Mel Brooks, the Manic Comic

Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times:

There’s a revealing moment early in “Funny Man,” Patrick McGilligan’s comprehensive biography of Mel Brooks, the relentless, redoubtable comedian and filmmaker. It’s not so much an anecdote as a recitation of a musical number from Brooks’s formative days as an entertainer — an Al Jolson-esque ditty that he performed in the Army and later on the borscht belt circuit before it became an enduring part of his repertoire. Its lyrics run as follows:

Here I am, I’m Melvin Brooks!

I’ve come to stop the show.

Just a ham who’s minus looks

But in your heart I’ll grow!

I’ll tell you gags, I’ll sing you songs

(Just happy little snappy songs that roll along)

Out of my mind. Won’t you be kind?

And please love Melvin Brooks!

This isn’t enough to fill a book and yet it tells you almost everything you need to know about Brooks, whose singular career encompasses genuine classics like “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” as well as irresistible schlock like “Spaceballs” and “History of the World, Part I.”

To get where he has gotten — to have secured a place in the comedy pantheon and to have won the show-business quadruple crown known as the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) — Brooks, of course, had to be funny and inventive. He had to have a fierce conviction in his own abilities, an unwavering determination to be in front of a crowd and a caustic wit to wield against enemies, or turn on himself when necessary. But he had an obvious neediness, too, as most comedians do — a part of himself that craves approval and bristles at the mildest rejection. The end result is a dynamic that compelled Brooks, even in success, to keep throwing everything he had at his audiences, sometimes to his own detriment.

More here.