It’s a miracle!
Near the end of Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part 1, just as the King of France and his consorts are about to feel the wrath of the guillotine, a Roman slave, played by Gregory Hines, rides in from an earlier segment in a chariot, drawn by a horse named Miracle.
“It’s Miracle!” Mel Brooks exclaims.
And that’s exactly how I felt yesterday when I read the news that Hulu has commissioned an eight-part variety series called History of the World Part II. History of the World Part I appeared 40 years ago. Mel Brooks is 95 years old. Pretty much everyone else involved in that movie is dead: Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, certainly Sid Caesar, Dom DeLuise, Jackie Mason. Orson Welles was the narrator, for pity’s sake! Of the major cast members, only Pamela Stephenson, who is a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, still walks among us. Besides Mel Brooks, that is.
I’d been feeling despair about my old-school comedy tastes up until when I heard the History of the World news. Over the weekend, the New York Post re-published a Commentary essay from David Zucker, in which he laments that our current woke environment would make it impossible for him to see a green-light for his movie Airplane! today. He bemoaned the “joy-killing” Twitter elite who kill any even mildly offensive joke in the womb. He might as well have been writing my eulogy when he said:
“I’m a perpetually frustrated person who’s annoyed and bored by the dullness that everyone else seems to tolerate so easily. I have a rage against mildness, against playing it safe, against political correctness. Jokes are my defense against normalcy, and as a comedy writer, if I’m not teetering on the edge of offending someone, then I’m not doing my job. Because I know that people get themselves stuck in a rut when they take things too seriously.”
I posted that piece up on my Facebook feed. Most people agreed with me that Airplane! is an all-time classic, though I found someone else arguing that it’s “irrelevant” and that only people who are emotionally 12 years old could like it. Guilty as charged, I guess. It left me thinking, even if people did like comedy from that era, that it was no longer possible in our present-day environment where touchy feelings can end people’s careers.
Maybe I’m not emotionally 12 years old, but I still like the comedy from when I was a kid. I was nine when Airplane! appeared, and I was 11 when Brooks released History of the World Part I, the last of his golden age of movie parodies, though I guess you could make an argument for Spaceballs as well. Brooks created an epically ridiculous journey through history, with a showstopping Spanish Inquisition musical number in the middle, a comic tour de force, featuring dancing monks and swimming nuns and Jew torture, that only “Every Sperm Is Sacred” from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life can equal.
That’s some of the most baldfacedly offensive shit ever put on screen, and it’s also possible the funniest scene in cinematic history. In History of the World Part I, Mel Brooks mocks the Jews, he makes fun of gay people, he is sexist, racist, and totally crude. The movie begins with a minute-long scene of ape-men jerking off. And it’s amazing.
Unlike David Zucker, who’s a known conservative and therefore evil, liberal tastemakers continue to love Mel Brooks. The list of show runners and co-writers include my more or less contemporaries Nick Kroll and Ike Barinholtz. I’ve seen what those guys do for comedy. It’s highly possible that they’ll keep the ratio of boob and dick jokes high. Most of all, it’s highly possible that we’ll finally get to see the long-awaited extended cut of Jews In Space.
Here comes History of the World Part 2. An eight-part sequel to one of the greatest comedy movies of all time. In this political and cultural climate, where offending anyone can lead to immediate career death. It truly is a miracle.