Speaker Well, the first thing I want to ask you is on Robinhood. Did you design? Did he allow you to design your own makeup?

Speaker I think Barry Berman did the makeup. I think The L.A. Times said about my makeup and Robin Hood that she's gone through hours of makeup.

Speaker She looks kind of exactly the same. I think it's a lot. It was odd.

Speaker I mean, said it was very strange. My little twinkly eyes. And it was torture. It was like being buried alive.

Speaker I can say this because I work with it. Kind of. I thought you kind of would base it on that little. It looked like based on little on Phyllis Diller.

Speaker I had no idea. Yeah. The hair was kind of Phyllis Diller, Ray, and it was silly. And just like all this makeup, I just, you know. But you came. Why would I not want to play that part like it? Do a cameo. When you called latrine, you know, I mean, it was a lot of credit for me.

Speaker Did he allow you to improvise? Yeah.

Speaker Yeah. I think he wanted me to because he saw that that's what I'd like to do. And I think I did everything I added much to. I said like I said something like that. I like that.

Speaker What did you find it? I don't know who to compare them to. Let's say Ted Bessel or so that I do. Compare him as a director, Mel. Versus other directors you've worked with.

Speaker I.

Speaker Just adore him. He's just a wonderful, funny presence. I mean, he's like his basic things are funny to me too. Pei's funny. Mel Brooks funny. He was on the Fox lot when I started doing my show in the 80s and I was on stage 17. I don't know. He had his offices. He was always in the commissary. He was always working the Shirley Temple Room. You know you'd be having lunch. And then Mel Brooks I'd been walking up and down, you know, ordering a Cobb salad. Up. Up you go.

Speaker How are you doing? He'd come and talk to you at your table and just have everyone who fits. And then he'd finished. You go nice working your table. And then he'd walk off the table. It was this heaven. You had Mel Brooks in the commissary and he would start wandering into look at what I was doing on my show. And I was like this girl that no one had heard over on a network that didn't exist. And I was with this group of very intense, wonderful writers, but they were always unhappy.

Speaker They would be unhappy Jews a lot of the time. It's not funny. I don't know what you know.

Speaker I had a lot of those kind of people and I was always like Pollyanna. I won't make it work. It's going to be funny. I mean, they one day he came and he said, I'll be in a sketch with you. And a free one was just fantastic. Mel Brooks is gonna be in a sketch on my show.

Speaker And it was the happiest week of the whole show. When I did hundreds of them, in the end, you know, he died.

Speaker And the week Mel was on the show, everybody was happy. All the people, little was hurt. You know, my stomach.

Speaker They were like a Mel's on the show. And it was just we did this sort of strange sketch where I think I impersonated Kathleen Turner. I haven't seen it since we shot it. I just member. It's so hot the whole time.

Speaker And then Mel was there saying, begging. And you know why I'm not bitter. They don't finance bitter ad libbing. I would say that line. That's my favorite Hollywood line. Don't be bitter. They don't finance bitter. And everyone was happy that week on the show because Mel Brooks on the show.

Speaker And that was the greatest week and your.

Speaker Did you learn anything from doing a sketch with him in terms of all this, your show of shows, history and all this stuff?

Speaker Well, I came to America. I got married in 83 and immediate pregnant. And James Brooks said, you want to do a show with me. And then he said, while you're pregnant, go to the Museum of Television and watch American shows and get a grounding in an American comedy. So I still go very pregnant with a cup of coffee and sit at the American music. And I still watch your show of shows and all sorts of things. So I and I just kept imagining that room. Was so American to me. I mean, Mel is intrinsically American to me. And that Jewish humor, I mean, imagine that room with Woody Allen or Larry Gebhart and Carl Reiner and Neil Simon and Mel Brooks and Mel trying to get their attention. It must have been just amazing. And they were a whole different generation of American writers. They were educated man. They went through the Second World War. It's a different mindset. They're very worldly men as compared to the next generation on that. I don't know their reference of comedy at the Times was it is Brady Bunch or something. They had great language and were really well read. I still I call them the sexy seniors. I get asked to, you know, go along to these benefits and talk about Carl Reiner and Mel and I just that just still the funniest guys to me. They're funnier than any younger people, that their brains are incredible.

Speaker So I did see a lot of these shows that they'd written on in the 50s and 60s. And I, Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar, on your show of shows and just. It was just fabulous sketch comedy to me because it really came from the heart. It was really about playing the reality of a situation. It wasn't just a glib sexual innuendo. It meant something.

Speaker And I and I'm rambling now, as I tend to do.

