Mel Brooks and Christmas may not seem like the most obvious fit, but this year, the Sundance Channel is launching a Christmas Day movie marathon called “Oy! To the World,” which includes Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, History of the World, Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and The Producers (both versions).
“It’s insane of [Sundance] to do this,” the iconic comedian, filmmaker, and emblem of Jewish humor admitted to BuzzFeed, “but I’m very happy they did.”
Though, these days, the now-87-year-old Brooks sees his comedy as more universal than ever, noting explicitly Jewish humor, as it were, is a thing of the past.
“Twenty-five years ago, sure, yes, absolutely,” he explained of the former distinction between Jewish and secular comedy. “Today, it’s the same education, same newspapers, leading now to TV, leading to the internet. I think [humor is] all the same now.”
It helps that Brooks is as sharp as ever, and that his work continues to feel as edgy and provocative now as it did decades ago. He attracted some major controversy when he turned the Spanish Inquisition into a musical number more than 20 years ago in History of the World, Part I, a scene that might require some explanation for younger viewers (“These kids of 9, 10, and 12, they stop me and say, ‘Mel Brooks! Please take a picture!’ It’s amazing,” he noted) when it hits the Sundance Channel on Christmas Day.
“I got a lot of write-ins from rabbis, and I tried to explain, ‘I’m just mentioning it so people don’t forget!’” Brooks recalled. “You’ve got to make people laugh, and they’ll never forget it.”
It’s the same tactic he employed in crafting The Producers’ infamous play within a film, Springtime for Hitler.
“You’ve gotta make fun of Hitler,” Brooks added. “That’s the only way to bring him down.”
Using humor as both weapon and coping mechanism may feel like an innately Jewish concept — but at this point, it’s something everyone can get behind. It’s become an American tradition, in the same way some Jewish families, regardless of their religious beliefs, might put up a Christmas tree.
“My late wife Anne [Bancroft] was Catholic, and we always had both Hanukkah and a wonderful Christmas tree,” Brooks said. “I always thought it would be bad to deny a kid either … I think it’s wonderful that you can do both, especially if it’s a mixed family, or if it’s a Jewish family that just wants to enjoy this lovely, festive holiday.”
And when a Christmas tree is paired with films like The Producers and History of the World, Part I — movies that Brooks himself calls “flagrantly, shamefully Jewish” — then the blending of cultures continues.
The combination is a good reminder that at the end of the day, humor is humor, and holidays are holidays … with a few cosmetic changes.
“I just change the wrapping,” Brooks confided, noting he doesn’t discriminate between Hanukkah and Christmas presents. “The Christmas ones will be silver and red and green, and the Hanukkah ones will always be yellow and blue and white. And that’s just the way to do it.”
Apart from the “Oy! to the World” marathon, Brooks is finding new ways to reach out to fans. He recently launched his first website, melbrooks.com, and he maintains a semi-active Twitter account, which he created “so I could tweet something about Carl Reiner.”
“I like to tell stories, and I like to relate incidents,” Brooks said succinctly. “[The internet] is a wonderful little window for me to open up and talk to the world. I like it.”