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Mel Brooks: What I Know Now

The comedy king, 89, takes on some serious subjects

Mel Brooks What I know now

Darren Michaels/SMPSP for Sony Pictures Entertainment

What's funny?

I don't know what comedy is. Some comedies are just good. Other comedies are work. I guess, for me, the trick is to know when something is funny enough. The test? If you hear yourself laughing — literally hear yourself going "Ha, ha, ha," without analyzing why — then it's funny.

Don't be stoopid

A lot of the audience digs the nuances and the details. For Young Frankenstein, we tracked down the laboratory equipment from the original Frankenstein movie and people said, "Brilliant!" [For the parody of the Psycho shower scene] in High Anxiety, we used newspaper ink to mimic blood going down the drain. Someone today stopped me and said, "That was genius." I said, "Because I'm a genius." The truth is, 70 or 80 percent of the audience is as bright as the filmmaker.

Stick to your guns

For Blazing Saddles, the head of Warner Bros. wanted me to take out about 22 different scenes — Mongo punching the horse, the race jokes, the farting scene. I wrote down everything he said, then crumpled up the note and threw it across the room into a wastepaper basket. I said, "If I do that, we'll have a 14-minute movie and it won't be funny."

Two of a kind

I was lucky to meet someone who had the same values I had. [My late wife, Anne Bancroft,] was addicted to oceans, so the minute I made some money, we bought a house in Malibu. She'd wake me up at 8 in the morning by throwing a bathing suit in my face. We'd rush to the ocean. I'd say, "Is it cold?" She'd say, "No, it's fine." It was freezing, but she loved it. Afterward, we'd put on records and dance. I mean, one of the clichés is "your soul mate." But it's true. Anne was my soul mate. She's irreplaceable.

Fatherly advice

I play Dracula's father, Vlad, in Hotel Transylvania 2. It's going to get a lot of laughs, but there's this strange brushstroke toward the end. It's not easy being a father. I wasn't a bad one, but I wasn't great either; I was too busy building my temple to me. Getting famous, writing and directing movies — they take up a lot of hours, and often I would come home late. I regret this very much. To other fathers: Try to get home so you can read to your child and spend some time before bed.

Next generation

My grandson, Henry Michael Brooks, loves me unconditionally. Well, mostly. The deal is, he'll say, "I love you, Grandpa. Now tell me you love me!" And, of course, I say, "I love you, too." He's the light of my life, that kid.

Friends for the ages

I still see Carl Reiner almost every day. He's 93. I don't think he has a touch of dementia or Alzheimer's. He's still smart and sharp. He was the first one to point out Amy Schumer. He said, "You got to watch this woman. She's great." But I pointed out Sarah Silverman first, so we're even.

Good as gold

The two Oscars I have at home — one for The Critic and the other for the screenplay of The Producers — are too dangerous to bring to the office, I'm told. People like to steal Oscars. They won't steal my Emmys, they won't steal my Tonys, they won't steal my Grammys, but Academy Awards — people can't keep their hands off those!

Standing Tall

I used to say I was 5 feet 71/2; now I have to say 5 feet 61/2. Every 10 or 12 years I lose an inch. But I can still see over the steering wheel.

Still Fired Up

I'd like to say I'm running on all eight, but we don't have eight cylinders today. We have six, maybe four. So I'm running on all six.

Blissful Anonymity

I like it better if people don't recognize me. Otherwise I have to be nice. "Oh, you're so sweet, you're too kind!" I don't need any more attention. If I'm out somewhere, what I mostly want is to finish my strawberry sherbet.

—Reported by David Hochman