from Onion AV interview with Mel BrooksPosted: December 20, 2012
AVC: A lot of comedians nowadays are very open about their past, and discuss some darkness that drew them to comedy. For some, comedy comes from a place of insecurity and anxiety, very heavy stuff. What’s your take on that? What was there at the very beginning that drove you to comedy? Was it dark?
MB: That’s a good question, about what was the determining factor. What ignited the rocket that sent you up into the vast regions of comedy, and why? I would say, for me, that philosophical treatise about having black beginnings and wanting love to compensate for that, wanting audiences and wanting attention—I say, “Au contraire.” Completely opposite. I want the continuation of my mother’s incredible love and attention to me. I was the baby boy. There were four boys. I was 2 years old when my father died, and my mother had to raise four boys. She must be in heaven, because in those days you washed clothes, you washed diapers. There was no income, and she had to take in home work. My Aunt Sadie brought her work that made these bathing suits and stuff, and ladies’ dresses. And my mother would sometimes do bathing-suit sashes all night. She got $5 or $6, and it was a lot. She could feed us, you know? But certainly she’d feed four boys for that day. It was amazing. But she loved me a lot. I don’t think I learned to walk until I was 5, because she always held me. [Laughs.] She’d say, “You can do anything, good or bad. You’re the best kid.” So I say, “Au contraire.” I think my surge forward into show business and getting audiences to love me was to continue gathering that affection and that love. It’s the opposite of a dark place. I came from a lovely, sunny place. Even though we were poor, you don’t know it. When you’re a kid, you don’t know it. I love franks and beans. I wouldn’t have eaten anything else! I didn’t know that was poor people’s food. [Laughs.] I didn’t know there was such a thing as steak. I knew there were French fries. There was chicken. Things were good.
My mother used to make [lunch for me] when I played with the kids in the street. She’d slice a Kaiser roll and fill it with tomatoes and butter on both sides, salt and pepper. And she’d put it in a brown paper bag and throw it down, and I’d catch it. I’d sit on the curb with Benny and Lenny and whoever, I had my lunch, and I loved it. It couldn’t have been anything better. Except one day I missed. And the brown paper bag, which held the Kaiser roll with all the tomatoes, the sliced tomatoes, and butter, and salt and pepper, smashed on the sidewalk. [Laughs.] So I just carefully peeled it away, peeled the brown paper bag away from it, and held it, and ate it. I began crying, because it was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life. The butter and the tomato had penetrated every crevice of that Kaiser roll. To this day, there will be nothing better.