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Emmys 2017
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10 Smart Questions for Mel Brooks

Comedian chats about his wife, his work, and his critics

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Mel Brooks has carved out a movie career by cutting up other movies. For more than 30 years, he’s been beating Hollywood genres senseless, from Westerns (Blazing Saddles) to Hitchcock thrillers (High Anxiety) to science-fiction spectacles (Spaceballs). Most recently, he followed up his classic horror spoof, Young Frankenstein with Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Here’s what transpired when we put the tireless 70-year-old auteur on the couch.

1. How would you describe yourself?

If nobody were around, I would describe myself as the spitting image of Robert Redford. If somebody were around, I’d say I’m closer to the spitting image of Leon Trotsky. I’m a bon vivant, a sophisticate, a member of the upper classes who doesn’t wear glasses.

2. What do you do when one of your movies flops?

Cry. In a dark room. I weep for 31 days, unless it’s February. I grin and bear it like everybody else. I smile. I make believe it doesn’t hurt. It hurts a lot.

3. Video gives movies a second chance with a second kind of audience. How has that affected your career — and movies in general?

My films do better on video. It’s part of that disease: Drama is important, and comedy is frivolous; therefore drama is worth $7.50 at the movies, and comedy is not. But I love video. Years ago, you made a movie, and if it wasn’t reissued, nobody saw it again. Now every movie goes to heaven.

4. What are you afraid of more than anything?

Two things. Death is number one. And a close second is Mrs. Kaufman, who lived in apartment 3-A next to us in Brooklyn.

5. How do you feel about critics?

There’s a great quote: ”Critics are like eunuchs at an orgy — they just don’t get it.” I ran into Roger Ebert. He didn’t like Dracula. He made no bones about it — thumbs, pinkies, every digit that he had. And I said to him: ”Listen, you, I made 21 movies. I’m very talented. I’ll live in history. I have a body of work. You only have a body.”

6. So, what are you working on now?

A World War II comedy. It’s called S.N.A.F.U., and it’s [based on] my adventures as a combat engineer. If anything went wrong in World War II, they could blame it on me.

7. What was the most important thing you learned in psychoanalysis?

There were two me’s. There was a glib, slick conscious me and a deep, brooding, disturbed unconscious me without a voice.

8. Would you have been good at anything else?

After Blazing Saddles was a hit, I went to Patsy’s [restaurant] on 56th Street [in Manhattan], and a guy came up to me crying. It was Buddy Rich, who had taught me to play drums. He said: ”It’s over. You’re lost. You could have been a great drummer.”

9. What’s your wife Anne Bancroft’s biggest criticism?

I’m too short. I’m not a great dancing partner. I can’t dip her well.

10.What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

I asked a 97-year-old who was still a busy guy in the herring business, ”Mr. Horowitz, what’s your secret?” He said: ”Follow your nature, boy. Follow your nature.”