BREAKING: MEL BROOKS IS NOT DEAD!
But before my lifelong hero leaves the building, and while he’s still using a comb for a cheesy mustache, throwing fake salutes, and mocking the most evil dictator in the modern world, Mel Brooks needs a gigantic thank you from the United States. And from me.
If you think punching Nazis is a good idea, my fellow American, please take some time and thank our good buddy Mel, too. No one has done more to shrink Nazis down to punchable size than Mel Brooks.
Before his movie The Producers (1968), Nazis were still an ominous almost cosmic evil, too sprawling to destroy utterly. They still showed up as viable villains in the two decades after WW2, and I think the “specters of returning evil” trope (LOTR, Harry Potter) was fed in subsequent decades, by fears that Hitler had escaped death and that Nazism would rise again — see Boys from Brazil (movie and book, late-Seventies) for examples of that fear.
It might have been just a tad too soon, when Mel Brooks faced that evil for everyone in 1968, doing it not like a soldier or a knight, but as a fearless jester. Writers of heroic stories, by design, keep the villain large in order for it to be worthy of panic and anxiety, or it’s not a very good story. Only a comedian could poke fun at the world’s worst fear and only an excellent one could actually make people wet their pants laughing at it.
And in the fight against fascism, Mel Brooks championed our side with the precision of a master, with demolishing satire of the Nazi demeanor; epic derision of the rise of Hitler in Germany and the absurd Riefenstahl-esque production value of the Nazis. He was so bloody good, he could even satire himself satiring Hitler, and still make it funny as hell. Mel’s was the most astonishing use of free speech that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I feel so lucky to have been able to watch Mel put the mock in democracy.
Sure, Indiana Jones punched more Nazis, and the gods only know how many Nazis Captain America killed. But without Mel, we might not have embraced either of those heroes as completely as we did. We might not be spotting and standing up to fascism as bravely as we are now, three (?) generations after the fall of the Third Reich, if we hadn’t been able to first laugh at Hitler.
Mel, you have been on my mind so much lately, with the ghost-like return of Nazi salutes and white supremacist evil on the rise. Thank you for inspiring me with your bravery and your gift for diminishing villains. Thank you for providing an example of someone with a moral base for their politics (and art). I know what my beliefs are and why I have them when I watch Springtime for Hitler or the Inquisition number. Thank you for wrecking me with brain-clearing laughter my whole life.
I love you for your passionate hysterical fight against fascism, Mel Brooks. Thank you.
And remember: MEL BROOKS IS STILL NOT DEAD!