Before Blazing Saddles, America had not come to terms with the fart.
February 16, 2014 12:23 PM   Subscribe

In 1975, Mel Brooks was riding high on the back-to-back successes of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, and he became the first person to be interviewed twice by Playboy Magazine.
posted by Faint of Butt (26 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

America had not come to terms with the fart.

The author had, evidently, never met my uncle..

"Here, pull my finger..."
posted by HuronBob at 12:33 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]

Playboy: How did you come by your sense of humor?

Brooks: Found it at South Third and Hooper. It was in a tiny package wrapped in electrical tape and labeled “Good Humor.”

posted by infini at 12:37 PM on February 16 [9 favorites]

posted by fairmettle at 1:03 PM on February 16

How does a printed interview have such great comic timing?
posted by device55 at 1:04 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]

Playboy: Speaking of blue, you’ve been accused of vulgarity.

Brooks: Bullshit!

I love you, Mel Brooks. Also, holy shit, I used to live on S. 4th and Hewes, which is two blocks away from S. 3rd and Hooper.
posted by griphus at 1:09 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]

I told you I read it for the articles.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:09 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]

... I used to live on S. 4th and Hewes, which is two blocks away from S. 3rd and Hooper.

Missed it by that much.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:11 PM on February 16 [14 favorites]

Before Blazing Saddles, America had not come to terms with the fart.

posted by Tsuga at 1:13 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]

...and he became the first person to be interviewed twice by Playboy Magazine.

That actually surprises me. I would have expected someone to have been interviewed more than once before '75.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:17 PM on February 16

Before Blazing Saddles, America had not come to terms with the fart.

posted by Faint of Butt

posted by nathancaswell at 1:22 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]

If someone had asked me when Young Frankenstein was made, I would surely have missed by being ten years too late. '75? Really?

Sorry, am I just having my private old person's moment in public? Carry on.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:27 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]

As briefly discussed in the previous post on Seinfeld's COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE, the episode with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (in Reiner's living room, with both of them eating from a TV tray, typical of their video-watching get-togethers) is very much worth watching.

One thing that's interesting about Brooks in it is that while Reiner is pretty low-key and casual, Brooks is almost compulsively always performing. I think that Reiner was a little irritated, but fondly.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:37 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]

"If someone had asked me when Young Frankenstein was made, I would surely have missed by being ten years too late. '75? Really?"

Yep. I saw it at the drive-in movie theater with my parents, I'd recently turned ten-years-old. We would have weekly outings to the drive-in, where we frequently watched R-rated movies. I saw a lot of very interesting movies as a little kid, let me tell you.

I distinctly remember insisting that my parents explain the repeating joke about Elizabeth and the Monster — I'm pretty sure that it was during her singing — and my parents laughing and sort of stumbling over how it had to do with the Monster's large penis. Which, although I knew quite a bit about sex by that point (having read a number of books on the subject), still mostly mystified me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:52 PM on February 16

Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.
posted by planetesimal at 2:23 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]

My God, it's like mainlining comedy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:33 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]

The continual references to Raisinets leading to the punchline at the end of the interview were staggering. Particularly when recalling that the interview took place in 12 sessions over three weeks. Mel Brooks could commit to a bit.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:13 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]

I remember once reading the claim that Mel Brooks killed the Western for several years- it was no longer possible, having seen Blazing Saddles, to not laugh out loud at films that were built out of the cliches Blazing Saddles so artfully parodied.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:39 PM on February 16

Finally finished it. It is a truly remarkable interview. A lot of credit for that interview should go to Brad Darrach — much of Brooks's humor works in print because of the effort Darrach put into ensuring that it would.
Most people are afraid of death, but I really hate it! My humor is a scream and a protest against goodbye. Why do we have to die? As a kid, you get nice little white shoes with white laces and a velvet suit with short pants and a nice collar, and you go to college, you meet a nice girl and get married, work a few years—and then you have to die? What is that shit? They never wrote that in the contract. So you yell against it, and if you yell seriously, you can be a serious playwright and everybody can say, “Very nice.” But I suspect you can launch a little better artillery against death with humor.
There is a lot of wisdom in this interview, as well as some unexpected, illuminating joy — his narration of his courtship of Anne Bancroft will stay with me, I think.

