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Mel Brooks: 2,000 Years of Funny

The ageless comedy legend explains what's so funny about Jews, weird faces ... and Nazis

Director Mel Brooks laughs on stage, Mel Brooks Strikes Back, AARP interview

Mel Brooks, in a happy moment. This image graces the cover of his new DVD/CD collection. — Courtesy of Brooksfilms

Several segments on the new DVD set are devoted to "The 2,000 Year Old Man," a routine that Brooks and his pal Carl Reiner performed at parties for 10 years before Steve Allen persuaded them to make a record in 1960. Reiner is the straight-arrow interviewer; Brooks is the extremely old fellow who, although he has been present at virtually all of history's most momentous occasions, remains defiantly, hilariously Jewish. It's a reminder that the one thing that Brooks has worn as a badge of honor from his earliest days is his almost giddily joyful Jewishness.

Enjoy the 2,000 year old man on YouTube.

"I think there is a strange phenomenon: Whatever litter box you were born into, you still salute as critical to your nature and your life. There's no choice. It's the flag! I gotta salute that flag! So there are two things that I am very excited and patriotic about: One is being a Jew and the other is being a Brooklynite," Brooks says.

From The Producers onward, Brooks has taken heat from some corners for lampooning Hitler and Nazis. "Springtime for Hitler," the pivotal musical number in The Producers, famously employs goose-stepping showgirls. He disguises himself as Hitler in To Be or Not to Be (1983) and in a 1983 music video performs his notorious "Hitler Rap." The centerpiece of Brooks' comedy History of the World: Part 1 is a splashy musical number about the persecution of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. Brooks offers no apologies. For him — and by extension, for the rest of us — his outrageous takes on Jewish history are a form of therapy.

"I didn't know how to deal with my frustration, with my anger at not being able to do anything about this incredible phenomenon of rounding up my people like cattle and decimating them," he says. "I think unconsciously I was always looking for some payback, some answer. I knew that if I were serious about it, my voice wouldn't stick out; it would just be lost in the River of Woe.

"I realized I couldn't get on a soap box and match these guys for their fervor and their talent for oratory. But they don't know a joke from a mockingbird. They don't know nothing about humor.

"That's my edge. My edge is to deflate them with humor. I knew it. I knew that was my job."

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