Joan Rivers: Or not. Yeah, whatever makes it work for you. Thank you. And if you don’t like it or you want me to repeat it, tell me we could stop. I would say it again you know, wherever. Yeah. I have no ego. That sounded stupid. Say it a different way. Fine.

Interviewer: So to start. I heard lots of interviews that you did. You always say Lenny Bruce was such a huge inspiration to you. I wanted to talk to you because we know how unique and special Lenny was. In regards to now as I’m doing this for his use of language. Unlike other comedians that he came up with, his concerns comedically were never the mother in the law, the kids, the wife. His material from literature, history. And so you would tell me that I would but you think of Lenny and Mel have a really unique voice from the time.

Joan Rivers: But what upsets me every time the name Mel Brooks comes around is I didn’t realize how smart he was, how knowledgeable he was, how well read he was until it was almost too late. It was only the last 15 years I realized this man is not a Vegas comic or . And what he talked about in his references, which is why things like History of the World is so brilliant, is because he comes from a whole other point of view that you don’t find in most comics. If that makes sense.

Interviewer: Say it one more time because we had a pause. That was a great opening statement. He comes from a whole other point of view than most comics. Say actually. Start with saying Mel.

Joan Rivers: Mel, which Mel, which most people don’t realize because of a whole other point of view that you don’t find in most comics. He’s not a Borscht Circuit comic. He’s not a Vegas comic. He’s on a one liner. Guy. He is so smart. He is so well read. He is so intellectual. He is truly an intellectual, which astonishes people when they sit down and talk to him because they waiting for like hey my wife is so fat that when he sits around the house, she sits around the house, and suddenly there is a man is talking about Strindberg and Chekhov and Tolstoy and the Miller plays and Author Lawrence director. And you go, Who am I talking to?

Interviewer: Well and so when did you first become aware of it.

Joan Rivers: I I didn’t. And it really is unfortunate because I could have made many more overtures to him because I would go to parties where he was at. I go, Mel Brooks, comic. I became aware of that, where I had a project called about Lenny Bruce’s mother called Sally Moore and her escorts. And I went to have a meeting with him that you might use as a film. And I came away astonished by the intelligence of the man, by the depth of the man, by the knowledge of the man, that it blew me out of the room. And then I went back and I realized, everyone forgets Mel Brooks and brilliant and the films, the body of work, the films. But he also did 84 sharing Crossroad. He also did Francis. Francis. My God, that’s as far away as you can get from Blazing Saddles. The serious moments in his life that he chose to do make into films were just wonderful. Elephant Man.

Interviewer: You remember watching your show of shows?

Joan Rivers: I remember as a child a little before we. I remember as a child being taken to your show of shows, which is in New York. And so I didn’t realize how smart it was. I really caught up with your show of shows when Sid Caesar kind of retired and they would show great clips from it. But Mel did not on show of shows. Mel did not shine the way. He was, not the one that shown. Carl Reiner shown on your show of shows. Mel was kind of like the guy that was funny, but it was like Mel Brooks, Howie Morris. Interchangeable. You had no idea that this man was writing so much of it. That this man was absorbing so much. This man, what he was contributed in the writers room must have been phenomenal.

Interviewer: You look at a lot of film comedies in the 70s and the women in those comedies are just an an accessory to the guy. But then you look at his films with Cloris and Madeline. He’s really letting women do.

Joan Rivers: He gave women roles in films that would just.

Interviewer: Hold on. Do you want a sip of coffee?

Joan Rivers: I’ll take anything.

Interviewer: So start from he gave women.

Joan Rivers: He gave women comedic roles that are memorable. I mean, Madeline Kahn, just what he allowed her to do in his films and do brilliantly. Cloris Leachman just going up that staircase in young Frank. All right. All right. He was my boyfriend. We still quote that to each other.

Interviewer: Yeah, but if you could make the point. Unless I’m wrong but I don’t think so. That at that time women in comedy in the 70s were just like, you know.

Joan Rivers: I’m trying to think. But it’s not so because you had the Carol Lombards. You you are you you did have the ladies, the clown. What he did, he gave the sexy ladies a chance to be funny, which really had not been done since the Carol Lombards. Mel went away from there. And even at.

