Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn in 1926, is one of the great comic voices of the twentieth century. Having won almost every entertainment award there is, Brooks has straddled the line between outsider and insider, obedient and rebellious, throughout his career, making out-of-bounds comedy the American mainstream.
Jeremy Dauber argues that throughout Brooks’s extensive body of work—from Your Show of Shows to Blazing Saddles to Young Frankenstein to Spaceballs—the comedian has seen the most success when he found a balance between his unflagging, subversive, manic energy and the constraints imposed by comedic partners, the Hollywood system, and American cultural mores. Dauber also explores how Brooks’s American Jewish humor went from being solely for niche audiences to an essential part of the American mainstream, paving the way for generations of Jewish (and other) comedians to come.
“The energy, the sass, the inexhaustible comic brio that define Mel Brooks seem too volcanic to fit between the covers of a book. But, miracle of miracles, Jeremy Dauber has made it happen, simultaneously entertaining and enlightening as he takes us along on a very wild ride.”—Kenneth Turan, author of Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film
“When someone has been as significant an influence on culture as Mel Brooks, it can be tough to tell their story in a fresh, cohesive way. But Jeremy Dauber has done it, giving us a limpid, inviting, and lively new look at Brooks, his work, and the ways his Jewishness shapes everything he’s done. In the process, he shows how Brooks’s fingerprints are all over our shared cultural lives—whether or not we share his cultural identity. It’s a fascinating read, and pure pleasure.”—Alissa Wilkinson, senior culture writer, Vox