I wasn't surprised to find the essence of comedy distilled into a pithy analogy, as true and valuable as that insight is. But I was surprised to find one of the best descriptions of Tolstoy's brilliance — a writer dear to my heart and one I have spent much thought and effort attempting to explain to others — within this interview, and in elegant and evocative language:
Tolstoy writes like an ocean, in huge, rolling waves, and it doesn’t look like it was processed through his thinking. It feels very natural. You don’t question whether Tolstoy’s right or wrong. His philosophy is housed in interrelating characters, so it’s not up for grabs.
I'm tempted to quote his response to Darrach's question about Brooks's view of the Germans, but I will resist.

Thanks for this excellent post. I'll just finish this comment with this:
But I intend to rob him again someday, ladies and gentlemen, because robbing Howie is what I do best.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:46 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]

I remember watching a screening of Blazing Saddles on TV with my mom, which would firmly place this in the mid-to-late 80s, and on network TV (we never had cable).

For the campfire scene, some idiot with the network censors had dubbed in (less offensive?!?) burp noises for every fart. We were in tears at the complete ridiculousness, as the cowboys were leaning their cheeks to the sides and releasing thunderous *belches*.
posted by rodeoclown at 6:13 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]

Come on! Melville had some great fart jokes in Moby Dick for Chrissake.
posted by rikschell at 6:33 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]

What a fantastic interview, and absolutely worth reading the entire thing. I couldn't believe how well the humor came across, and I agree with Ivan that a large debt is owed to Darrach's writing and editing.

A few bits that I quite enjoyed (and I'm basically quoting as a way of bookmarking 'em!) include a bit on critics:
What can I tell you? Some critics are emotionally desiccated, personally about as attractive as a year-old peach in a single girl’s refrigerator. It’s easy to say shit is shit, and it should be said. But the real function of a critic is to see what is truly good and go bananas when he sees it.
When he talked about what they cut from Blazing Saddles, I thought the following was interesting. That scene is a bit cringeworthy now and rather than switching around old stereotypes just runs straight with them, and I think the cut bit would be a better ending for the joke, then and today.
The scene takes place in the dark. “Is it twue vot zey say,” Madeline asks him seductively, “about how you people are built?” Then you hear a zipper. Then you hear her say, “Oh! It’s twue! It’s twue! It’s twue!” That much is in the picture. But then comes the line we cut. Cleavon says, “Excuse me, ma’am. I hate to disillusion you, but you’re sucking my arm.”
Learning that he was influenced by Russian literature is astonishing ... and yet it makes so much sense in hindsight.
Brooks: [...] Tolstoy writes like an ocean, in huge, rolling waves, and it doesn’t look like it was processed through his thinking. It feels very natural. You don’t question whether Tolstoy’s right or wrong. His philosophy is housed in interrelating characters, so it’s not up for grabs. Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, you can dispute philosophical points with, but he’s good, too. The Brothers Karamazov ain’t chopped liver.

Playboy: What about Gogol?

Brooks: Now you’ve said it. Perfect. Comedy and humanity, and he knew what he was talking about. Dead Souls is a masterpiece. I love Gogol’s great eye for idiot behavior. Gogol said that life is so tragic, so stupendously sad that we’d better laugh a lot and enjoy ourselves. You either get a sense of humor going or you go under.
And then in the midst of all his humor and joking and stories, he is still willing to play it straight and be honeset about the pain in his life and what's important to him, and it's touching. It humanizes an otherwise madcap set of interviews.
Like when he thought his mother had died:
The worst thing was when a woman killed herself by leaping from the roof of a building at South Fifth Street and Hooper. It was a mess, terrible, they had a sheet over her, police cars all around. We all ran to see; it was like a neighborhood panic. Tragedy, everybody! Anyway, that night my mother had decided to work late, but I didn’t know that. So when I got to the body, I saw these shoes sticking out from under the sheet and they looked awfully like my mother’s shoes. God, that was the worst moment I ever experienced. I just stood there and the whole bottom fell out of my life. Then my friend Izzie made a tasteless joke: He said it couldn’t be my mother, because my mother was so heavy she would have broken the sidewalk. But you know, it helped a little bit, it really did. I said, “Yeah, that’s right. The legs are skinny.” It gave me a little hope, just a little. But oh, God, those hours while I sweated it out until I saw my mother! I ran up to her and threw myself upon her. “Why are you hugging my leg? Let me up the stairs!” Such relief! Incredible! It was a magic moment.
And when talking about his father:
But I’m pretty sure my need to have my male characters come together and be close is not some sort of a sexual need I’ve displaced into these people. I think it goes back a lot further than sex. All the way back to my father, whom I never really knew and can’t remember. I can’t tell you what sadness, what pain it is to me never to have known my own father, who died when I was two and a half. All I know is what they’ve told me. He was lively, peppy, sang well. Isn’t it sad that that’s all a son should know about his father? If only I could look at him, touch his face, see if he had eyebrows! Maybe in having the male characters in my movies find each other, I’m expressing the longing I feel to find my father and be close to him.
He's right, too, about Marty Feldman as Igor:
Playboy: Hmm. And how did you direct Feldman as Igor?

