agreed. Btw...

...but they aren’t as good as YF and BS.

I think you inadvertently called out someone we all know and, well, appreciate... >;)

10 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:42 am

I did? Who did I call out?

11 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 11:52 am

[10] Not really, just a pun... (O)YF, BS... tho it's not a great one if you have to explain it. :'

12 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 2, 2009 12:01 pm

LOL, feeling a little dense today anyhow...

13 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 12:25 pm
14 OldYanksFan   ~  Dec 2, 2009 12:40 pm


15 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 12:46 pm

[14] shhhh... Gene Wilder's taking a nap... >;)

16 Sliced Bread   ~  Dec 2, 2009 12:51 pm

[1] Blucher! [horses whinney]
YF definitley my favorite... until BS is on... and back and forth it goes.

I'm a non-Jew with a Jewish-ish funny bone (if you were raised in one of the boroughs you probably have this by default) , so I think I hear the jokes the same as my brothers in the Tribe. I've had to look up some Yiddish phrases, or have them explained to me over the years, but probably not unlike a Jewish kid might have to.

But I don't think you have to have a Jewish sensibility, or Jewish blood to laugh at Mel Brooks's work. His best gags require no translation. Hell, you could laugh at his movies with the sound off.

17 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 1:09 pm

[16] Hey Sliced, have you ever noticed that the theme song for Blazing Saddles and Hail To The Redskins sound remarkably similar?

Mel Brooks always had a way of weaving Jewish humor into the mix in a way that you feel it after you laugh at the absurd and screwball comedy. Blazing Saddles was comdey genius because it mixed ethnic humor around the same way and had you laughing throughout; you felt like you were part of the inside jokes.

18 Sliced Bread   ~  Dec 2, 2009 1:39 pm

[17] never caught the theme similarities. Do you think Mel's composer was goofing on the Redskins, or does the Skins' fight song just sound like the theme to every western ever made?

19 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 2:00 pm

[18] Dunno, though I wouldn't be surprised either both were true.

20 gary from chevy chase   ~  Dec 2, 2009 3:45 pm

What's also amazing about MB and CR is that their humor is ageless: my kids (when they were 6 or 7 or 8) were absolutely crazy about the 2,000 YOM. 25 years later, we still fall apart when someone says, "There's somebody bigger than Phil!"

I, for one, think the original Mostel/Wilder "Producers"was perhaps the funniest movie ever made (with George Segal's "Where's Pappa?" coming in a close 2nd.)

21 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Dec 2, 2009 8:04 pm

[16] Yeah, I think if you grew up in NYC you can appreciate Jewish humor without being Jewish..I grew up in Brooklyn so feel totally at ease in any Jewish household ("What do you mean you don't have Entenmanns in your house? Who doesn't have Entenmanns?!" RIP Mrs. Levine...), Italian household ("You call that cannoli? You got to drive to Bay Ridge to get real cannoli!" OK, Mr. DeGennero) African-American household ("Hurry up, Soul Train is on!" You got it Milton, be there in 5), Latin household (Mother yelling at us in Spanish, follwed by lots of food and Cachao on the record player, always fun at Alfredo's house.)

Going inbetween all these friends homes was so totally normal as a child, only now can I really appreciate how lucky I was to be exposed to so many cultures. It's what I miss most about NYC...

22 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Dec 2, 2009 8:06 pm

[21] Jeez..reading that back it looks like such a cliche-a-thon/stereotype..but all 100% true. God, I really miss NYC today...

23 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2009 10:28 pm

[22] I'll be sure to incorporate Wepa! and As-Salaam-Alaikum into the rotation next season >;)

24 Raf   ~  Dec 4, 2009 7:52 am

[22] Yes, Toyko households are very quiet, aren't they? :). Things like you mentioned you don't really appreciate until you leave NYC.

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