Speaker But.

Speaker Well, the other thing is actually this possum's in Kappy looking at just tucking in stray hair. Right. Right.

Speaker Yeah. Oh, thank you.

Speaker Do you want some water on the side?

Speaker I'm okay. Okay. Okay, fine. Now, on the other side, Kathy, there's an outrage.

Speaker There you go.

Speaker Well. Skate by your side. OK. Mike.

Speaker You know, I mean, about them being a different generation. I didn't expect to be in the business.

Speaker I didn't expect to be success. You're absolutely. That's a good point. It really is. And that's why I'm here. I'm just going to powder her. Yeah. The next generation, they are really a bunch of whiners.

Speaker They can be. Yes, because they were expected to be able to do it. They'd say, you know, people like Malon Call had set the stage for them and then you could come in and do that stuff and it was easier for them per capita.

Speaker It's right there. I don't want her coming after ruining the whole street's.

Speaker You're absolute I think it's World War two helped.

Speaker Yeah. I mean. Well, yeah. And also they're bad. Their parents came from European backgrounds and literature.

Speaker Classical music. Yeah, all that stuff.

Speaker More of a sense of the world. World War two and the. What's the matter? What do you want to do that for? You're never gonna make a living at that. You know, that from that generation was like when I go to showpieces. You kidding me? And now it's expected all it's much easier and you know.

Speaker Yeah, my son did.

Speaker And to laughing at his school and played calls, part port and call. And Mel came and watched him and it was just thrilling for him, you know. He's like. Then it was a whole different generation.

Speaker Well, but what you're saying, to take it one step further.

Speaker And I had I really had noticed this and I interviewed Chloris and and Terry. And I said, you know, when you look back on the movies, he actually wrote really good roles for women who at the time were sort of a just sidekicks to the man or arm candy.

Speaker And those women, not only were they allowed to be physically whatever they wanted to be, but he wrote it.

Speaker And he said, well, yeah, if I was gonna write a part for them, they were going to. I was going to let them go. Yeah. Well, the 70s not great for women in comedy except for him. Really?

Speaker Yeah. I mean, Madeline Kahn did some extraordinary stuff with him and of course, his wife. And, you know, just I think she loved working with her. And I maybe I've still got something to do with Mel. I mean, I did my lovely sketch with him on the show that made it won't happen. I did my little witchy thing. But he just wants everyone to feel comfortable and to be as funny as they can be.

Speaker And he'd run the times out as soon as I say there is nothing there's no angst with working with him. It's just about being as funny as having positive energy. And there's so many people that make the whole being funny business miserable. He doesn't seem to be. He's never been that tortured. It comes from an agony inside kind of person. His friendship with Carl Reiner is just wonderful to watch. And Carl just adores Mel making him laugh. And if you listen to the 2000 year old man stuff, it's just him prodding him, saying, make me laugh, do it, do that for me. I just thought, boy, Mel will turn something really dramatic, like the death of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake into something so mundane. Were you there when Joan of Arc? Oh, that was terrible.

Speaker Belittling and sort of historical mode just makes me. Oh, it was bad. Well, then when Jesus was there. Yeah. The 12 guys used to come in all the time asking for water every day.

Speaker Well, which leads me to my other point. Is it when you think of him and his contemporaries, he's not concerned with the kids, the marriage, the job. He's not concerned with sort of the everyday of life.

Speaker He goes to the literature historical. Yes. Which not a lot of his contemporaries were really doing plus. And then he had this a real bent to it. Right.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah. He's always taken on really big issues, the history of the world and the need to have the guts to take on the Nazis like that, the ultimate revenge. And for it to be so funny. I mean, I remember you. Everyone remembers first thing the producers and just reveling in it. Gene Wilder, the sheer joy of that spit a sweet revenge.

Speaker Yes.

Speaker Hugh Jackman taking a lot of parodies were happening, though, with Spaceballs and the Robin Hood and the Dracula. And a lot of I know in Blazing Saddles it was always that some parodies of things and then put him in the middle of every man being the the not the Jewish guy that just normalizes everything, you know.

Speaker But it's it's interesting that he's because I said to Carl because, you know, Mel had this after Sid Caesar.

Speaker He had this fallow period for a bunch of years till get smart. And I said to him earlier, when you were doing The Dick Van Dyke Show, didn't you think of, like, ask him to write it? I said and he said it never occurred to me once, he said because he's writing Mel's writing for big things. He was I was writing for everyday situations.

