Transcript:

Carl Reiner: Sid was a big flame that I and all the moths came to that flame and one of the moths that came was Mel Brooks, who actually knew Sid. Actually, Mel worked for Sid, not for Max Leibman on The Show of Shows. He paid them like 50 dollars a week to hang around. And then when he came on The Show of Shows, he didn't want to work for that anymore. He wanted Max to pay him. So he Max paid them out of petty cash, which he thought was abominable. He finally got a salary, but he was really he did all the things that Sid could do, not as well as some of the things that Mel couldn't do. But as far as a funny brain, Mel had the funniest brain in the room. No question.

Interviewer: Everyone in all the archival interviews of all the writers, the first thing they usually talk about is Mel showing up late. But you said, which is Mel showing up late was worth more than some schmuck showing up at 9:00.

Carl Reiner: Well, you know, I've written a book called I Remember Me and about five chapters devoted to Mel Brooks. And one of the chapters is him showing up late at the chapters entitled the... Oh, show me the... "Oh, he ate so many carrots that..." Mel, he suffered from low sugar, high sugar, whatever it was, so he never came and we all arrived at 10 o'clock, he arrived at 12 and we were always waiting for Mel. We knew Mel was coming because his bagel and coffee would proceed him from the stage delicatessen. It would come and I would pay for it. It would be twenty five cents for this for the coffee. Twenty five cents. Twenty five cents for the coffee and bagel and a quarter tip, 50 cents. This day everybody was really upset. We were doing a sketch when we were looking for a punch line, couldn't get it, and we said Mel would probably come up with this one. He didn't show up and everybody was really angry with him, really angry that day. So to show how we're displeased we were when the guy came for the coffee bagel, I gave him fifty cents and 25 cents and a twenty five dollar tip. And when Mel came in, he gave me the half a dollar is. No, no, it's no, it's it's fifty dollars. And he paid it, he knew he was he could see the anger and he paid without anything, drank his coffee, and then he said, all right, show me the brilliance. What what do you mean? He knew exactly that he was wanted for something. And I'll never forget the joke. It was a the joke was he ate so many carrots that, you know, he didn't have a punch line for it. And Mel Brooks said, oh, the old carrot joke, take the million. You know, that's no new. And he he acted as if he were being crucified. He he pasted himself against the wall and he came up with with the character, yet so many carrots that he couldn't sleep. Why couldn't he sleep, he saw right through his eyelids the whole idea, we all knew carrots gave sight, he found a new way to do it. And I'll never forget that because there were six writers and five writers and Mel came up with it. That's an indication of how his brain works a little differently than anybody else's.

Interviewer: Tell us about We The People Speak, hosted by Dan Seymour.

Carl Reiner: Well, that's the genesis of The Two Thousand Year Old Man. I came in one morning. I was allowed into the writers room. I was kept out for the first three or four weeks of my career as a second banana. And I was waiting in the hall for them to call me and to tell me, here's the stuff. And I was upset by that. The writers worked either in Max Leibman's office or in the men's room. Lucille Carolyn couldn't come to the men's room. They used to split up some work down the stairwell. I mean, there was not enough room. And I came up with the idea for the silent foreign movies. I knew I can do double talk. Not like Sid. I came up with that and that I was allowed into the writers room. But in the writers room while I was there, I said, gee, I saw a program. It was called We the People Speak with Dan Seymour. He used to recreate the news and say this happened yesterday and Kremlin man was in Pluma was in Stalin's toilet and heard Stalin say, going to blow up the world Thursday. And I said, hey, that's a good thing to take off. And they said, oh, it's OK. It didn't work. And I was a little frustrated and I knew was a good idea, you know, to have somebody. So I turned to Mel who was sitting on the couch and here's a man who was actually at the scene of the crucifixion 2000 years ago. And, Mel, I'll never forget his first words were, oh, boy, I see you were there. Yes. Yes. You knew Jesus thin lad, thin lad. Yes always walking around with 12 other guys that wore sandals. Nice boys. They used to come into the store. I never bought anything. Always asked for water. I gave it to them. Nice. But that was the first words out for the next. That was 1950. From 1950 to 1960, we were the most asfour people at part. We were invited to all kinds of parties just to get up and do that. Every party we ever went to get up, fellows do that. We started to become a command performances and the last one we did was Joe Fields. In this is 1950 to 1960. We're doing that at parties. Joe Fields had a what we call a class A party out here. Mel lived in New York. He happened to be out here. So we made a party for us and he invited all his big, big star friends. And this is it. I've said this many times and it's absolutely accurate after the Mel killed everybody. One by one, these stars came up. The first one was George Burns with his cigar. He says is there a record on this. And we said no. He says, put it on record or I'll steal it. He actually said that. Edward G. Robinson, he said make a play out of it, The Thousand Year Old Man, a thousand man to play it on Broadway. And we said, it's 2000. I can play any age. I'll never forget him saying that. And it was Steve Allen who was one of the dearest men ever in comedy. His whole thrust in life was to find fun and hand it to people. He didn't care if he did it. He just wanted fun to get out there. And he said to us, he said, you know, I have a studio that I record in and he's why don't you guys sit in a studio and he said just whale for a couple hours he said, if you like it, use it. Otherwise he cut it, expunge or whatever you want. And it was an offer we couldn't refuse. The world specific. We got two hundred people, I don't know, maybe one hundred friends. And for two and a half hours we whaled then cut it out to forty seven minutes and it became The Two Thousand Year Old Man.

