When AFI gives a lifetime achievement award to Mel Brooks, a filmmaker famous for satire and screwball comedy, be prepare for an evening of roasts. And that’s more or less what happened June 6, as A-listers gathered at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater to honor the helmer of “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and the co-creator of the TV show “Get Smart.”
Martin Short was one of the first presenters, reprising his role from the Los Angeles cast of “The Producers” while flanked by leggy chorus girls dressed to represent various Brooks productions. He’d stop singing periodically to offer zingers like “the word ‘genius’ is used a lot in Hollywood, so I might as well call Mel one” and “what’s great about Mel is that he never lets his love of Scientology affect his work.”
Sarah Silverman also referenced the Jewish writer, director and actor’s lineage, as well as his Hitler obsession, saying, “I never understood anti-Semitism as a child. But now I’m so grateful to live here in Los Angeles, surrounded by agents and producers who remind me every single day why there’s anti-Semitism” and that Brooks enlisted in World War II because “he knew even then that fighting Nazis would entitle him to a lifetime of Holocaust jokes.”
Carl Reiner, who worked with the honoree on “Your Show of Shows” and collaborated with him on the comedy skit “The 2000 Year Old Man,” repeated Brooks’ line “It’s good to be the king.,” then added, “Mel, it’s better to be one of your subjects because you have made your subjects laugh.”
But it wasn’t just an evening for the Borscht Belt set. Amy Poehler, who took the podium saying “the shiksa goddess has arrived,” spoke of Brooks’ love for his late wife, Anne Bancroft.
Upon accepting the award, Brooks recalled, “I grew up in a tenement at 365 S. Third Street. Everyone there was either working or destined to end up working in a garment center. But I took the road less traveled, movies, and they saved me. Movies saved my life and rescued my soul and no matter what was bad or wrong, they could be wiped out on Saturday morning.”
Producer Stuart Cornfeld, an AFI alum and Brooks’ assistant on “High Anxiety,” received the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal earlier in the evening.