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Mel Brooks on the Secret to Fart Sounds, Why Comedy's Gotten Lazy and His New PBS Doc 'Mel Brooks: Make a Noise'

By Matt Singer | Indiewire May 16, 2013 at 10:05AM

Mel Brooks talks to us about his very entertaining episode of the PBS series "American Masters," "Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" (premiering Monday, May 20th at 9pm ET/PT.
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Most movies look tamer the older they get. "Blazing Saddles" is the rare movie that seems to get edgier as time goes on. I doubt anyone could make it today.

Yeah, it's a strange phenomenon.

I was wondering what you thought about that, and whether you think movie comedy has gotten too soft and too politically correct these days.

Sometimes movie comedy gets lazy. They go for a lot of sexual or physical jokes. They lean on them. I mean I'm a master of vulgarity -- but not just plain old vulgarity. There's just too much dirty words and dirty activities that are not woven into the plot correctly. It's just dirty for dirty's sake.

Speaking of the proper use of vulgarity, when you're shooting the campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles," how do you know you have the right take? How many takes does it take to get that scene perfect?

I think I had the right take in take one.

"I'm very proud of it but a little ashamed of it at the same time."

[laughs]

I mean it was so bold already, what was I going to improve? An extra sound here or there? I think I used take one. We only did two takes; usually I do three or four. They were all good. But we had to make those sounds. Those farting sounds were made in the editing room by putting soap and water under our armpits to get a certain sound.

This is a secret; I don't know if I ever told anyone this. Soap and water under our arms, and then every once in a while we'd imitate things. I was looking for the verisimilitudinous sound qualities -- so it would sound real. Because, y'know I don't get a laugh until about the third fart. At first, it's just disbelief: "What?! Did I hear that?! Oh my God: they are!" And by the sixth or seventh one some people are falling out of their seats. I'm very proud of it but a little ashamed of it at the same time.

No, no. It should only be pride.

[laughs] You're good, Matt. I appreciate it.

When I was going through your recent "The Incredible Mel Brooks" box set and watching the various clips, I noticed that anytime someone mentions Hitler, you almost always have a comb in your pocket ready to do the impression of the mustache. Do you ever use that comb to actually fix your hair or do you just keep it handy in case you ever need to imitate Hitler?

Once in a blue moon, I comb my hair with my comb. Most of the time I just use the end of it to do the mustache. I do like a cheap joke.

Of all the characters you've played, is there one you feel particularly close to? Does one reveal something personal about Mel Brooks?

Goddard Bolt in "Life Stinks." I felt very close to that guy, the billionaire who makes a bet with another billionaire to live in the slums and the streets in Downtown L.A. for a month without any help from anybody and survive.

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Michael Grecco

When I'm in a bad mood, I'll put on "Blazing Saddles" or "The Producers" and it cheers me up. When you're in a bad mood, what movie do you put on to cheer yourself up?

Not a bad mood necessarily, but if I'm unhappy or blue I'll put on "Singin' in the Rain" or "Swing Time" or any of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies and they'll get me out of it.

People ask me, "What is your favorite movie?" I could sound like a genius and say "Les Enfants du Paradis" from Marcel Carné, or I could say "The Bicycle Thief" by De Sica, or "Grand Illusion" by Jean Renoir. These are all brilliant, great films. And I could sound like a great film intellectual. But it's not true. I like them, but I love the '30s musicals. They're my favorite.

You've done great stuff on Broadway in the last couple years and you have the new documentary, but do you ever get the itch to direct another movie?

I do, I do. I've been getting that for the last four or five, maybe six months. Getting an itch to make a little black and white movie about something, I don't know. I'm just looking for the scheme. I like schemes, like "The Producers" -- "You can make more money with a flop than you can with a hit." Just that one line, and you're off and running. A whole parade of characters come in, based on one line; "you can make more money with a flop than you can with a hit."

So you've got the inkling, you're just looking for the next scheme.

Yeah I just need the scheme, and the flood of people that follow the scheme.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, American Masters, Mel Brooks, PBS, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, Blazing Saddles, Robert Trachtenberg