Interviewer: What can we hold on for one second? I think. OK, you know, in in one of your books, you make a really interesting point in regards to The Two Thousand Year Old Man that I'm going to read what you wrote, that one hesitation with , one hesitation because you did it for 10 years in recording was Mel had the Yiddish accent, which was it's a staple in Vaudeville, Fanny Brice, Weber and Fields. But but along comes Hitler, ruins everything as we know. And and the act I'm reading from your book, the accents acceptability as.

Carl Reiner: You want me to tell that back?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carl Reiner: Oh, yes. During the year when we did The Thousand Year Old Man, Mel was using the middle European Jewish accent. Now, remember, there was this was 1950 four or five years after the war ended. And even though the the Jewish accent was a prime use in comedy for many years, Weber and Fields, you name it, and Lou Holtz, Mr. Ketso on Radio on the Eddie Cantor Show and Mrs Nussbaum on the Fred Allen Show, they all use the phrase the Jewish accent to good to good effect. But when Hitler came and Hitler decimated the Jews and and anything that would be deleterious to the Jewish, to the body of Jews was not persona non grata. And everybody stopped doing the Jewish action during the war. And after the war, it came back slowly with on The Ed Sullivan Show, Myron Cohen, did these wonderful Jewish stories slowly sneak back. And at that point we said, OK, we but we still didn't didn't think it would be for anybody, but for our semtic friends and non anti-Semitic, uh, uh, friends who, you know, were not Gentiles. And we only did the parties and we everybody who asked us to do a record, we still said no, it's only for friends. It's really very special. And for 10 years, we we didn't do it. We stopped. We stopped thinking about recording. We didn't. And then when we did record it, we still weren't sure and was funny because I wrote about this and Mel had the same thing. I was at Universal and doing my first motion pictures, by the way, at that very first meeting where everybody told us about make a record out of it. And another guy came up and he was Ross Hunter who said, Hey, do you have a movie? And I had never written a movie. And I said, Oh, no, I don't have an idea for movie. Well you think like a movie maker. He says you you came up with ideas. And I wrote my first movie, The Thrill of It All, all based on my first day there. So many things happen that first that from The Two Thousand Year Old Man, little performance. And so now it's it's off the record is out. And Universal next door to me was Cary Grant, who came by one day to say hello. And I said, here's a record you might like. He came he came back. He says, Funny, funny. He asked me for a dozen. I said, he said I'm going to England. I said, You're going to take this. Yeah, they speak English. They talk. And he came back and he said she loved it. I said, oh, he's the queen. I said, you you say took it to Buckingham Palace and played it. And I said to him, well, you know something? The biggest shiksa in the world understood it and laughed as you were. OK, by that time, we were sort of getting the idea that people were going to like it.

Interviewer: Mel was talking about playing the drums and the sort of freedom of that, but also in a way, what you guys did together, this improvisation is not unlike, it's improvisation, its jazz.

Carl Reiner: You know, it's well, Mel, Mel is, Mel, it's very apparent that Mel is very, very musical. And we didn't know how musical he was at that time, except that he was a great drummer. He would drum anytime he felt the need to but today I mean at 80 something, he wrote some of the best lyrics ever for Young Frankenstein lyrics and music. And he's really an extraordinary musician. But he has rhythms in his head and all of his jokes are great. They're great structures of rhythm. They're you'll laugh at the rhythm of the joke some time.But Mel has, as I said, a a genius brain and panic is the best thing in comedy, a genius comic brain, because I try to throw Mel curves. The bigger the curve, the farther he swatted it out. I really try to find things that he couldn't possibly answer and he found ways to answer it in panic. When he gets in panic, there's nothing like it. By the way, I was just thinking that Mel is truly a man who wants to get laughs. There's a thing in my book I wrote about Mel and I eye to eye and nose to nose.Did I describe that. Can I describe that to you?

Interviewer: Please.

