In Funny Man: Mel Brooks, author Patrick McGilligan takes an in-depth look at the life of the legendary comedian Mel Brooks.
The legendary comedian has gifted us both films, television series, records, and Broadway musicals. He is one of a number of entertainers to win the coveted EGOT. But the Mel Brooks that we see in public is a wholly different person from the Mel Brooks on set or in his private life.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading McGilligan’s book, well, that’s just the problem. There is more than one thing to be learned here. During the heyday of Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour–the famed shows starring comedy legend Sid Caesar–the then-writer would often arrive late to work. Long before Anne Bancroft entered his life, there was dancer Florence Baum. When you do not study Wikipedia pages, you learn a lot more from books such as this one. Even though Brooks himself did not participate, McGilligan draws upon many interviews with friends and colleagues. Not to mention actual news interviews with the comedian going on the record.
McGilligan profiles the entire life of the Brooklyn-born multi-hyphenate. Once a member of Club Caesar, Brooks would go onto have his own club in the 1970s and 1980s. One such member included future Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Levinson. In fact, the whole rivalry between Brooks and Woody Allen can go down to the media building it up. I did get a chuckle out of Brooks’s comments about how Allen should take a break as a filmmaker.
Most interestingly, films that many of us took for granted as classic comedies weren’t so loved by the critics upon their initial theatrical release. Some films outright flopped such as Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. For what it’s worth, Robin Hood had some mild success at the box office. Blazing Saddles is Brooks’s most successful film of all time at the box office.
While the book took me several months to finish, this is mostly because of my own schedule. Watching a lot of movies per week means limited time to read. Anyway, it’s a solid biography of a comedy legend and I highly recommend it.