Speaker Really? Yeah. Because I am thinking, why wouldn't you give him a job? Go right in. Yeah. Right now. Because he wouldn't even have occurred to me to ask him back then.

Speaker Yeah. Mel, was that the writing about the guy running down the stairs with the two, you know, two kids in the white of you, right. Yeah. Took on the bigger themes. His. Yeah, it's.

Speaker Yeah. When were you first.

Speaker He's probably his own creator. He's. He does his own thing. And my reason is I would imagine what he was like. I like him stories, but what he was like in the writing room, you know. And it's a tough room boy.

Speaker Oh my God. Who was that? We were told to not. And he calls us up a professional. We were told not to put up. This would never have happened in your show of shows. That was what is found in the hallway.

Speaker And if you were allowed to go make a phone call, imagine cup with people that used to jump up and down all the time.

Speaker I got a job. I got was this irrepressible, you know, kid.

Speaker Kind of tons of energy and imagination, energy then. Now it's overwhelming.

Speaker He said that he had to use it before there were joggers in New York. He would have to go running through the streets to puke between parked cars. This is so much anxiety and energy that he had that he couldn't release at all.

Speaker It's this New York Jewish thing.

Speaker I have a friend she met before the play when I first came to New York. She's like this one he'd get me. You want to be tall, you will be Chinese, you know. What do you want to do? You know, I can get you anything. This is New York. You want a white Jewish baby. I can get you a white Jewish baby for sixty five thousand dollars. Personally, I'd rather have a car. Now what we give it to we're going to go meet my parents and Borb when they're going to say welcome to Ball. I'm getting to New York and I bet Jewish people in London they're different. They got off the boat too early.

Speaker And this girl was like, well, and it was like Mel Brooks. And that was so funny.

Speaker And I just it was a whole different world to me, you know, and that's get her energies sports that my parents got me a lot of sports. And it's that thing. She had it, too.

Speaker When were you first aware of him? When did you first discover him?

Speaker Well, I'm a Blazing Saddles. I mean, even in England, you know, I occasionally went out to the cinema. I never get to the cinema. It was just always pouring with rain. He went out and the rats were running across the place. Nicoli would couldn't get in. I remember seeing Blazing Saddles and I did like fart jokes. I'm English and I'm a girl that was discussed. But, like, I just. And he he he's just adorable.

Speaker He would come to England a lot, Mel, and do talk shows in England with Michael Parkinson and just be the best thing on the whole season because he broke down all the class barriers. I was still in England, you know. You get Edith Evans or somebody posh gets him. And he was just like, even care what people you know, he was just there was a class barriers for him. He was just wonderfully funny. People in England adored him and he loves England. And, you know, and I'm a great Anglophile, him and I. I would go and see them at the Cornell Hotel in London and they'd go, come in.

Speaker We want to be the Jewish parents we never had. And they'd sit me down into this. They really like just completely mothered and fall with me. One day. I was very happy. So I was very aware of him coming to England and just he was like Mohammed Ali, you know, would come and do torture's. And then Mel Brooks, he was just the favourite because English people adored him.

Speaker He's funny. It's funny. It's funny, you know.

Speaker What do you what do you remember about making Robinhood? Is any particular scene you liked?

Speaker I was encased in this makeup. I just wanted to play a little cameo. I wanted to be around him. I just I just remember it. Random, random. Right. A lot in that movie. They were always trying to do some location somewhere to make it look like the Nottingham Forest. But Dave Chappelle was in it and everything. He was brilliant. Funny. Oh, my God. Oh, please come back. Dave Chappelle, me and my son miss you so much. We love you.

Speaker And just seeing Mel with his team and he you know, it was like.

Speaker It's on a different generation team. No, I don't know. And ever if everyone just wanted to be around Mel.

Speaker And it was just fun because he does want everyone to do their very best. And there was nothing, ten so miserable or anything. And it was a little sliver of a bit with Mel. And I just wish I could do tons more. And he makes me happy.

Speaker You know, it's funny, though, because he's like a little making of thing that they put up with the DVD and. And there's footage of you getting made up, you know, all this. And then there's Carrie.

Speaker And there's and then you come to Richard, who is an malfeasances. You know, I forget a British. I just gave up. I forget a British accent.

Speaker Just like let Richard do Richard. Yeah, exactly. Because if Roger race in you. Yeah. Yeah. The hell with it. Yeah.

Speaker Which makes no sense.

Speaker But it actually makes sense in the world to have, you know, that character just be a Jewish...

Speaker It's like Mel Big Mel. I mean, you know, he's playing the history the way he's the Jewish guy for some guy. It's just racist.