Carl Reiner: Mel and I are alone in the house, this is an indication of who Mel is and how important it is for him to be funny to get laughs. We were alone in the house. There's only two of us there. A couple of weeks before I had been to France, Charlie Chaplin Jr, invited me to speak to do a charity event there. And so at the event, I do speak French. I learned it in Georgetown University during the war and I have an interview in French on the on the air. And I couldn't understand the questions because he was talking French so fast. I said, can somebody feed me the questions in English? And I'll answer in French. And I was doing that. And at one point the questions were getting more and more deep, like, how do you what do you think about the Nouvelle blog? And I could answer start to answer it in French. And then I realized I needed the words that I'd have to look up in the dictionary. So rather than not speak French, I says the nouvelle parvati's onto us, answering to a new introduction to the ways of the the mores of the time, the mores of the time reflect what in the institutions of the day. So I spoke broken French and everyone was laughing, you know, and when I just addressed the people in the square, I talk French and then I use broken French and explained I wanted to only speak French. But if I can speak French, I said this in French, I will talk like this, which is a French accent, but it's similar and called the overlays more Farsi. I will use it anyway. That's right. So I was saying to Mel, you know, it very important to learn French, to learn a language, because when you're in a foreign place, if you say to somebody in broken English, you say you want to eat something, food, you know, place to go see. Come eat food. They'll always be nice to you if you try to speak in their language. So I said, I'm going to teach you, we're alone in the house. I'm going to teach you to speak phony French, but you will speak good like I took no say after me. The tin nose to nose. I says. He says the chin, no not the chin, not the tin, the tin say after. Oh how I say this in the almost in the tick. The tick say is off dummy is a cheat. The cheat. No it's almost the nose say after me. The nose knows. Now this the eye. Say after me this is the eye and Mel says that's not the eye. Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. This is the eye. And he says No, no, that's not the eye that's below the eye, this is the eye. And he took his finger and actually touched his eye ball for the sake of a laugh. He actually touched his eyeball. And his eye was tearing, it was red and it was two of us in the room and I got hysterical. I sat there for a joke. And nobody's going to know except that I write in the book that luckily he he did that joke for a guy who has a you know, who who wrote a semi semi important book, a book that 90 people might read. So so other people will know about this joke. But there I couldn't believe it. And nobody I don't think I ever told anybody that until I wrote about it. The eye.There it is. He touched his eyeball.

Interviewer: You talk about him swinging it out of the park for you. But but the thing is, is that we should also it's an important point to make that you knocked it right back. So in a way, is what I'm saying. It's almost well, it's almost like you two were dancing because.

Carl Reiner: Oh, it's improvisation. No, I have the ability to to build a building blocks. I do that. I'm never at a loss for to start something. I don't think I haven't got the punch lines all the time, but I do. I write. I have that ability. As a matter of fact, I use that once had nothing to do with Mel. I wrote a book called The Novel Beginnings. I wrote twenty six novel Beginnings and I invited people. I was going to some of the colleges so that they they can finish the novel that I began and I said Novel Beginnings written by Carl Reiner and your name here. And I was going to send that I, I never sent it out because somebody that's a great idea. But the the the financial and the legal questions will come out as too big to to to contemplate. So I never did, but I have no problem starting starting things. So but having Mel there to throw things at him is just one of the great pleasures in life to come back. And what comes back at me was great laughter.

Interviewer: Would you think of happen if we just. If you push Carl back a little, then we'll avoid that.

Carl Reiner: OK, here we go.

Interviewer: There you go. OK.

Carl Reiner: And believe it or not, those little clickings nobody's going to matter, they'll know what it is.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carl Reiner: And I'm going to say it right now.

Interviewer: OK.

Carl Reiner: During the course of this interview, there's a lot of faces around here that are shaking their head and looking very sad because this has happening. So any time you hear that, it's not just do not adjust your set. It's me and my buttons. OK.

Interviewer: Perfect. That took care of it. All right. So would you say that you made him feel. Would you made him? It's a it's contrary, it's a contradictory idea, but at the same time that you were putting him in panic mode, you are also making him feel safe.

Carl Reiner: Well, you know, it's interesting. Mel was always, there's one very good story I write about in my book, I Remember Me and this is absolutely true. We were offered a lot of money to go to San Francisco and do two performances, one after another, 8:00 and 10:00 just adlib. And we did all adlib. I didn't know was what I was going to ask and Lockheed and I didn't know what I was going to ask, but he was hysterical and the place came apart. They scream, they laugh. We didn't know we could duplicator. We didn't duplicate it. And we went to the top and we duplicated it. That's exactly what happened. Second and all the way up there on the way up there, he was so mad at me. He says, I'm not the one I let you talk me into this. He was so mad that we took this gig. And he says I said, look at the money. Screw the money, screw the money. He was really upset with me, he was grousing all the way up to San Francisco on the plane. So I don't know if I'll let you talk me into this again. And I know exactly what it was. I have no problem asking him questions. I know he's going to be funny. He has never failed me. Even when he's floundering, he's funny. And then when he's floundering like a trapeze artist. I miss the three times the third time he hits even better. So I have no, he doesn't know what's in his brain. I know he's going to be funny, but he knows that he's going to be have to come up with something and he's never sure that it's there. It's always there. But that doesn't it's no solace to him anyway. We kill them. We kill them. This is exactly who he is. And I call him a real artist because of that. Mel is very good with money. He's a very good negotiator. He he negotiates the best deals for himself. And there's all those wonderful movies that he's made. He really knows how to negotiate. So there's no no lack there. We come back from this and we're riding in the car in the back of a limo and he's very silent, very quiet. And we did get a lot of a lot of money. I recall a hell of a lot of money for that those two days. And I said to him, I said, Mel, tell me the truth. How much would you have taken knowing that you would have gotten the reaction that we got? How much would you take and how much money would you required? And he said. Fourteen dollars, and he meant it and he would have done it for nothing, in other words, it was that good. But he he feared the whole time that he was going to fail because he didn't know what's in there. He didn't trust. I did.

