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Issue 18 – Assumption 2023

Arts and Letters

A Huge Laugh

Mel Brooks: Disobedient Jew

Jeremy Dauber

Yale University Press, pp. 216, $26.00


Mel Brooks has claimed that his true interest is “reality.” By reality I take him to mean the truth that lies behind social customs, false norms, everyday etiquette. Reality in this reading means what we really think and feel, not what we are supposed to think and feel. The first stage of reality, in Brooks’s interpretation, turns out to be the rejection of good taste. Jeremy Dauber, in his recent study of Mel Brooks, a volume in the Yale University Press series of Jewish lives, refers to Brooks as the “poète maudit of bad taste.”

As for that bad taste, a brief sample is on display when, in 2001, at the outset of an interview with Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes, Brooks asks Wallace, “Is that a hundred-dollar watch?” When Wallace tells him it’s a forty-dollar watch, Brooks replies, “What a cheap son of a bitch you are.” After a brief pause, he next asks Wallace, “What did you pay for your jacket?” and they are off. The bad taste of these questions is redoubled by the fact of Brooks being a Jew, a people, as the stereotype has it, obsessed by money. But, then, in the realm of bad taste, Mel Brooks, in his movie Blazing Saddles, may go down in history as the man who brought flatulence to the big screen.

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About the author

Joseph Epstein