It's no joke: Mel Brooks really did offer to edit the JC on Yom Kippur

Though it pains Jenni Frazer to admit it, she said no


LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Mel Brooks attends the 70th EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) at Royal Albert Hall on February 12, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

Melvyn Kaminsky turned 95 on Monday. And if you’re wondering, who that is — wonder no more. It is the legendary comedian and film-maker, Mel Brooks, one of the last survivors of the take-no-prisoners comedy circuit that started in the Jewish hotels in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, and became part of the writing teams who made America — and the world — laugh.

And that’s the guy I went to interview in 1991 for the JC, ostensibly to talk about his latest film, Life Stinks. He was giving every reporter a hard time, acting up, and, according to the tearful girl from the Sunday Express, actually tap-dancing on one of the tables in his hotel room.

By the time he got to me he was ready to talk about the Jewish condition, and appeared fascinated by the idea of a Jewish newspaper.

I knew that his daughter from his first marriage, Stephanie, was religiously observant, and that he admitted that she teased him unmercifully about “being a big Jew” without actually abiding by any of the rules.

The interview took place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so I asked Brooks what his plans were while he was in London. This, he did not want to answer. Instead, he said: “Well, what are you doing?” I said I was going to fast, as usual.

“Really?” he said. He asked for my phone number in order to check up on me and I honestly thought he was joking.

Yom Kippur was a Wednesday that year but some of us had to go into work after the fast to finish putting the paper to bed. I was at home just about to break my fast when the phone rang. My flatmate answered. “It’s Mel Brooks!” she hissed.

He wanted to know if I had really fasted and, in any case, what was I doing then. I said I was going back to work, as it was press night. And Brooks said: “I’ll come, too! I’ll help!”

Much though it pains me to admit it, I said no. No, he couldn’t come and help put the paper to bed. I thought he’d be disruptive and could envisage the editor’s face if I turned up with Mel Brooks in tow. Now, I think I must have been mad, but then I didn’t know how to deal with him.

The only other surviving member of that legendary 1960s and 70s Jewish comedy circuit is Woody Allen, 10 years Brooks’ junior.

And for the last year, Brooks has had to cope without his dearest friend, fellow writer and comedian Carl Reiner, who died last year.

But Brooks, one of the few people to win an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy, is celebrated on and off the stage for his refusal to pretend to be anything other than what he is: a razor-sharp witted, mouthy, short Jewish guy.

Happy birthday, Mr Kaminsky. May you live to 120. And if you ever want to make a film about a Jewish newspaper, I know just the people who can help.


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