Interviewer: OK, we're going to reload. We're good? I want to get to ask you a couple of questions, to place stuff in a bit of historical context. One question is, after all the various incarnations of Caesar shows died out. Mel is at a bit of loose ends, you're doing The Dick Van Dyke Show, right? Was there ever any talk of come write an episode, come.

Carl Reiner: When I was doing The Dick Van Dyke Show.No, Mel was in New York, had no interest in situation comedy. I mean, I didn't even think of offering him a chance. I know he didn't write that kind of stuff, but that wasn't his medium. His medium was big, bruising, bruising musicals. He thought of music. He had done a few things on Broadway, some sketches, and he loved sketches and things. And it would never even occur to me to offer him that. But he did come out every once in a while because at that time, Mel still wasn't the Mel Brooks who was going to do some of the great musicals and funny movies of all time. And so he used to come out in need of cash and we would do the Hollywood Palace. We would do. There was a couple of shows we did out here, and I remember coming up, he used to come up to my office and we figure out, of course, in those days we had to prepare a few jokes. When you go on for 10 minutes or 15 minutes, you can't trust that you're going to adlib 15 of the best minutes in the world. So I would not we wouldn't rehearse it, but I would come up with a couple of lines that as soon as he I said I throw a line at him and as soon as he started answering, OK, I know you're going to answer that. So what happened in the back? There was a half ad lib, but he knew what what was coming, but that was it. But in those days, he was he was not yet who he was going to be.

Interviewer: It's interesting, as he was we talked to him yesterday and he was talking about how you can only learn through trial and error during that period who was you know, in theory, it was a good idea to go right with Jerry Lewis. Not a good idea, as it turned out. Maybe not such a great idea to be writing for Dinah Shore or, you know, and you don't know until you get there. But, you know, he sort of figured out who you know, if you wrote for Harvey Korman.

Carl Reiner: Yeah.

Interviewer: Boom. Cloris Leachman.

Carl Reiner: Yeah.

Interviewer: Done. You know, how do you know until you start doing that? But the the question is, what would you say his comedic minds that he sort of came out fully formed from the womb, essentially because it doesn't seem to have. I can't what what do you think is influenced or changed his comedy when you first met him.

Carl Reiner: Everybody is influenced by their very early days and he was the product of this very sad beginning. His father died when he was two. However, he was buoyed up by the fact he had four brothers. One of them, Irving, became a surrogate father. He had a very doting, loving mother. And because he was the youngest, they felt sorry for him. They sort of carried him around like a prince. So he always felt the world was, you know, his oyster. And so he he felt special and he was special. And then he was gifted with a really very intelligent brain. And so that's that's a gift to you. It's one of those. And what you do with it is something else. But he and the world honed him, there was a war that went on and became a member of the armed forces and he fought in the war. And so he went to college. And I forget where in.

Interviewer: Virginia.

Carl Reiner: Virginia, Virginia Military Academy, all those things honed them. But they were honing a very smart guy, a very smart man, and very well read his most well read man I know. When when we were doing The Show of Shows, he spent all of his money, not all of his money, a lot of his money on first edition books, famous novels. And really he was avid about it. He didn't didn't fit with this crazy man telling all these silly jokes. He was Pushkin and, you know, and and and and who was his favorite one? Nikolai Gogol. Yeah.

Interviewer: But you know what you were saying about situational comedy. And you're right, he has said he has had no interest in situational comedy. And it's interesting because his brand of comedy, he's not interested in marriage, children, jobs. It's a whole other vein he's mining right.

Carl Reiner: No, he's more into satire. He he really is a satirist. And most of his movies were his early movies, satirized other movies. I mean, he did a lot of that. But and and if you're really a good satirist, nobody minds that you're taking a great. Like, even when he did, he actually did one movie that existed before, like the one with Jack Benny and.

Interviewer: To Be or Not To Be.

Carl Reiner: To Be or Not To Be he actually did it almost scene by scene. And what we did that he couldn't satirize because it was already a satire. But all of his other movies, including Blazing Saddles and every one of them, there was a satire involved. He was satirizing something that existed and he was great at that.

Interviewer: But in all the years you've known him, I mean, has anything like becoming a father, has anything changed?

Carl Reiner: I saw Mel and all of his incarnations when he was a I met him. I met him before he was anybody. I wrote my book that it's called as I said, I Remember Me was called originally Is That The Man? And I met him when he was twenty one years old on Fire Island. He came out for a for a party and he had no place to stay. I knew him because he was the first year on The Show of Shows and I saw Mel and he said he had no place to stay after the party. I said, well, we have a window seat, so I'll leave the door open. We had an 800 or a 800 dollar season. We paid for that house, dwarf petition's. In other words, there were no ceilings on the on the bedrooms. So it was very cheap house. And I told the kids, Robbie, who was a foreign nanny who was to I said, there's going to be a man sitting in sleeping in the window seat. So if you get up in the middle of the night or in the morning and you see a man, don't be frightened, the man will be sitting there is a friend. So they get up like 6:00 in the morning and they go right over to Mel who's sleeping in the window seat curled up. And this is the conversation he hears. He hears it right away because this whispering. Is That The Man? That's the man. That the man, that the man. The man sleep. No, not the man not sleep, not the man sleep. Look the man eye open and Annie saw the little eye cracking. He was trying to see it and she was about to put a finger in his eye to open the eye to see. And he says the man is up. The man. I'm the man. I'm the man. I'm up. I'm up. Anyway, so that was my our introduction to our friendship that he was twenty one years old then. Twenty two, I guess yeah twenty one.

