Mel Brooks opens up about pastrami, porn and prejudices

mel-brooks-strikes-back.jpgIf you don't know who Mel Brooks is, you could be a teenager, born without a sense of humor or someone who hasn't been paying attention for a really long time. Just in case, Brooks, 86, is one of the rare performers known as an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winner -- multiple times.

A comedian, actor, singer, director, producer and lyricist, Brooks is the brains behind "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." He chats openly with his pal, Alan Yentob of the BBC, in an hourlong conversation, "Mel Brooks Strikes Back!" Monday, Dec. 10., on HBO. He had another open and long talk with Zap2it , condensed here.

Zap2it: What is your favorite one-liner?

Mel Brooks: "Walk this way." Don't ask me why. Groucho did it, and the double entendre was he walked in a funny way.

Zap2it: What's your favorite song?

Mel Brooks: It's probably "High Anxiety." It is in questionable taste because I like it, and I sing it. My favorite song is "Singin' in the Rain."

Zap2it: Who is your favorite old-time movie star?

Mel Brooks: Fred Astaire. When people say, "What is your favorite movie?" I could say "Grand Illusion." I could say "La Dolce Vita." I could say "The Bicycle Thief," "The Godfather" -- all of these amazingly great movies. My favorite movie is "Top Hat." It thrills me the most and gives me goose bumps.

Zap2it: Who is your favorite modern movie star?

Mel Brooks: Javier Bardem. I really think he can be very moving or very menacing. He can be whatever you need. He is a classical actor. He is really trenchant and moves you.

Zap2it: What is your favorite deli sandwich?

Mel Brooks: I am making this up -- the Mel Brooks special. It's corned beef, pastrami, turkey with kosher salami, with cole slaw and Russian dressing on seedless rye, and on the other side, mustard. And I like a Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray [soda]. It means a lot to me.

Zap2it: When did you most feel like dancing?

Mel Brooks: After midnight, strangely enough. My mother told me that I would wake up when I was a baby, after 10. My wife (the late Anne Bancroft) used to go to sleep at midnight, and I would say, "I am sorry. I just have to keep you up for two more dances, and then you can go to sleep." I would put on "The Way You Look Tonight" and make her dance to "Lovely." She was really a dancer, and I was fair, but she pushed me.

Zap2it: When do you know you are being funny?

Mel Brooks: I don't know I am being funny! And suddenly people are laughing. I only know I am being funny formally, when I am onstage and I know what I am going to say. And when I am ad-libbing I am not sure I will get a laugh.

Zap2it: What is your biggest fault?

Mel Brooks: Shortness. For a human being, I am much too short. I missed World War II. It was going on a foot above me.

Zap2it: What do you find unforgivable?

Mel Brooks: A bad review. I never forget. [He then quotes pans from "The Producers," which came out in 1968.]

Zap2it: What are you working on?

Mel Brooks: On the 13th of this month (November), The Shout Factory, which does these wonderful boxed sets, just created one called "The Incredible Mel Brooks."

Zap2it: What else do you have coming up?

Mel Brooks: AFI (American Film Institute) got me just about the last time. If they waited another year it may be a posthumous award. They waited until I was 86 to say, "Here's your Lifetime Achievement." Why not wait until I am 100 and really top it off? But to be in that company -- Frank Capra, John Ford, Billy Wilder -- I am really very honored. I spent my life making movies, and to be at least acknowledged is a truly great feeling.

Zap2it: Do you and your lifelong buddy Carl Reiner still watch movies together often?

Mel Brooks: We try to watch the "porn" movies.

Zap2it: Could you spell that?

Mel Brooks: B-O-U-R-N-E.

Zap2it: I thought you said "porn"!

Mel Brooks: I am a bit old for that. I could not go into a store and ask for "Deep Throat 2." That would be a headache. You have to emotionally get there somehow. I don't have time for that. I don't even have time for dessert! And Carl Reiner is very funny. Carl will watch any movie that says, "Guard the perimeters" and "Get some rest." We watch a lot of "The Prisoner of Zenda," a lot of black-and-white movies and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips."

Zap2it: What would you like to add?

Mel Brooks: I have told you everything. I think my best semi-serious films are "The Twelve Chairs" and "Life Stinks," and I think "Blazing Saddles" has a little something to say about racial hatred. I am proud of being so brave. (He recites the racist and crude way the black sheriff is greeted). You really gather an understanding and a kind of compassion for this black sheriff. I think I got Obama elected. I started this wave of compassion for black sheriffs.
Photo/Video credit: HBO
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