Comedy legend Mel Brooks was born on June 28, 1926. And in the 95 years since then, he hasn't stopped making us laugh, whether it's on the big screen, the small one, on stage, on record albums, even on his son Max's marvelous video PSA about social distancing during the pandemic. There are a million reasons why we consider him America's greatest living comedian. But in honor of his 95th trip around the sun, here are our top 95.
1. Because his real name is Melvin Kaminsky.
2. Because he grew up in a Brooklyn tenement. Of course he did.
3. Because the name of his native borough is not where he got the idea for the professional name “Brooks.” His mother's maiden name was Brookman.
4. Because his cab driver uncle took him to his first Broadway show — Cole Porter's Anything Goes, with Ethel Merman.
5. Because afterward, he vowed he would never work in the garment district (as was expected of him), that he'd go into show business instead.
6. Because he got his unofficial start as a performer working as a “pool tummler,” telling jokes and performing skits on a diving board.
7. Because as a teenager, he accepted a gig performing in the Catskills for a then-staggering $200 a night …
8. … but the hotel was expecting the famous trumpeter Max Kaminsky, not Mel Kaminsky …
9. … and that's the moment he decided to change his name to Mel Brooks.
10. Because he's one of the few entertainers with an EGOT (winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony).
11. Because he learned how to play the drums at 14 from neighbor Buddy Rich.
12. Because in his first play in the Catskills, he dropped a glass of water, and after the glass broke, he took off his wig and said to the audience: “I'm 14! I've never done this before!” The crowd roared.
13. Because in his high school yearbook, he said his ambition was to become president of the United States.
14. Because he's a Kangaroo (he attended the Virginia Military Institute — that's their mascot).
15. Because he served during WWII as part of the Army's 1104th Engineer Combat Group.
16. One of his jobs was defusing landmines.
17. While hiding under a desk during heavy incoming shelling, he told himself: “Okay, if I get through this, I'll get through anything."
18. He was at the invasion of Normandy ...
19. ... and saw action during the Battle of the Bulge.
20. Because his comedy idol was Sid Caesar, whom he would stake out in the hallway to pitch jokes to.
21. Because Caesar finally relented and hired him for $50 a week.
22. Because he later became a member of the most famous writers’ room in TV history on Caesar's Your Show of Shows alongside …
23. Carl Reiner ...
24. Neil Simon ...
25. Woody Allen …
26. and Larry Gelbart.
27. Caesar's show was such a pressure cooker that Brooks began going to psychoanalysis. “It was a choice of that or suicide,” he said.
28. Because his boss, Caesar, once dangled Brooks out of a very high hotel room window by his ankles.
29. Because after his first marriage broke up, he lived with a pal, which inspired Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.
30. Because he dated Eartha Kitt.
31. Because he had the good sense to marry Anne Bancroft in 1964 …