Interviewer: So you were saying in all his incarnations you like like for example, fatherhood for him didn't change.

Carl Reiner: Oh yeah. And I was talking about his father now then when he was on the show show he's married one, the Hamilton Trio had a two wonderful girls, one girl named Florence Baum, who everybody loves. She was a beautiful girl who had maybe not since centuries the best legs ever. Everybody just couldn't take their eye. Mel went and married her, he married and he had two children with her, two.

Interviewer: Three.

Carl Reiner: Three three children. Two and then a third one.

Interviewer: Start it over again.

Carl Reiner: Yeah. He met this girl from beautiful Florence Baum. He what he was. So what did he do? He went up and married and had three children with them almost immediately and he was, they didn't get for some reason the marriage didn't work. And when they broke up I remember this assiduously. He visited those kids every night when he got home from work, he visited the kids and spent two or three hours with the kids every night. He never did not spend with those kids. And here's another indication of who Mel is. When Florence got married again, she married a guy and there was another kid that came into the family, Peter, and went when Mel took his kids out every day to the dinner, lunch, whatever it was to play. He always took Peter along. And Peter was part of the family and was not his kid. It was. So he's very, very family oriented. When he had his child with Anne Bancroft, Max, he has a grandson,Henry visits him almost every day. He visits him and plays with Max. I mean, Harry Henry almost every day.

Interviewer: But so what I'm asking is, as you've seen it and you've worked with him professionally, you know, sometimes people's it's interesting to me people's concerns or people's focus sort of shifts in their work because of their home situation. But he seems to be a straight arrow, just doesn't.

Carl Reiner: Mel is as a parent first, really as a parent first. He does everything else. Whatever he does, he is always aware that he's he has these children. He's parenting. You know, he speaks to them every day. His daughters, Stephanie and Eddie. And what I miss, Nicky. I mean, he speaks to them almost every day.

Interviewer: So even as he became a father in the fifties or whatever it is, I guess what I'm saying, his brand of comedy didn't. He didn't. What can I say? Professionally, he didn't become domesticated, right?

Carl Reiner: No, it's amazing because he he knows family so much he has been involved with, but he's never done domestic comedy. It's always this satire. He really does. He sees the big picture. He sees big movies and makes fun of big movies and makes fun of big things.

Interviewer: Right. It's not based in the everyday.

Carl Reiner: He can't make fun of the little things like I used to do on and off. So I didn't make fun of little things. I just did them. I mean, of the Dick Van Dyke Show was just a a reincarnation of my own life.

Interviewer: If he had a mantra, what do you think it would be? Because one thing he said is laughter and you've said it, so much angst about death.

Carl Reiner: His mantra was give me laughs and pay me well for making you laugh. I would be much I want the most buck for my, my, my. I was looking for work for jokes that begin with a B, my blockbuster humor.

Interviewer: What do you make of his repeated use of Hitler?

Carl Reiner: Of Hitler? I love the fact that Mel Brooks is the single the only one in the world who dared to do to Hitler what Hitler did to the Jews. He decimated him by making fun of him. And to this day, when I read that in Germany, his is The Producers, the musical went through the roof. I mean, the fact that he was able to do to Hitler what nobody else could do make so much fun of him. That he's, the guts of doing it is amazing. Any time I see anything with a swastika, I immediately say, Mel, we got to watch this. There's a swastika. Yes, there's a Hitler thing in it. No, it's amazing what what he did, what he did to Hitler.

Interviewer: Speaking of watching, what is the story that you and Mel watch movies quite a bit. And what is the thing with Secure the Perimeter?

Carl Reiner: Oh, yeah. Mel and I love to watch movies and we love we found we found this in a little while ago. We found the Bourne series, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Bourne and Matt Damon. We love Matt Damon. I love Matt Damon as an actor and as a person. He's just a wonderful person and and we love pictures. And we said, give us a picture that says there are three three prerequisites to really good, great picture. One is somebody in the picture says secure the perimeter. If somebody says secure the perimeter, we know it's a good picture. Lock up all all exits and secure the perimeter. The other one is get some rest. If somebody says get some rest, we know we're in a good picture means they're working hard to get there. And and the other thing is comeuppance. We all beg for comeuppance. The worse the villain. This is my favorite thing. My favorite thing is the Count of Monte Cristo, because that's the best comeuppance novel of matter of fact, I'm writing a book called Comeuppance. Of course, I love Comeuppance the worst, the villain, the better the story make the worst villain you can give him the worst ending. That's my favorite thing in the world. Count of Monte Cristo, those three guys, they got it at the end.

