Filmmaker’s classics brings laughter during pandemic
Move over, Yoda.
Yogurt is here.
“I got a note from (‘Star Wars’ creator) George Lucas, who said, ‘Too bad I didn’t see you audition for Yoda. You would have been splendid in the part,’” filmmaker Mel Brooks told the News-Press in 2015 before his appearance that year at a UCSB Arts & Lectures event in Montecito. Mr. Brooks played Yogurt, a funny take on Yoda, in “Spaceballs” (1987), his spoof of “Star Wars.”
“He (Mr. Lucas) loved that I did ‘Spaceballs,’” Mr. Brooks said by phone from his Santa Monica home. “He didn’t sue me for ripping off ‘Star Wars’ because he said ‘Satire is free.’”
And as long as people love “Star Wars,” they’ll laugh their heads off at “Spaceballs.”
Spoofing popular culture has made Mr. Brooks’ movies cinematic treasures. They remain popular as viewers rediscover them at home on DVDs, TV or streaming services (Amazon Prime in particular) during the pandemic.
“If we’re familiar with the references, we can enjoy the comedy so much more,” Mr. Brooks told the News-Press in 2015. “All the kids who saw ‘Star Wars’ loved ‘Spaceballs.’
“The strange thing that happened was the kids between 9 and 14, who saw ‘Spaceballs’ first, wrote, ‘What’s so funny about ‘Star Wars?’ Yours is much funnier.”
“Spaceballs” poked fun not only at the first “Star Wars” movie with jokes and visual puns (what a way to comb a desert!), but also incorporated some “Star Trek” humor and great acting by Bill Pullman as Lone Star, a cross between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Mr. Pullman later would take on a more serious sci-fi role when he played the U.S. president/fighter pilot in the “Independence Day” movies. And John Candy was great as Barf, the mog (man-dog hybrid).
Back in 2015, Mr. Brooks said he and “Spaceballs” co-writer Thomas Meehan were considering a sequel to “Spaceballs.” Mr. Brooks said he’s too old to reprise his role as President Skroob, but noted Yogurt is ageless.
Fans have long loved Mr. Brooks’ hilarious and politically incorrect spoofs of Hollywood, Broadway and humanity.
The Brooklyn native wrote for “Your Show of Shows” (1950-54 on NBC), the live variety show starring Sid Caesar. He and Buck Henry co-created “Get Smart” (1965-70 on NBC, then CBS), starring Don Adams as the secret agent with the shoe phone.
Then Mr. Brooks made his full-length theatrical movies, starting in 1968 with “The Producers.” It was followed by films such as “Young Frankenstein” (1974), “Silent Movie” (1976) and a movie that spoofed Alfred Hitchcock’s films: “High Anxiety” (1977).
“I loved Alfred Hitchcock and loved everything he had ever done,” Mr. Brooks said. “He watched a rough cut of ‘High Anxiety’ with me, and he laughed his head off.”
Mr. Brooks starred as Dr. Richard Thornydke, a Harvard psychiatrist with a concealed fear of heights. To complicate matters further, he’s framed for murder.
And as a big fan of Westerns, Mr. Brooks poked fun at the genre with “Blazing Saddles” (1974), a funny and politically incorrect movie written by Mr. Brooks and one of his co-writers, Richard Pryor.
“Once you clean up a brave picture, you take the soul out of it,” Mr. Brooks said. “Political correctness has no place in humor. Humor has to tell the truth, regardless of whether it’s in bad taste. Taste has nothing to do with humor.”
Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder starred in “Blazing Saddles,” and the latter suggested to Mr. Brooks that he spoof the Frankenstein legend. That resulted in “Young Frankenstein” (1974), starring Mr. Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, pronounced as “Frankensteen.”
“Gene Wilder was never better. It was like his masterpiece,” Mr. Brooks said. “Marty Feldman was incredibly funny as Igor. I thought Peter Boyle (as the monster) was the pillar that supported the entire movie.
“I realized I was a very lucky guy to get a company of players with such great diverse talents. You’d give them anything to do, and they could do it.”