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Screens

Primal Screen: 'American Masters'

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


(8pm Mon, PBS)

When you tune into an American Masters program about Mel Brooks, you know it’s going to be fun. As a Borscht Belt entertainer, TV comedy writer, movie director and Broadway impresario, Brooks will see to that. Even in the context of a respectable PBS documentary, he will sing, tell earthy jokes, make absurd observations — anything to get you laughing. “Every time I hear the key in the door,” said Brooks’ wife, Anne Bancroft, “I know the party is about to start.”

Actor Steven Weber says of Brooks, “It must be an enormous burden to be the funniest man on Earth.” At one time, it was. Growing up without a father, Brooks experienced anxiety attacks and suicidal tendencies throughout his young adulthood. Life improved when he broke through as a comedy star in the 1960s with his 2000-year-old man routine. He disregarded studio orders regarding his 1974 movie Blazing Saddles (“cut the farting-around-the-campfire scene”) and had a hit. He disregarded their orders again on Young Frankenstein (“don’t shoot it in black-and-white”) and had another one. Not even the Nazis could survive an encounter with this Jewish force of nature. “He decimated Hitler by making fun of him,” says Carl Reiner of Brooks’ movie The Producers.

Matthew Broderick, who starred in the Broadway adaptation of The Producers, describes Brooks in manic mode the night the show won a record 12 Tony Awards. “It’s very difficult to get Mel to stop without a tranquilizer dart.”

Why would anyone want him to stop?

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