Interviewer: Yeah. Again, when when Caesar went off the air again, this sort of odd period from now, why didn't he do a nightclub act or something?

Carl Reiner: Mel never said never. I never heard of Mel wanting to do a nightclub act. He started in the mountains and he always did his act for us. And it was he at the drop of a hat. He was. Here I am. I'm Melvin Brooks. I come to start the show, you know, and he would he would talk about being a tumbler jumping into the into the pool with us. He played Willy Loman and jump in the pool with his suitcases and he would do his act. And it would be natural for him to become a standup. But he never did. I think he because I think he wanted to be a writer mainly. And and he went for that. And luckily, he did it.

Interviewer: When we were talking to Mel yesterday, we touched on this. Mel Tolkin essentially got everybody into individual analysis to go into analysis.

Carl Reiner: Mel Tolkin talking was the head writer. And because he was a Russian and always feared that somebody would take him back to Russia, he was from Canada. He worried about his citizenship. He was he was the first person in analysis. And I think it was his by his suggestion that analysis is good for everybody. Slowly but surely, he got Mel to go to an analyst. He got Sid to go to an analyst and even I who was considered the most normal person in the room said maybe I'll try it too. No til this day, I could still use what analysis do and good analysts can do.

Interviewer: Because, you know, Mel was saying he said before and I don't know if it was I don't know he is talked about. I don't know if it was true for the other writers as much as it was for him. The real anxiety working on that show Producer. And he's talking about puking between parked cars, jogging through the streets in New York. But I mean.

Interviewer: Well, Mel, Mel had anxiety, which we never saw because I always knew him. But we found out later that he was so anxious. He actually was suicidal at times. He said this to us. So I'm not he was thinking of, you know, doing. He was so upset. What upset them, we don't know. But he's not upset anymore, thank goodness. But he was. And you know what it is when you when you know, you got something, you don't know how to pedal it. He knew he had something. He didn't know how to market it. And when soon as he had learned how to market what he had, he calmed down an awful lot. But I think that was a frustration of not being able to. I got all this. What do I do it? What do. I kill myself. That's what I do.

Interviewer: It's just the pent up.

Carl Reiner: Yeah.

Interviewer: Pent up.

Carl Reiner: Pent up is your word.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have to ask is how important do you think Anne was in the formation of Mel, because when we talked about yesterday about how she said watch the Dean Martin show, there's Dom DeLuise, you should know him, watch Carol Burnett there's Harvey Korman.

Carl Reiner: I think one of the best things that ever happened to Mel, that is you want to watch the Perry Como show once and he saw this woman on stage and it happened to be in Anne Bancroft Bangkok. She looked at him, he looked at her, and history was born. She saw somebody who looked like a father and he saw the love of his life. And very soon after they became a couple and he found out where she was going the next day. And I accidentally showed up there. And the rest of it is history. And they were the best couple. And all I remember is Mel. Are you going to eat that butter, whatever it is. She was always his cop, the cop he needed in the places he needed the cop. And he accepted it very well and was what is very sad is that both he and I have lost our wives and we talk about it all the time. And they are a lovely, interesting thing is that Mel married somebody who who loved Estelle and Estelle loved her and still was sort of a mentor to everybody but Annie would always come to her and have discussions about everything. They were a really good friends. Annie and Meled never miss one of Estelle's performances at The Gardenia for 20 years, they were there every time she sang and they loved her singing, they told her. And as a matter of fact, Annieand Mel, I mean, Annie and Estelle and I think it was Pat Gelbart, Larry Gelbart. They once formed the trio called the The Mothers Sisters, and they sang with the ice cream scoops and close harmony. And he just at a party was really funny, but they were really very, very, very close. And to this day, Mel and I said it's not fair that they're not here.

Interviewer: Gene Wilder said something interesting also about Mel's brand of comedy.

Carl Reiner: Who did?

Interviewer: Gene Wilder.

Carl Reiner: Oh, yes, I remember him.

Interviewer: That he never did. You tell me if you think this is true right from the beginning, he never asks. He never asked for the audience's sympathy.

Carl Reiner: He never asked the audience for sympathy?

Interviewer: Yeah. He never pandered.

Carl Reiner: Yeah. I never thought I never thought of. And do you notice that? And I never noticed that. So I guess it's true. He never asked for sympathy. I don't think I think it's probably true. Does that mean anything? I don't know. That's for sympathy. I don't.

Interviewer: I guess pandering would be.

Carl Reiner: Yeah.

Interviewer: You know some comedians.

Carl Reiner: No pandering he didn't.

Interviewer: We won't name names but you know wha I'm talking about.

Carl Reiner: No, it's an interesting observation that I would not have made, but now I will make it.

Interviewer: Uh, the skits on your show shows, as you said it, really New York Broadway sensibility going out across the country. Um, was that a factor in? I mean, you made a very good point, which is the one thing you guys did stay away from. And again, to place this in historical context, it's the height of the McCarthy era, you should say that, that you stayed away from political stuff.

