On the one hand, All About Me is a fairly light memoir in which it seems the subject never encountered much difficulty and in which everyone he every worked with is a nice, talented guy. It is also stuffed with many well-worn anecdotes and ancient jokes. On the other hand, it reads just like you’re having a conversation with Mel Brooks, and who wouldn’t want that?
The nonagenarian comedy icon starts off with a conventional auto-biography detailing his Brooklyn upbringing in a lower-class Jewish home. We follow young Melvin Kaminsky through his struggles in school, his initial steps into show business at a Catskills resort, and his service in World War II. Once the newly-christened Mel Brooks fully breaks into comedy, the book becomes more of a show business memoir, with each chapter detailing a different project from his lengthy C.V. While time is set aside for his famous friendship with Carl Reiner and his blissful marriage to Anne Bancroft, for the most part Brooks sticks to the making of his film and television projects.
Thankfully, many of those projects are perennial favorites like The Producers (both the movie and the musical), Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and History of the World, Part I. Less well-known might be Brooks’s work for his production company, Brooksfilms, which brought out Bancroft’s directorial debut Fatso, the remake of The Fly, and The Elephant Man, which was just the second film directed by David Lynch.
Of particular interest to me was Brooks’s first gig writing on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. The show’s staff is legendary to comedy nerds, as it featured at one time or another Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and playwright Neil Simon and his brother Danny. This era was the inspiration for another Brooksfilms production, the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, which is one of my favorite films.
While the book may be light on conflict or controversy (I’ve never read a Hollywood luminary say such nice things about a studio executive as Brooks writes about Alan Ladd, Jr.) what shines through about Brooks is his determination and his commitment to making an audience laugh. He’s also generous with praise and sharing credit for his body of work.
A breezy, easy read with some entertaining stories, All About Me may not be the in-depth examination that the life and career of Mel Brooks deserves, but while we still have the legend among us it’s nice to hear his own thoughts on his crazy, unbelievable life.