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Mel Brooks: Funny Is Money. Shit Is Good Pepper

Illustration for article titled Mel Brooks: Funny Is Money. Shit Is Good Pepper

Brookslyn reprints one of the great interviews ever conducted. Brad Darrach's 1975 chat with Mel Brooks (thanks, once again, to Cinephilia and Beyond):

PLAYBOY: What was the point of the vulgarity – the farting scene, for example?

BROOKS: The farts were the point of the farting scene. In real life, people fart, right? In the movies, people don’t. Why not? When I was in high school, I knew a kid, won’t mention his name – Robert Weinstein – who when he let one go, you could get in it and drive away, that’s how firm. But before Blazing Saddles, America had not come to terms with the fart. Wind was never broken across the prairie in a Ken Maynard picture. In every cowboy picture, the cowboys sit around the campfire and eat 140,000 beans, and you never hear a burp, let alone a bloozer. For 75 years these big, hairy brutes have been smashing their fists into each other’s faces and blasting each other full of holes with six-guns, but in all that time, not one has had the courage to produce a fart. I think that’s funny. I think the farting scene in Blazing Saddles is funny because farts in our world are funny. Farts are a repressed minority. The mouth gets to say all kinds of things, but the other place is supposed to keep quite. But maybe our lower colons have something interesting to say. Maybe we should listen to them. Farts are human, more human that a lot of people I know. I think we should bring them out of the water closet and into the parlor, and that’s what I did in Blazing Saddles.

PLAYBOY: At the end of the farting scene, the character called Mongo, the super brute who later knocks out a horse with one punch, takes a huge mouthful of beans – but he never farts. Think what a climax that would have made.

BROOKS: Please. That would have been in bad taste.

PLAYBOY: Oh. Was anything else cut out in the interest of good taste?

BROOKS: Yes. A scene between Cleavon Little, the black sheriff, and Madeline Kahn. The scene takes place in the dark. "Is it twue vot zey say," Madeline asks him seductively, "about how you people are built?" Then you hear a zipper. Then you hear her say, "Oh! It’s twue! It’s twue! It’s twue! That much is in the picture. But then comes the line we cut. Cleavon says, "Excuse me, ma’am. I hate to disillusion you, but you’re sucking my arm."

PLAYBOY: Why did you use the word shit so often in Blazing Saddles? Isn’t it sort of a cheap laugh?

BROOKS: I got nothing against cheap jokes – if they work. Funny is money. Shit is good pepper. Loosens ‘em up, helps the next laugh. And the more unusual swearwords are still good for a huge laugh in the movies. In Blazing Saddles, we get a gasp and then a tremendous laugh when the preacher lifts his eyes to heaven and says, "Oh, Lord! Can we accomplish this great feat in one night? Or are we just jerking off?"

PLAYBOY: What happened when you previewed Blazing Saddles?

BROOKS: Disaster! We showed it first to the studio brass. Ten of them in a small screening room. Now, the first really big joke in the picture comes when the white cowboys say, "How ‘bout a good ole nigger work son?" And the black labor gang, as one man, begins to sing in a sophisticated style, "I get no kicks from champaaaagne…." That’s a tremendous joke. But in the screening room, nothing. Gornisht! Not a titter. I said, "We have just entered cabin 4C on the Titanic!" The next 90 minutes was a non-laugh riot. When the lights went up, I had sweat circles the size of Rhode Island under my arms. Two years of my life I had spent on this picture and now disaster! I said to myself, "This is the worst moment of my life. My talent and my judgement are gone!" I went back to the editing room and just sat for 20 minutes. Then Mike Hertzberg said, "We booked a public screening for tonight." I said, "Cancel it!" Mike said, "No! Invite more people. Let normal people see it. Then we’ll know."

So eight o’clock that night, the place was packed. Two hundred and forty people in the screening room. Seating only on the floor. First big joke: " I get no kick from champaaaagne." Children were thrown into the air. The most laughing you’ve ever heard in a movie house. Non-stop screaming. The following night, a big sneak preview in Westwood. The place went bananas. The more people you got together with this picture, the more insane the reaction was. Eleven hundred people dancing in the aisles. One guy was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. As he fell under the seat, he told his wife, "G’Bye, honey, the policies are in the top drawer." Almost two years later, the picture is still running.

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