Carl Reiner: Oh, yeah. During during the show shows and Caesar's was at Caesar's the height of the McCarthy era. We didn't Hippolyte I think it was Max Liebman who was in charge of what material went and show and politics was out. We didn't know politics and are very much unlike one of those airs now is a Saturday Night Live, which is steeped in politics. And we love that it is. We love that the country allows for it. But in those days, you wouldn't be on the air very long if you start doing politics. I mean, that show would have been persona non grata in a lot of homes.

Interviewer: I want to talk to you besides The Two Thousand Year Old Man, I want to mention, we should talk about some of the other skits, particularly the two hour two hour old baby. Uh, and was it Cary Grant's idea?

Carl Reiner: Two hour old baby was very interesting. Cary Grant, when we gave him this album, The Two Thosand Year Old Man, he came back and he says, I loved it. He says, I got an idea for you. Why don't yoo have a two hour old baby talk? And I said to Mel and Mel said, that's a great idea. And we did a two hour old baby and a baby not knowing whether it's a boy or a girl. You know, as a matter of fact, we use that, I think, again, for Marlo Thomas, we put it on for Free To Be You and Me and, uh, just for.

Interviewer: You, you said he he worries about life and death too much.

Carl Reiner: Who does?

Interviewer: Mel.

Carl Reiner: Well, don't we all. Life and death. Yes, we do. Oh, you know, now that I'm 90, I'm sure saying when is it going to happen? You know, I probably fall over, hit my head and that'll be it. That's way. That way people usually break a hip and then go. But at ninety, I'm very, very aware of where I'm walking. Look at that. I took a flop about two years ago and as I went down and hit my head on the sidewalk in front of my house as I'm in the air, I said, this is it. This is the way I'm going. Bang. I didn't go. So now I'm watching it so I won't fall again.

Interviewer: The vulgarity issue with Mel in the movies, uh. The thing is, is it's not exactly it's it's part of the plot, whether it's the scene in with the beans in Blazing Saddles.

Carl Reiner: Yes, it's funny.

Interviewer: He's not doing it just for shock sake.

Carl Reiner: Well, Mel does the truth. The absolute truth. He does. And the absolute truth is if you eat a lot of beans around the campfire you're going to fart. And when he opened that up and the sound of those goes on and on and it's hysterical, I heard it used someplace else. Somebody actually took that soundtrack and used it someplace else. And Mel, every once in a while is little taken aback at how far things have gone. I says, Mel, don't ever criticize anybody. You you're the one who started all you broke it open once you work open Pandora's box. That's what happens. You started with the farts and everybody took over from there. You started. So don't complain.

Interviewer: How would you summarize his brand of comedy?

Carl Reiner: Mel's brand of comedy? The funniest, you know, just Mel's brand of comedy. How would I say? There's nobody like Mel and nobody does his his kind of comedy, it's it's it's broad and it's deep and it's also very intellectual. All a combination of things. And you don't know which is which you can get any one. Sometimes it's a mixture of all of that. And sometimes he's just juggling all those things. But it's he's all of the things I just said and I'll stand by it and you can torture me. I will never change my mind about it.

Interviewer: Where we ok for the plane?

Carl Reiner: One thing we didn't touch- Mel's sensitivity to smells.

Interviewer: Really?

Carl Reiner: Yes.

Interviewer: OK, tell me.

Carl Reiner: MMel is sensitive in many ways. One annoyingly sensitive thing. He has a nose that sniffs out any odors that he finds odiferous. I'm a big fan of salmon, seared salmon. And he comes to my house and he says, well, you've been eating salmon and he yells at me for it in my own house, he won't let me have salmon. I have to open all the doors and windows. He does have an acute smell, a really acute smell. And my daughter has a similar smell. And the two of them make it impossible for me to live in my own house.

Interviewer: Somebody said of you and Mel teaming up that it was a perfect combination because you drove the truck and Mel Mel carried the explosives.

Carl Reiner: Say it again.

Interviewer: You drove the truck and Mel carried the explosives.

Carl Reiner: No, I've never heard that. I drove the truck and Mel carried the explosives. That's that's very cute. Yeah. Darling, you and I have to be very careful not to hit a bump so he doesn't fall off the truck and explode before people around to hear the explosion.

Interviewer: Um, uh, had you ever discussed down the road, like writing a film together, because, uh, you know, we were just interviewing Amy Yasbeck and she said that, uh, Mel was shooting Men in Tights and you were shooting, um, the basic not a basic instinct, but the Fatal Instinct.

Carl Reiner: Yeah.

Interviewer: You were side by side at Warner Brothers, you know. Had you ever talk?

Carl Reiner: You know, I wasn't aware that we were shooting two pictures at Warner Brothers at the same time. Men in Tights and Fatal Instinct. No, we never talked about doing a picture together. We have to do two completely different kinds of pictures. He does satire. I do. I don't know what I do, but, uh. Yeah, no, I do a couple of pictures. I did. I wrote that one. Yeah. I don't know. We never, never thought about it. Our collaboration is The Thousand Year Old Man and we did something on that. We're doing it right now. We did a kiddies book on it that turned out very well.