Speaker FERMAN Right. Did you. Well, we're talking about when you did this get with him. Was it. Were you just completely on schedule? Boom, boom. I mean, you just hammered it out or everybody sort of took more time.

Speaker It was a well-written piece. I say if I was having fun watching Mel be, Mel and I do a different thing. I mean, I'm not a I. I've never done standup. I'm not physical comedy.

Speaker I'm not broad. I can't be physical. What I do, I do. God knows what I mean. Just like I try and do documentaries. I have to really get into my character and and just immerse myself because, you know, heaven forbid I should be may end up. I just really respected that. And I just dressed up my came in and I just was totally not me or, you know, and he he, he loved that and was. And just the audience just went nuts because it's Mel. I mean he makes people happy, just adorable. You know, there's like a Beanie Babies, like one of those little tie Beanie Babies. You make key rings of him. They make you make you so happy. He's like Elmo. He's a he's a human Elmo. People just smile. He makes people happy.

Speaker This is you're actually onto the.

Speaker I'm on to something. Well, merchandising wise, could I get in on so much advice and really get some help with little zill squidgy Cabbage Patch doll e-mails or something? You know what I'm saying?

Speaker They'd probably sell. You know, it's funny, though, because there's not that many you would probably know better than I would. British performers, but there's not that many American performers that have that effect on people. Carol Burnett has that effect.

Speaker Yes, she does. And adorable people love her. What would Carol love, Carol? Yep. And she's a genuinely lovely, lovely, lovely person.

Speaker But I don't I, I don't know that I could name five people who you say their name and they just start smiling, but they really have to.

Speaker You just say the name and people get a top Agio Elmo, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Gracie Fields in the Gracie Allen sorry, Tommy Cooper, famous British comedian. Just everyone just totally comfortable with him. He's like, I guess the equivalent of Melen in England. Muhammad Ali, I don't know.

Speaker During downtime hope. Karen Valentine, you the sitcom that I see him so.

Speaker But no, it's a very young lady. Yeah. Sort of play very unique group to be in. Yeah. We should talk more about this thing though, because the sort of the it's a really good point you made about writers, comedy writers who haven't. Not only are they Mels generation or first generation Americans. Yeah. So they bring all that up with them and it's that whole thing of then the next generation, their parents wanted it. They suffered for their kids so they didn't so much want to make let that, you know, they didn't go through really that didn't go through the Depression from now or two. Now it's a weird thing to say, but wouldn't you say there's a sort of character building?

Speaker Totally. And I mean, now it's so I think I was just talking to Cathy, whose phone went off about this generation of kids, you know, I mean, I think most you know, it's everyone was told you're special right from the very beginning. My kids are tough. Your special look, I know you're special. Got to earn it. You know, it's got to mean something. And everything was about I'm going to go put. But everything was about, you know, your parents growing up with kids. And if you know other kids, it's funny. It's a pain in the ass, you know, but now everyone's focus on them encouraging you, saying you're wonderful all the time. I don't know what makes you any funnier. You know, it does make you so funny or something or, you know, so. Yeah, he was must be were totally. What were his parents like, Mel's parents? Did they have the Russian.

Speaker Well, they were his father died when he was two. Did he and his mother works. She was hugely supportive, but he had three other brothers and three older brothers. He was the youngest, so. He was actually hot and really warm, loving child, but they were broke and it was the Depression.

Speaker So it's nothing like being poor to make you funny. Name of rich comment. That's funny. You got to have suffered. Well, you know, you can't. You know, he grew up in a stately home and there's not many. Let's a pop properties on people. Who brings draws is category or Jolliffe on it? You know, money doesn't equal funny.

Speaker Yeah, it's it's it's it's true. It's a it's a cold come. It's like that. Malcolm Gladwell, outliers theory of your place. Right time. Yeah. Really. Because by that he was there at the infancy of television and then he sort of broke comedy open for the movies in terms of, you know, it's another thing also.

Speaker But the question of vulgarity in him, people so often accuse him of vulgarity. Yes. Well, it's in service of the plot. It's not just for the sake of anger.

Speaker Yes. No, it's never cheap. It's never. Know he's he's a very cultured man. I think he taught him he's he's really well educated and, you know, mean he has often makes it like the Elephant Man in the 70s and just that he would take such an interest in in that subject and make such a brilliant film and go to England and do it. And it's nuts.

Speaker It gets a little broad at times, but not I think it's that vulgar.