Interviewer: Sorry.

Joan Rivers: Yeah, that’s all right, that’s called life.

Interviewer: Mel gave.

Joan Rivers: Mel gave sexy ladies a chance to be funny, and that hadn’t happened since the thirties with Carol Lombards. There was a whole period of your name wasn’t Brooklyn and you weren’t the girlfriend or the pretty girl. You didn’t have a shot. And he allowed Madeline Kahn to be sexy and funny. There’s a big difference. Terry Ghar, sexy and funny. And that was a big step forward.

Interviewer: It didnt intimidate him to let them do what they needed to do.

Joan Rivers: I think one of the I think one of the reasons allowing sexy women to be funny, didn’t intimidate Mel is because he was so secure in so many levels. He was also. He wasn’t just a writer, wasn’t just a standup. He was an author. He was looking at it as a director’s point of view is a writer’s point of view is a producer’s point of view. So I think he understood what these women have been. Also, he was married to Anne Bancroft, who is such a brilliant comedian. Let’s not forget that movie they did together, To be Or not to be. And she’s just as brilliantly funny in it as he is.

Interviewer: A lot of times you’ll hear the audio commentary on his films or we’ll show him something and he’ll laugh and he’ll say what a bad joke. I was interviewing Tracey Ullman and we were talking about. What’s the definition of a cheap joke. And Tracey said it’s when you know the rhythm way in advance.

Joan Rivers: She’s wrong. There’s no such thing as a cheap joke. And if a joke is simple, the rhythm is right. Because comedy is music and everyone forgets he’s a musician. The man started out as a pianist.

Interviewer: Drummer.

Joan Rivers: And pianist. Do your research. OK. All right. Let’s go right up. I trust you. You know more than I. Right. But he also played the piano, which I found fascinating. OK. There’s no such thing as a cheap joke, a joke that people go. She’s so fat.

Interviewer: I’m sorry. Is that ok.

Joan Rivers: There’s no such thing as a cheap joke. If a joke is a certain rhythm, that makes it easy for you. People almost laugh at it. My wife is so bad that it could be anything that she wears garters. But if you say it right, it will get a laugh. But that’s music. That’s music. That’s music. And he was a musician. He was a drummer. And so, of course, a lot of his jokes have that rhythm. But that’s a good joke. That’s a joke that your audience is able to follow.

Interviewer: Now, critics say, oh it’s a cheap shot.

Joan Rivers: Don’t talk to me by critics because he was never except on the level he should have been accepted on. Only recently did they finally say, well, let’s give him the Kennedy honors only recently. This man is so underrated. They should be ashamed of themselves that he wrote the lyrics and the music to Broadway shows. That and they’re wonderful. Wonderful. Listen to the melodies, they’re terrific, totally underrated. Every step along the line in his career, it was always. Yeah and Mel Brooks.

Interviewer: The 2000 Year Old Man. Him and Carl had been on Ed Sullivan, Steven Allen Show. Do you recall.

Joan Rivers: I just remember listening to do the 2000 Year Old Man and laughing at it and still laughing at, you know, what good humor is, good humor. Besides being an ice cream. Good humor. Is it still funny.It’s timeless. Everyone would. Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner. They’re stand ups. Obviously, it’s so much more than that because you can turn it on today and still laugh at it.

Interviewer: What’s making that funny is that he is making

Joan Rivers: What he’s doing is 2000 Year Old Man is taking these larger than life figures and bringing them down to a Jewish household, which is wonderful. He does the absurdity that his mind goes to, which is so, you know, comedy. We all know, you know, it’s this way. And then you take the other path and he leads you right down to something you think is going to be so wonderful. And then bang he brings it back to something so simple and stupid and funny.

Interviewer: You know, Carl was saying. This was a pretty interesting thing. Up to post World War II Jewish comedians were very weary about using the Jewish accent.We were very hesistant to do it. We’ll do it at parties but never for the public.

Joan Rivers: Do you want me to tell you that?

Interviewer: Yeah. Were you were of that?

