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A spirited dive into the life and career of a performer, writer, and director who dominated twentieth-century American comedy
Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn in 1926, is one of the great comic voices of the twentieth century. Having won almost every entertainment award there is, Brooks has straddled the line between outsider and insider, obedient and rebellious, throughout his career, making out-of-bounds comedy the American mainstream.
Jeremy Dauber argues that throughout Brooks’s extensive body of work—from Your Show of Shows to Blazing Saddles to Young Frankenstein to Spaceballs—the comedian has seen the most success when he found a balance between his unflagging, subversive, manic energy and the constraints imposed by comedic partners, the Hollywood system, and American cultural mores. Dauber also explores how Brooks’s American Jewish humor went from being solely for niche audiences to an essential part of the American mainstream, paving the way for generations of Jewish (and other) comedians to come.
About the Author
Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Jewish literature and American studies at Columbia University. His books include Jewish Comedy and The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, both finalists for the National Jewish Book Award, and, most recently, American Comics: A History. He lives in New York City.
“[Dauber] has written a piece of criticism as elegant and sympathetic as Brooks is vulgar and savage.”—Tanya Gold, The Spectator
“In a new biography, Jeremy Dauber breaks down how the comedian and director just couldn’t help being a loving iconoclast skewering the establishment.”—Times of Israel
“Dauber . . . has solved the conundrum of writing seriously about comedy. His touch is light throughout. He writes authoritatively about the influence of the Jewish diaspora on postwar American comedy but never forces his points too much.”—Jackson Arn, The Forward
“Dauber demonstrates a prodigious command of both popular culture and the literature it has inspired. His style is breezy, his sympathies plain.”—Stephen Whitfield, Jewish Book Council
“Intriguing (and highly entertaining). . . . The book sparkles with detail. . . . A very satisfying (and quite quick-reading) story of an unstoppable creative mind, with a huge and continuing impact on so much of today’s comedy world.”—Rob Kutner, Book and Film Globe
“A smart, snappy, and insightful investigation into how Brooks can take any subject and ‘make it funny by making it Jewish.’”—Michael Quinn, Red Hook Star-Revue (Brooklyn, NY)
“Dauber is excellent on the rise of Jewish comedy in this country from the 1950s on.”—Joseph Epstein, The Lamp
“What Dauber does so well in this book is think about Brooks’ career as a trajectory. . . . [And] he makes a convincing case that while Brooks’ feet may have been clay, his mind was still a divine thing.”—Jennifer Caplan, Journal of Religion & Film
“The energy, the sass, the inexhaustible comic brio that define Mel Brooks seem too volcanic to fit between the covers of a book. But, miracle of miracles, Jeremy Dauber has made it happen, simultaneously entertaining and enlightening as he takes us along on a very wild ride.”—Kenneth Turan, author of Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film
“When someone has been as significant an influence on culture as Mel Brooks, it can be tough to tell their story in a fresh, cohesive way. But Jeremy Dauber has done it, giving us a limpid, inviting, and lively new look at Brooks, his work, and the ways his Jewishness shapes everything he’s done. In the process, he shows how Brooks’s fingerprints are all over our shared cultural lives—whether or not we share his cultural identity. It’s a fascinating read, and pure pleasure.”—Alissa Wilkinson, senior culture writer, Vox