Mel Brooks, the bureaucrat of Blazing Saddles, the singer of "Springtime for Hitler," to original 2,000-Year-Old Man, is trying to escape from the minions outside WRC-TV, where he had just had the Charlie Rose audience in stitches. He's making funny faces, flashing fangs, sticking out his tongue, posing for pictures, just can't quite pull himself away from the fans. Because Mel Brooks knows that fans are the life-blood of any star, just as jokes are the requisite for any comedian, and . . .
CRASH! A garbage truck a hundred yards off drops a huge steel dumpster, and Mel Brooks doesn't miss a beat. "Just put it in the car." he yells, pivoting toward the truck. The group is laughing hysterically. They can see a slapstick routine being played out mentally. He doesn't have to DO anything. Just give'em the punch line, and they laugh.
A moment later he's describing his comedy as Rabelaisian, and a TV interviewer is stumped.
"That's a nice word for dirty," Brooks says. "He was a French author who wrote with a modicum of dirty wit."
"Where does your humor come from:" the man asks.
"A lot of my humor comes from the eternal verities," says Brooks. "And some of it comes from the Joe Miller joke book."
And then he's off like a one-liner, into a limo, escaping from the outstretched pieces of paper in search of autographs.
"So here we are in Washington," he says, lunching on broiled swordfish at The Palm, eating bread without butter to fight the battle of the bulge. At 54, the 2,000-Year-Old Man seems slightly stocky. Maybe it's because he's somewhat short, and his brown hair is starting to thin out on top.
"I'm really here to promote my movie," he says. "There's a lot of competition this summer. I guess I should go visit my congressman and tell him what I think about these budget cuts. This is terrible.They got a mandate to modify things and they're doing radical alterations! This is Neanderthal thinking."
Yes, he's being serious. Get a comedian offstage and they always become serious. Woody Allen, Steve Allen, name any Allen. "People see you being funny in public and they think you're always funny," he says. "I'm not good at explaining my positions on politics to people. That's one of the things I really admire about Alan Alda. He can get up in front of an ERA rally. Ladies come up to me on elevators and want to dance to the strains of "Springtime for Hiler' . . . Hey, basically I'm a writer. I'm thinking and making notes about life. I'm storing images and feelings.
"I never really knew I'd be a comedian. I was always a wise guy, the class clown in high school, but I thought maybe I'd be a doctor." He does not pause here to make jokes about nice Jewish boys growing up to be doctors. "I was 14, and working in the Catskills as a drummer."
He had been born in Brooklyn, Melvin Kaminsky, and when he was 2 his father died. "Buddy Rich lived in Brighton Beach and I always used to bug him to teach me to play. And finally I got a summer job playing in the mountains. I did the rim shots when the comic told the bad jokes."
He couldn't fit Kaminsky on the bass drum head, so he settled on his mother's maiden name, Brooks.
"The classic thing happened," he says. "The comic got sick and they put me, the wise guy, up on stage. I still remember the first joke I told:
"I just flew in from Chicago and, boy, are my arms tired.
"Those are rhythm jokes. You can use them to work the audience and control the laughs. Things like, 'This room is so small the mice are hunchbacks.' Those are very old style jokes. There's a joke in the film. I'm a waiter at the last supper, and I'm pouring wine for Mary Magdalene. I say, 'Say When,' and she says, '8:30.' People hear that, and they think it's a very old joke, but it's brand new. Just old style. Newer jokes are more conceptual."
Brooks has made seven films now, beginning with "The Producers" and most recently releasing "History of the World, Part I." He's been so successful that he has his own company now, Brooksfilms Ltd., which also produced "The Elephant Man."
"I put up the initial financing for ["Elehant Man"]. Jonathan Sanger, who produced it, brought the initial script to me and I worked on it with the writers. I really tried to keep my association with it a sevret, because as soon as people think a funny guy is involved, they think it has to be a funny movie.Like that's the only emotion you deal with. Look what happens when Woody Allen tries to be serious. They laugh at him! Anyway, I presold the film rights to NBC for $4 million.That together with some money from EMI -- they distributed it in Europe -- was enough to make the movie. So I could bring a paid-for film to Paramount for distribution. And now it's become the most popular movie ever in Japan. They don't reveal their feelings too much over there, but they really seem to be touched by this film.
"So, you see, you can use that popularity with comedy to do other things. That film has touched millions of people. It's a long was from the first thing I ever did in front of millions of people. It was the sound of a cat on 'Your Show of Shows.' I met Sid Caesar in the mountains. He was playing sax. Anyway, on the show, Sid was doing a bit called 'Dial M for Money' and he was supposed to back up and step on the tail of a cat. I was offstage, and when my big moment came my throat went dry and I couldn't get anything out. I really make the greatest cat sound in the world."
And with this he utters a sharp, aggressive meow.
"We thought we were doing little plays then. I wrote one about Jungle Boy:
"Jungle Boy, how do you live in New York? What frightens you?
"How do you cure this?
"Wait till Buick tired. Eyes go dark. Hit Buick in grill. Buick die.
"We were working with great writers: Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart who wrote 'Funny Thing' and 'M*A*S*H,' Joe Stein who wrote 'Fiddler' and Mike Steward who wrote 'Hello Dolly.' When that show ended I went from making $100,000 a year to making $800 a year. The next source of dollars was Carl Reiner, who came up to me at a party with a tape recorder and we started fooling around and that was the beginning of the '2,000-Year-Old Man' record. That record led to another record and to TV appearances and then Buck Henry and I wrote 'Get Smart.' And then I did some ads -- I think there was a 2,000-year-old Brewmaster for Ballentine and a Bic Banana [ad campaign] and in '64 I started writing 'The Producers.' Gene Wilder was working with my wife [Anne Bancroft] in a play called 'Mother Courage.' I told him I was going to make him a star. He said ha ha ha. He lived to eat that laugh. Unknown actors never believe that you'll do something for them. I guess that's true about people you don't know in general. Some things never change."
And sometimes he just can't help but be funny. Life initates art. This could have been a scene from one of his films.
Mel Brooks walks up to to a pretty woman who is eating yogurt under a tree.
"Sweetheart, what's your name?"
"Karen, are you Jewish?"
"Oh, that's too bad. Did I have a son for you."