He’s been tak­ing funny se­ri­ously for 60

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - LRAD OSWALD

THERE’S funny, and then there’s FUNNY. And then there’s Mel Brooks. With a ca­reer that spans more than 60 years and has en­com­passed pretty much ev­ery as­pect of comedic en­deav­our — movies, TV, Broad­way; writ­ing, di­rect­ing, act­ing, pro­duc­ing; joke writ­ing, script writ­ing, song­writ­ing and com­pos­ing mu­si­cal scores — it can safely be said that Brooks, 86, is the most in­flu­en­tial com­edy fig­ure in a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions.

The depth and breadth of his show-busi­ness ac­com­plish­ments are ex­plored this week in the new PBS/ Amer­i­can Masters doc­u­men­tary Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.

It is, for an fan of com­edy, movies, Hol­ly­wood or Broad­way, a won­der­ful, heart­felt ex­am­i­na­tion of a re­mark­able man and a one-of-a-kind ca­reer.

“I’m not such a com­edy gi­ant,” Brooks said with a mis­chievous smile when he met with the press a few months back dur­ing PBS’s por­tion of the U.S. net­works’ semi-an­nual press tour in L.A. “I’m five-six. There are guys not as funny, but they’re big­ger. And I think that counts.”

In fact, Brooks made his first big mark in show busi­ness work­ing for one of TV’s true gi­ants, both phys­i­cally and in terms of his comedic tal­ent. Just back from the Sec­ond World War and af­ter a short stint as a drum­mer, oc­ca­sional pi­anist and, later, standup comic in a se­ries of Borscht Belt night­clubs, he landed a job writ­ing for Sid Cae­sar on a pi­o­neer­ing tele­vi­sion pro­gram that would even­tu­ally be­come known as Your Show of Shows. Fea­tur­ing Carl Reiner and Joan Rivers Mon­day at 8 p.m. PLS

Star­ring Scott Fo­ley, Lecki New­ton, T.J. Miller and Leau Lridges Mon­day at 7:30 p.m. Fox and Ci­tytv

It was a pres­sure-packed en­vi­ron­ment in which to de­velop one’s com­edy chops. Work­ing along­side the likes of Neil Si­mon, Carl Reiner and head writer Mel Tolkin, Brooks was part of a small team re­spon­si­ble for writ­ing — and rewrit­ing, and rewrit­ing un­til Cae­sar was sat­is­fied — 90 min­utes of live TV com­edy ev­ery week.

Af­ter that job, Brooks in­ti­mates in the film, ev­ery­thing else seemed rather pos­si­ble.

When he emerged from Cae­sar’s shadow, how­ever, Brooks flour­ished, cre­at­ing such iconic big-screen come­dies as The Pro­duc­ers, Blaz­ing Sad­dles, Young Franken­stein (with reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor Gene Wilder), Silent Movie, High Anx­i­ety and many more.

He also co-cre­ated Get Smart (with Buck Henry) for TV, and in re­cent years has rein­vented him­self as a writer and pro­ducer of Broad­way mu­si­cals, most notably the stage ver­sion of The Pro­duc­ers that broke all records for the num­ber of Tony Awards won by a sin­gle show.

Brooks is one of only 14 peo­ple to earn the elu­sive EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Os­car, Tony) com­bi­na­tion.

Make a Noise fea­tures re­flec­tions of for­mer writ­ers’-room mates Reiner and Si­mon, as well as well-known com­edy fig­ures Joan Rivers, Richard

Speak­ing of com­edy, Fox has a new one ar­riv­ing in prime time this week, in the form of The Good­win Games.

It’s never a good sign when a net­work premieres a new show af­ter the tra­di­tional fall-to-spring TV sea­son ends — the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that it wasn’t good enough to merit in­clu­sion in the race-for-rat­ings reg­u­lar sched­ule — but the pilot episode of The Good­win Games is suf­fi­ciently strong to sug­gest that this se­ries isn’t — or shouldn’t be — a com­plete throw-away.

It fo­cuses on three es­tranged sib­lings — Henry (Scott Fo­ley), a suc­cess­ful sur­geon, Chloe (Becki New­ton), a for­mer math geek who’s now a mostly un­suc­cess­ful as­pir­ing ac­tress, and Jimmy (T.J. Miller), a dim-wit­ted con artist who spends long stretches be­hind bars — who re­turn to their home­town af­ter their fa­ther’s death.

Shocked by the news that their layabout dad (played, in video clips, by Beau Bridges) had some­how ac­cu­mu­lated a for­tune ex­ceed­ing $20 mil­lion, they’re even more sur­prised when the old man’s lawyer in­forms them that they’re be­ing forced into a win­ner­take-all com­pe­ti­tion for the money.

The first episode lays the ground­work for an aver­age but pleas­ant feud­ing-sib­lings com­edy. It isn’t laugh­out-loud hi­lar­i­ous, but there’s enough prom­ise in th­ese Games to make them worth play­ing through at least a few sum­mer weeks.

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