Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: MEL BROOKS

Prior to this post, I have only tagged the one and only Mel Brooks, actor, comedian, director, composer, songwriter, and writer, one time on this blog.


I may have mentioned him a few other times.

That's just wrong.

It's more than wrong. It's ludicrous!

In my opinion, Mel Brooks is the undisputed King of Comedy. And in his own words, it's good to be the king.

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger.
Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

While a lot of people have made me laugh over the years, this is a man who is somewhere between a mad scientist, and a magician when it comes to humor. He is one of my key inspirations when it comes to thinking about comedy, and especially when working it into a RPG campaign.

His writing, and direction show an uncanny knowledge of what people find funny. His sense of humor, honed from many walks of life find funny, and his timing (both his own and how he directs comedic actors) is second to none.

Born in Brooklyn, New York (just like myself) in 1926 (that part is different), Melvin James Kaminsky, better known by his professional name 'Mel Brooks' (his mother's maiden name was Brookman), is most famous for his genre parody films such as Blazing Saddles (a farce of Westerns), Young Frankenstein (a farce of classic Horror movies), and Spaceballs (a farce of big budget Science Fiction), just to name a few.

He began his comedy career as a writer for Sid Caesar, soon after becoming part of the writing staff of Your Show of Shows, a revolutionary comedy variety show, and the precursor of everything from the Carol Burnett Show, to Saturday Night Live, and beyond.

If you haven't seen the movie My Favorite Year, see it. It is a fictional story based loosely on the making of a particular episode of Your Show of Shows on which actor Errol Flynn was the guest star. Excellent film, very funny, starring Mark Linn-Baker, and Peter O'Toole.

I could go on, and on about how much I like, and admire this man, his talent, and the hilarious films he's made. I will note that outside of Monty Python, Mel Brooks films are the most quoted movies at my gaming table.

Regardless of the game, genre, or setting, people will inadvertently speak the following quotes:

"Excuse me while I whip this out." - Blazing Saddles

"No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door!"

[The Monster awakens, roaring with rage. Panicking, Dr. Frankenstein turns back to the door.]

" Let me out. Let me out of here. Get me the hell out of here. [Turns to the Monster, then back to the door] What's the matter with you people? I WAS JOKING! Don't you know a joke when you hear one?" - Young Frankenstein

"Prepare ship for ludicrous speed!" - Spaceballs

"So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb." - Spaceballs

"You do, that voodoo, that you do, So Well!" - Blazing Saddles

Yeah, there are others, a lot of others, but you get the gist.

I've mentioned numerous times that comedy, and gaming, share one crucial component: Timing. In order to improve my timing as a Gamemaster, I watch good comedies, as those that work best obviously have that element down.

To this end, I have watched Mel Brooks' movies again, and again, and again. Even if I didn't love this films personally, I would be remiss in my goal of always improving my gamemastering technique if I didn't take a close look at what this fellow is able to do.

Gary Gygax, David Arneson, Tom Moldvay, talented though they are, these men are not really my muses. Along with Jim Henson, Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas (young George Lucas, not prequels George Lucas), comic book writer Roy Thomas, and a handful of others, Mel Brooks is one of my primary sources of inspiration.

The ideas his work inspires do not necessarily need to manifest as a Blazing Saddles RPG. No, it's more subtle than that. Just know that his influence is there, felt in the way scenes unfold, the way action leads to light hearted banter, the way tragedy turns into comedy, and vice versa. It is in my creative DNA.

Thank you Mr. Brooks. You sir, are a mensch.

Barking Alien

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