NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


Over the 60 years that Mel Brooks has been in the entertainment business, his name has become synonymous with comedy. He is the man who broke Broadway records for most Tony Award wins with The Producers (an adaptation of his own movie), who satirized Westerns and racism in Blazing Saddles, and who poked fun at monster movies with Young Frankenstein. Before the films, there was his TV career: Brooks was a writer for Your Show of Shows, one of the most influential comedy series in television history and a precursor to Saturday Night Live, and he was the co-creator of the spy spoof series Get Smart. Brooks, who is the subject of a new American Masters documentary, “Make A Noise,” that premieres Monday, May 20 on PBS, says his penchant for spoofing genres was firmly in the tradition of poking fun out of love .

“I loved Westerns as a little kid, and I loved horror films,” Brooks tells Fresh Air’s David Bianculli. “I had fun with them, but I also saluted the glory of the Western and the glory of James Whale’s Frankenstein and Dracula. Brooks grew up in Brooklyn, raised by a single mother (his father died of tuberculosis when he was two) who was just scraping by. Going to the movies was his introduction to a larger world and his mother recognized this. Even though she couldn’t afford it, she encouraged his enthusiasm, one time even asking a neighbor for the final penny to pay the price of a movie ticket. The neighbor acquiesced. “I was able to go see the Western,” Brooks remembers. “So I cherish those movies because they really lifted my spirits and are indelibly ingrained in my brain as important steps in my world education.”

That neighbor made an excellent investment. Brooks is one of eleven people to have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards — widely considered something of a benchmark in the entertainment world. And his position as an American institution was further cemented in 2009, when he was tapped for the Kennedy Center Honors. Funny story, Brooks says: It wasn’t the first time he’d been offered the award. “I shouldn’t say this … but I’ll say it anyway,” he says. “I was offered this — the Kennedy Center Honors — maybe a year or two before, and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to wait for another president, if I’m still alive, if you don’t mind.’ I just didn’t feel comfortable when Bush was president to accept the honors. … Had I not gotten 110 awards — you know, I’m an EGOT so I don’t need any more. … The Kennedy Center Honors, at the moment, I didn’t need them…The only award I haven’t received, I think, is Woman of the Year.” MORE