When Mel Brooks introduces one of movies - as he will when he screens Blazing Saddles at the Academy of Music on Saturday, May 21 - he insists on staying for the whole show. Why?
He likes to hear people laugh.
The event at the Academy of Music will start with Brooks introducing the 1974 comedy western, followed by a screening of the film, and then a lively conversation afterward with Brooks about his life and the movie.
Brooks talked about why he wants to watch people watch Blazing Saddles, growing up in Brooklyn, and hanging out with Carl Reiner.
Out of all of your movies, why "Blazing Saddles"?
I think it's the funniest picture I ever made, but it has so much to say about human behavior and humanity. It has a lot to say about love and racial prejudice.
I've seen all my movies with many different audiences, and I've never heard so much uncontrolled laughter. In Young Frankenstein, there's laughter, but it's not uncontrolled. In Blazing Saddles, they lose it.
Today, with DVDs and DVR, two people are in the room and someone says, "Honey, I have to pee, stall it." But I didn't make the movie for two people in a room. Communal laughter is what it's designed to make. If there's a little message, that's nice too.
"Blazing Saddles" is trailblazing in that it has the first onscreen fart gag in it.
I was 5 or 6, maybe 7, and you could see three cowboy pictures for a dime. Horses tied up in the background, campfire is glowing. They're scraping beans from tin plates, drinking coffee.
I remember saying to my brother Bernie, "When we eat beans, we let it go."
He said, "It's a movie - you can't fart in the movie." So I wanted to change that.
I keep breaking that fourth wall and telling the truth.
Listening to a theater full of people laugh at that scene must feel great.
It's so thrilling, a thousand people laughing together. I'm on the brim of tears.
Change "brim" to "brink." I rewrite.
There's this great balance of high and low humor in "Blazing Saddles." You get one thing out of watching it when you're 10. You get something else when you're 30.
There's a lot of low humor but people get the sophisticated references.
I don't know any other movie that moved its camera from a western street to a chorus of gay dancers doing a number led by Dom DeLuise. I just keep telling the truth whether it's good or bad.
At the end of Blazing Saddles, Harvey Korman runs to the cab driver and says, "Drive me off this picture." He's out of the West, still in his costume. It's a ludicrous concept, but it works. The audience gets it.
Where does he go? He goes to the Chinese Theater and what are they playing? Blazing Saddles. He runs out and falls in the forecourt and he lands near Douglas Fairbanks. He says, "How does he do such incredible stunts with such tiny feet?" Harvey Korman kissed me after that line and said, "That's the greatest line I've ever said."
They just put my hands and shoes and my handprints next to Hedy Lamarr. If you look closely, on one of my hands there are six fingers. Just to be a little different. I'm in the upper right-hand corner. I always envision someone from Akron saying, "Am I crazy? He never told anyone he was a freak."
When did you know you were a performer?
I go back to my happiest days, being a little kid in Brooklyn. It was the melting pot. It was the Chinese laundromat, an Italian fruit store, a Jewish grocery man.
In my building, 365 South Third Street between Keap Street and Hooper, we lived on the top floor. I was 8 or 9 years old. I had just seen Frankenstein, the movie with Boris Karloff, 1931. It was really hot. I must have been 5 or 6.
I said to my mother, "Close the window." She says, "I can't, it's 100 degrees in here." I said, "I won't sleep because Frankenstein will come up the fire escape and he'll bite me and eat me."
My mother was so smart and so relaxed. She said, "Melvin, let's talk about this. First of all, he's in Romania, so he'd have to get a bus or a train to go where there's water. He'd have a lot of trouble leaving Romania. He might get sick. And then if he got to New York, he wouldn't understand the subway maps. But if he found our street and he started climbing up our fire escape, other people have their windows open, too. He'd be too full from the people below us to eat you."
She made sense. She was a great mother.
As you said before, "Blazing Saddles" discussed race. Did growing up in the melting pot help you think about race?
I'm sure! We lived right on the edge of the Bed-Stuy, a black neighborhood. When I went to PS 19, a third of the kids were black.
Later, when I was 15, I was a drummer. I went to Harlem and I would sit in with little groups. A lot of black kids helped me get moving forward in the business. That's why I had Count Basie in Blazing Saddles: I knew him.
I've heard you and Carl Reiner still hang out a couple times a week.
Three, four times a week he comes over and we have dinner. I'm really nice to him because I'm not crazy about Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier movies. I would rather do The Maltese Falcon. We both like Preston Sturges comedies. So we're lucky. We're old, so it's our era.
Carl made one of the funniest pictures ever with Steve Martin. It's called The Jerk. Sometimes they play it at different places as a revival movie. He'll go and sit and be bathed in the glory of that laughter, like I do.
He said to me, "We saw The Jerk in Sherman Oaks or the Valley. They were laughing their heads off." When they explode with laughter, he says, "This is good. it's nourishing."