Joan Rivers: No, no. Again, I was a little bit before, you know. No, I was watching these guys still on television, you know. But that he did the Jewish accent still. But old, Jewish men are funny and they’re universally funny. And I think that’s what was so wonderful about it that he was able to finally do that. And maybe it was after World War Two. Maybe America was being more tolerant of our kind of humor. But, you know, whether it’s an old Jewish man or an old Italian man or even an old Chinese man, it’s going to be funny. And he just made it the old Jew.

Interviewer: So his repeated use of of Hitler.

Joan Rivers: His repeated. What he did in The Producers. I remember seeing the producers in a little theater in New York with the first go round a little movie theater in New York. What he did with Hitler was what Charlie Chaplin tried to do in the Great Dictator. And it just didn’t work. The total insanity. And again, as we all know, what you can laugh at, you can deal with. And just the genius and the producers, I mean, that he got the cast that he got together where he allowed them to do that. He thought of this. I’m speechless. I still watch The Producers. The original movie is still so great. And he really took that almost verbatim and put it into the Broadway play.

Speaker I’ll just tell you quickly. There was the part where the Hitler guy comes on stage with Judy Garland. There was a guy in the front row and he got up and stormed out. In the back of the house, Mel was siting there and he stops. And he says “and you. You of all people should know better. Mel is looking at him. He goes I was in World War II. And Mel says Yeah, well, I was in World War II also and I didnt see you there. And they start fighting. Security had to take them out of the lobby.

Joan Rivers: Well, they’re always going to be people that when you do a Hitler joke, you make a Jewish joke that you’re going to say you shouldn’t do this. And I he has my philosophy. So I think he’s right. Obviously, you bring it around with humor. You remind everybody with humor what’s happened, what’s been done, and that makes it pout. If you’ll laugh at something you’ve won already. So I I think what he did in The Producers was so great.

Interviewer: So he called you up to do Spaceballs?

Joan Rivers: No, he didn’t call. We. I don’t know why we we did not work together ever. No, we didn’t call. We have to do Spaceballs. It doesn’t. I read for it and didn’t get it. Didn’t call me up. And suddenly one day I get a call and they say, would you come in and do some of voiceovers for Mel Brooks? And I said, Sure. I walked in and there is the whole movie, done. And I had to move my voice and dub in to the lips. But again, let me tell you why he’s wonderful, because he gave me my script and we did the whole thing exactly as was written. And then he said, go back and do anything you want. And he encouraged that. Andthat’s that’s so great. It was such an amazing afternoon. I loved working with him. He was so smart. He was so serious. I thought, we’re going to stick around and. He knew everything. You know, it reminds you of Louis C.K.. No. You know, reminds you of Mel, Louis C.K. again. He knows what he wants. He understands what he wants on so many levels. And Spaceballs was a joy just to to work with him and allow him to let me think I could drive things. And it was it really upset me that I didn’t get to do the movie. The movie movie.

Interviewer: And it’s become a cult.

Joan Rivers: It’s become a cult Spaceballs. And I signed my little DVD and two thirds of people I don’t say anymore. I wasn’t really in it. I just let them think it’s me. Dot Matrix. You got it.

Interviewer: Anything I’m forgetting?

Joan Rivers: Anything you can do to help. Thank you, my darling.

Interviewer: I’ll ask one last question. What separates him from the rest of the pack.

Joan Rivers: What separates, Mel.

Interviewer: Comedically.

Joan Rivers: What separates Mel Brooks comedically? He’s so much more than a standup comic. He is is he’s a author. That’s the only way I could say it. He is. He writes. He does the music. He does the lyrics. He does the producing. He is smart. He is a frame of reference that most comics don’t have. He is so above the fray and is able to take all that and shake it down into something so simple and so funny.

Interviewer: I’m sending.

Joan Rivers: Is that OK?

Interviewer: Yes, you are.

Joan Rivers: Is that honest to God, because I don’t know what you want.

Interviewer: Yes. They’re nodding.

Joan Rivers: Because I don’t know what to say. I don’t know. I just think he’s so God. You know, I don’t know what.

Interviewer: You were fantastic.

Joan Rivers
Robert Trachtenberg
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Joan Rivers , Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). September 24, 2012 ,
(1 , 1). Joan Rivers , Mel Brooks: Make a Noise [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Joan Rivers , Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). September 24, 2012 . Accessed January 31, 2023


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