Speaker But there is the issue when people say, oh, people are really dismissive. There's a show on Broadway right now called Peter in The Star Catcher about how all the characters in Peter Pan became those characters. And the guy won a Tony who plays Captain Hook, my wife. The jokes are really broad. Yeah. Really lot of. But, um, I'm kind of stuff. Yeah. And what is the prop. People have such disdain. What. They laugh but they're always a cheap joke. And you see. Well what's, what's wrong with the cheap.

Speaker I mean it's sometimes it's because the rhythms are too easy. It's like. I think I saw the Mormon show. It's very funny, but it's like we're all making fun of musicals now and therefore the songs aren't as good as they should be because we can all make fun of that. The gay dancer, we're doing a musical show and it's you know, it's the producers that gives some good songs. You know, Springtime for Hitler is a damn good song. Everyone's gone with that genre. I think the producers set off that. And so you can laugh at the whole Broadway genre and therefore you don't have to write such good songs. I think that Broadway suffers because of that with comedy.

Speaker But. Okay, well, I've had enough of me now if enough, you know, I think that happens with him. We were all OK. So we should you should say that the movie is OK. You just all over the world.

Speaker Yeah. It's funny, just that, you know, little Cameo is playing the train in Mel Brooks movie. I get. I think the most consistent residual check some time. Yeah. So those are like nineteen dollars Mel, which isn't great. But yeah, that's as the years have gone on. Everybody it seems has made that movie. I could be in Holland or Germany because I still get funny, you know, fan mail from when I did records and stuff and I go, oh, it was really fun. I will also said Robin, who does that? So that's where, you know, it's very funny. You know, they send me pictures of me as the train to sign. It's like his movies must sell in every single country everywhere.

Speaker I mean, I'd like to know the distribution of Mel Brooks movies where they didn't sell.

Speaker Middle Eastern countries did a particular religious dispositions. Now, did the producers in Germany, didn't they recently?

Speaker Did he go along?

Speaker I think he went in Vienna because as far as he went. But yeah, but it was a hit in Germany.

Speaker But it's almost in a way, I guess it's almost like a comedic Titanic movie because it can the jokes. Well, that's maybe it. The jokes are so broad they can. Yeah, they can play.

Speaker Then you say people just watch it again and again. Young people, kids, they just it's like a rhythm. They just love is a comfort to the minnows like Bugs Bunny or something. It's that particular film. Yeah. And as you said, they were kids, say, on a very kid like level. And then you get older and they see more nuances and more stuff within it.

Speaker But he's you know, he's just.

Speaker Yeah. I mean, he must sell just everywhere. I mean, it's everywhere I go. People see that like to get that picture handed to me of me with a Phyllis Diller hair, which I didn't realize as Phyllis Diller hair. I know. I know. Phyllis Diller. She always sent me a Christmas card. I love Mel also for accepting me, for being a Brit as well. I'm just, you know, the. Because he's such an Anglophile and that somebody so intrinsically American to me and so funny and so global really got what I did. And respectable I do and has encouraged me and always been kind to me all my career here, as has Carl Reiner.

Speaker You know, I love that they find me funny and they love women.

Speaker He likes women a lot. And there's a real difference between directors and men in the business that, like women, get women and are comfortable with women being funny. And they work because there's a hell of a lot of men. The arm pretend that they think women are funny, but they are threatened by women. Mel Brooks loves women.

Speaker That's. Anything I'm forgetting. I don't think so now.

Speaker That was great. That was it. He does. Yeah, he really does. He really, really does.

Speaker I mean, he likes the sort of body side of it. Almost the Benny Hill part of it.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker Know, I didn't realize until we shot Cloris that last point that she was from movie to movie. The word got bigger on my chest.

Speaker He allowed me and I in high anxiety.

Speaker She said I came out and he pulled me aside and Mel actually corroborated the story with that. He pulled her aside. They went in for a close of the first things that you need in there. You have a bit of a mustache. You know, I penciled it in. And she's means a great go with it.

Speaker Yeah. You know. Yes. Because most men just see women as being beautiful in films or wanting to be beautiful.

Speaker And that he doesn't expect you to do that. It's just it's a relief because that's still not even true.

Speaker Power and translate is beautiful. It's gorgeous. But he lets her just be silly and, you know, do what you can do what she needs to do. So thank you so much.

Speaker Thank you. I'll be a part of it.

Tracey Ullman
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Tracey Ullman, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 12 Jul. 2012,
(2012, July 12). Tracey Ullman, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Tracey Ullman, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 12, 2012. Accessed January 16, 2022


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