Mel Brooks is a national treasure, right up there with Yellowstone and the Statue of Liberty, only much funnier and more Jewish. Today is Brooks’ 88th birthday, and while it isn’t the holiday it should be we can at least pay tribute to the man who has given us so much. I think we can save the praise for how great Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles are, we all already know that. Instead, let’s cut to the chase. Here are 10 things that hopefully you already know about Mel Brooks, but if you don’t, you should.
1. He’s on the verge of a double EGOT. Mel Brooks is one of the few in showbiz that’s managed to pull off winning an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy, and a Tony — the “grand slam” of entertainment. Brooks won his first Emmy in 1967 for The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris Special and completed the awards grand slam in 2001 with a Tony for The Producers. Brooks has won multiple Tonys, Grammys, and Emmys, and if he ever pulls off another Oscar win he’ll be the first person in showbiz to have managed two EGOTs.
2. We essentially have him to credit for the current zombie craze. Without Mel Brooks their would have been no World War Z book, movie, or collector’s coffee mug. Author of Wold War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks, is the offspring of Mel.
3. He co-created Get Smart. Brooks is of course known best for his comedy films, but it bears reminding that he created one of the most popular TV shows of the 1960s. Brooks was instrumental in creating the spy spoof along with comedy genius Buck Henry, and Don Adams in the starring role. The show nabbed an impressive seven Emmy awards over its 138 episode run and introduced the world to the ever popular spy gadget — the shoe phone.
4. He gave Dave Chappelle his first film role. In 1993 Dave Chappelle was just a 20-year-old comic working in clubs with an appearance on Evening at the Improv and Def Comedy Jam. Mel Brooks needed somebody to play the Morgan Freeman character in his spoof of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and as told to Esquire, he knew immediately Chappelle was the perfect fit.
“I knew Dave was the guy. I had seen a hundred guys but Dave had a presence. He basically said, I’m not afraid of this shit. I’m not afraid of the camera. I am who I am. And that was so evident in his attitude. And when we were doing the movie he didn’t know he had a sweetness in him, he is the sweetest kid. He was the perfect sidekick for the hero.”
5. He trolled the Nazis while serving in WWII. Then known as Melvin Kaminsky, Brooks joined the Army Corps of Engineers at 17 and was assigned to the 1104th Engineer Combat Group. As a combat engineer one of Brooks’ duties was defusing landmines, but even in the face of war he was still a prankster. Supposedly, during the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans began blasting propaganda over speakers and Brooks then set up his own speakers and did his imitation of Al Jolson’s “Toot Toot Tootsie.”