Blazing trails

Brooks changed history of film comedy

He’s already one of only a handful of people to win all four of the major awards, the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and the Grammy. But for Mel Brooks, the Writers Guild of America’s Screen Laurel Award is a big deal — so big, in fact, that he’s even going to show up Saturday to accept it.

“I don’t do awards,” Brooks says, “because it’s a quid pro quo. They give you an award, you give them a speech. It’s a lot of work and torture and you know everybody’s expecting a couple of laughs. It’s like writing a whole new act.”

But Brooks is taking this one, he says, “because those guys are truly my peers. I’m a drummer, comic, producer, director, singer, composer, but basically what I am is a comedy writer. I’ve been doing that all my life.”

First making his mark in TV, then in film and now on the Broadway stage, Brooks has been one of the funniest men alive for a half-century. Carl Reiner, his comedy partner for much of that time, says Brooks’ humor never fails him.

“Mel has the ability to come up with things that nobody else would dream of thinking or saying. Then afterwards you say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ ”

Dennis Feldman, chairman of the guild’s award committee, flatly says, “Mel Brooks changed the face of comedy in American movies. (His writing) isn’t highbrow; neither is Aristophanes’. Mostly dramatic work has been honored. Comedy has sometimes been overlooked. And comedy has as significant an approach to life and a vision as tragedy.”

Lowbrow or not, Brooks has written some of the funniest movie bits. By some accounts, “Young Frankenstein” is the most quoted film in history. That’s more than Brooks ever dreamed of when he started work on his first feature, “The Producers” (1968).

Dream come true

“All I ever wanted was to get that little bit of money to make the movie. I never even wanted to get paid,” he says. “And I didn’t. They were very good about that. I got $25,000 to do ‘The Producers.’ Three years out of my life and I got 25 grand. And it was the best job I ever got.”

He’s not keen on lifetime achievement awards and never intends to retire. But the next-project announcement will have to wait, he says. “I’m announcing that I’m thinking. I’m announcing that my brain is still functioning, and if I hit something that takes my fancy, I will plunge into it.”

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