Brooks: First I tried to find out where he was looking. His eyes stare in about 19 different directions. They look like hard-boiled eggs that somebody painted eyeballs on and didn’t paint them on right. So first I’d get in the path of his vision and try to signal him down. Then I’d say, “Marty, be very good.” He’d say, “All right.” And he was. After Marty, there will never be another Igor. They’ll have to retire the part. He’s it.
And finally, just because it was a hilarious bit of classic comedy, Yugoslavia:
When I went to Yugoslavia, my hair was black. When I came back, nine months later, it was gray. Truly. To begin with, it’s a very long flight to Yugoslavia and you land in a field of full-grown corn. They figure it cushions the landing. The first thing they tell you is that the water is death. The only safe thing to drink is Kieselavoda, which is a mild laxative. In nine months, I lost 71 pounds. Now, at night, you can’t do anything, because all of Belgrade is lit by a ten-watt bulb, and you can’t go anywhere, because Tito has the car. It was a beauty, a green ‘38 Dodge. And the food in Yugoslavia is either very good or very bad. One day we arrived on location late and starving and they served us fried chains. When we got to our hotel rooms, mosquitoes as big as George Foreman were waiting for us. They were sitting in armchairs with their legs crossed.
What! An! Interview! Cannot favorite this post enough. CANNOT.
posted by barnacles at 6:34 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]

I’ve recently run across two different 2013 videos online about the great Mr. Brooks, each about 80 minutes long, one an American Masters episode, and the other a discussion with Conan O'Brien. In print he is good; in person he is even better.
posted by LeLiLo at 7:03 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]

OTOH, there is Ben Franklin's book - Fart Proudly - that argues this is a cherished American tradition!
posted by BillW at 8:09 PM on February 16

The Yugoslav crew was very nice and helpful, but you had to be careful. One day in a fit of pique, I hurled my director’s chair into the Adriatic. Suddenly I heard “Halugchik! Kakdivmyechisny bogdanblostrov!” On all sides, angry voices were heard and clenched fists were raised. “The vorkers,” I was informed, “have announced to strike!” “But why?” “You have destroyed the People’s chair!” “But it’s mine! It says Mel Brooks on it!” “In Yugoslavia, everything is property of People.” So we had a meeting, poured a lot of vodka, got drunk, started to cry and sing and kiss each other. Wonderful people! If they had another ten-watt bulb, I’d go there to live.
Love it. Great post.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:53 AM on February 17

Playboy: And Blazing Saddles was designed to hit ‘em over the head.

Brooks: No. Actually, it was designed as an esoteric little picture. We wrote it for two weirdos in the balcony. For radicals, film nuts, guys who draw on the washroom wall—my kind of people. I had no idea middle America would see it. What would a guy who talks about white bread, white Ford station wagons, and vanilla milkshakes on Friday night see in that meshugaas?
The secret to all success can be found in the deep wisdom of Mel Brooks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:55 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]

I could spend a day on each and not come up with answers half as clever or thoughtful as the ones he gave with just a moment's thought. Great interview.
posted by Knappster at 5:22 AM on February 17

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