Interviewer: Back in the writers room, Lucille Callan said something interesting in an archive interview, she said the whole thing with between Mel and Max, you know, maybe Max saw a little of himself in Mel. You know.

Carl Reiner: Max, Max lost control when Mel was around because Mel was so. I can't think of the word.

Interviewer: If you can pick it up.

Carl Reiner: No, but Max hated Mel because Mel was so noisy and Max was trying to keep decorum. He had an office. I'm a producer. And Mel actually did this. He used to come in the front door late sometimes he'd run across the room, slide like he's sliding into second base again and hit the wall with his foot and say safe. And Max just couldn't abide that. He he actually many times would be smoking a cigar and throw a little he threw a lit cigar a couple of times. A couple of times.

Interviewer: But he could have been the other writers must have gotten frustrated with him too right?

Carl Reiner: You know something, other writers did get frustrated with Mel because he came in late and didn't do, but nobody could not laugh at him. Once you laugh at somebody, if all is forgiven and we did go to lunch together, you know, and laugh. And Mel Tolkin was the head writer, but Mel was the funny. He was tall, Mel and a little Mel. And Mel was the little Mel was the funnier Mel. So Mel Tolkin had a European sensibility. He was from Russia. And one day he came wearing some kind of a jacket that was, you know, a sports jacket. But it wasn't didn't look like and we were sort of making fun of the way he was dressed. And he said, what are you talking about, gentlemen? I am very well dressed. But on a sports level, a sports level, I never heard that. And I got to put that down someplace.

Interviewer: That's pretty, pretty great.

Carl Reiner: I'm very well dressed but on a sports level.

Interviewer: At what point was Mel accepted as a full fledged participant by Max and the group?

Carl Reiner: Oh, I think after the first year when Max had to put them on salary, he was a full time participant. And when we started doing The Professor and Mel Brooks was the main contributor to professor jokes and also and Sid's monologues, Mel was a big contributor to the monologue jokes.

Interviewer: They had the closest relationship you'd say- Mel and Sid?

Carl Reiner: Oh, Mel and Sid, were very close, I mean, to this day they still are Mel visits. Sid is not well and Mel visits all the time, as I do once in a while.

Interviewer: Are you sort of amazed at the longevity of The Two Thousand Year Old Man how it comes in waves?

Carl Reiner: No, you know, as a matter of fact, when we did The Two Thousand Year Old Man, I was aware that it was an old for all time. And yeah, now there's a box set of it. The Two Thousand. This is it gives me, more. Two things give me pleasure, real pleasure in life. One of them is walking along and somebody saying to a young 20 year old, 12 year or whatever it is,Two Thousand Year Old Man, a quote from it, they quote from the kids and all I ask, where did you hear it? My father played it for me. That's 50 years ago and it's still valid. That is very thrilling to know that. And the other thing is, I don't know. I do know how many writers, dozens and dozens of writers have come up to me and said when I was a kid, I was a funny kid and I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show and he talked about being comedy writers. And I said, oh, you mean the things people say on television? Somebody writes, and maybe two dozen or more people have come up to me, say, I'm a writer because I was a funny kid and I knew that you someday you can use that to become a writer, to write for somebody else, that those two things throw me more than anything.

Interviewer: Any last thing?

Carl Reiner: And being here, that thrills me.

Interviewer: Any last thing I'm not thinking of to say that you'd like to tell us about Mwl?

Carl Reiner: No, I'd like to. I still am thinking someday of performing on stage in opera and I know it's not going to happen. So what I'll do is I'll leave you with a snippet of an aria. What would you like to hear? OK, by the Archie. [Sings in Italian]That's enough.

Interviewer: And anything about Mel?

Carl Reiner: Anything about Mel? Mel can't sing that high. But he sings on key and in rhythm and I envy that so much. If I had Mel's timing and rhythm and pitch, I'd be a major opera star and probably would have retired 20 years ago and be sitting here talking to you about my days at the Met.

Interviewer: One last thing. How do you. Because.

Carl Reiner: I thought that was the last thing.

Interviewer: And now this.

Carl Reiner: OK.

Interviewer: Everybody talks about Lenny Bruce, Lenny Bruce. How do you compare Mel with other people from his contemporaries?

Carl Reiner: Mel is one of the giants. But all of the contemporaries, all the the great comedians of our day starting. You mentioned Lenny Bruce. That was Lenny Bruce. And there was Richie Pryor and there was George Carlin and there was Richard Jeni. And there was a lot of great, great, great comedians. I'm leaving out Cosby. I mean, there were so many I don't compare them. They're all individual, they're all funny, and they all make us laugh and we don't have to compare them. All we know is when they're sitting there, are we laughing? Or we say, what are they doing?

Interviewer: Perfect. Thank you.

Carl Reiner: OK.

Carl Reiner
Interview Date:
2012-07-12
Runtime:
0:54:22
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 12 Jul. 2012, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/334
APA CITATIONS:
(2012, July 12). Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/334
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 12, 2012. Accessed April 12, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/334