Mel Brooks: More Than a Humorist

When I saw the movie “Blazing Saddles” many years ago, I became a committed Mel Brooks fan. His award winning play and both old and new movies “The Producers” have only intensified my admiration. It isn’t because he’s Jewish and a mega star but also because of the way he uses humor when things get tough….a very Jewish thing to do. Occasionally, I wince when he portrays stereotypical Jews, but his obvious love for his heritage always comes through in his plots and characters.

I recently read some comments he made on Judaism and being a Jew. According to the source, Brooks said “Feeling different, feeling alienated, feeling persecuted, feeling that the only way you can deal with the world is to laugh -- because if you don't laugh you're going to cry and never stop crying -- that's probably what's responsible for the Jews having developed such a great sense of humor. The people who had the greatest reason to weep, learned more than anyone else how to laugh.” This conviction is perhaps the reason there are so many Jewish comedians.

Another quote attributed to him, “Do you think it's just a coincidence,” he asks “(that) twenty-one percent of Nobel Prize winners have been Jews, even though Jews comprise less than one-quarter of one percent of the world's population? Choose any field, and you will find that Jews have excelled in it.” My first thought upon reading that was, it may be true in arts, culture, politics, science and other fields, but Jews, I believed, have never stood out as athletes.

So I began to research that very topic. I was familiar with Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax of baseball fame, of course, and with Mark Spitz, the winner of 7 gold medals for swimming at the l972 Olympics, but, to my surprise, I discovered that there have been many prominent Jewish athletes. In fact, several books have been written about outstanding Jews who have excelled in athletic competitions. So I guess Mel Brooks is correct.

Brooks also maintains that “Jews really are smart. There must be a reason,” he asserts, “and I can give you three: heredity, environment and a unique value system.” The most important, according to him, is the latter.

“Jews,” he says, “are smart because they have been raised in a tradition that treasures education above everything else, that considers study the highest obligation of mankind, and that identifies the intellect as part of us (having been) created in the image of God."

And to think. Before reading his views on Jews and Judaism, I thought of him only as a genius whose humor had enriched my life. I’m not sure who said the following , but it might well have been Mel brooks, humorist and philosopher. "You don't stop laughing when you get old, you get old when you stop laughing.” Ain’t that the truth?

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