Making Sense of Mel Brooks and His Very Jewish Antics

Reviewing Patrick McGilligan’s recent biography of Mel Brooks, the man who perhaps did more than anyone to bring a distinctively Jewish edge to the mainstream of American comedy, Jesse Tisch writes:

With [another Jewish comedian], Carl Reiner, whom he had met when they both worked on Your Show of Shows, [Brooks] created the Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man, a kvetchy, old Jew based on Brooks’s real-life uncle. In 1968, he filmed The Producers, conscripting Zero Mostel for the [part of the producer and fraudster] Max Bialystock. At first, Mostel was appalled: how could he, a Jewish actor, play a scheming, vulturous Jew—an anti-Semitic stereotype? Eventually, though, he yielded to Brooks’s importunate charm. “Mel has great craziness,” he later said, “which is the greatest praise I can have for anybody.”

An enemy of solemnness, of piety and cant, of repression and restraint, he was built for overflow. Just as surely, Brooks has a counterphobic streak, veering toward danger, accident, and death. Consider the Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man, whose antic chatter about lion attacks and fried food (equally lethal, he implies) seems like an amulet against anxiety. Long before Jerry Seinfeld, it brought a distinctively Jewish voice to mainstream America. At first, Brooks worried it was too Jewish—how would it play in Peoria? Pretty well, actually: the album sold a million copies. To Gentile ears, it didn’t sound Jewish or ethnic. It merely sounded funny.

By that point, he had become “Mel Brooks,” having abandoned Melvin Kaminsky [his birth name] somewhere along the Palisades Parkway en route to the Catskills. This act of self-creation was also, of course, an act of distancing, a farewell to Jewish Brooklyn. It was, per McGilligan, a brief, ambivalent farewell; Brooks, in classic Jewish fashion, gradually returned home to his ethnic roots. After the 1950s, Brooks never assimilated or concealed his Jewishness. He was proudly, emphatically Jewish. America assimilated him.

Playing the loud, disruptive Jew seemed a compulsion for Brooks, an act of defiance. “I am a Jew. What about it?” Brooks once said on 60 Minutes. “What’s so wrong? What’s the matter with being a Jew? I think there’s a lot of that way deep down beneath all the quick Jewish jokes I do.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Comedy, Jewish humor, Mel Brooks


Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security