A matinee of madcap comedy and conversation with Mel Brooks after a spoof on the big screen

Mel Brooks Photos by Andy Argyrakis

Just a month shy of his 91st birthday, director/actor/comedian Mel Brooks was back in the touring saddle, returning to the Chicago Theatre with Star Productions for the second time in just two years. Once again, he attracted fans of all ages seeking a glimpse of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner up close, though rather than repeating his “Blazing Saddles” screening and conversation, the viewing and theme turned to the equally iconic “Young Frankenstein.”

He was just as sharp when someone had the audacity to ask “boxers or briefs?” to which he simply gave an open-ended “depends” (turning his tradition of double entendres towards incontinence).

Then again, confining the quick-witted Brooks to any single subject is pretty much an impossible task, as the well-prepared moderator with two pages of questions that were never asked quickly pointed out. Nonetheless, it’s that spontaneity and unpredictability that made an afternoon with the living legend all that much more enjoyable, though even amidst the welcome detours, he did share some tidbits about the ultimate spoof on the horror genre starring Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr and  Kenneth Mars.

Mel BrooksBrooks had everyone in stiches when talking about the film’s original $2 million dollar desired budget, which was actually chopped down to a mere $1.8 million as a result of “those Jews” at Columbia Pictures. But the man behind the movie had the last laugh, mumbling on his way out the door that “Young Frankenstein” would be shot in black and white, ensuring a further fit by the executives who ultimately struck down the deal and sending the eager director to a much more understanding 20th Century Fox where he was more handsomely compensated.

Considering it’s become a certified classic, not to mention a flashy Broadway musical (following in the footsteps of “The Producers”), Columbia’s pass could be one of the most heartbreaking in history. But Brooks didn’t really take the time to ponder their loss, instead moving on to a series of childhood stories, including peeing out a window onto his mother and their friends below or “taking” (but not “stealing” because that sounds bad) a toy gun and then “holding up” the security guards when they threatened to call his parents.

There were also a few stories about spending time in Windy City ages ago with the large-framed comedic actor/writer Sid Caesar, who once dangled Brooks outside the window of the Palmer House during an inebriated binge and also fought with a cab driver who cut them off, threatening to reenact the driver’s birth by pulling him through the little side triangle window that used to be in cabs. Listening to the old-timer was like getting a rare firsthand glimpse into the days of true Hollywood royalty, which also included praise of the late “Young Frankenstein” leads, along with Leachman, who he made a point of emphasizing was indeed still alive.

“What’s your secret to living so long?” asked one of the attendees on a pre-written card. “Don’t die!” screamed Brooks within a millisecond, to a hearty round of laughs and applause. He was just as sharp when someone had the audacity to ask “boxers or briefs?” to which he simply gave an open-ended “depends” (turning his tradition of double entendres towards incontinence).

As for his inspiration behind the fictional musical “Springtime For Hitler” in “The Producers,” an equally direct “World War II!” had everyone rolling, but that paled in comparison to Brooks’ most embarrassing moment of mimicking Bill Cullen’s crippled walk before realizing he had polio! Even so, that very game show host offered praise towards the comic for having the nerve to lighten-up an otherwise serious scenario, which is precisely why the man with “Spaceballs” of steel and the best armpit farts in all of humanity continues packing them in almost a century later.

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For additional information on Mel Brooks, visit MelBrooks.com.

Upcoming concert highlights from Star Productions at the Star Plaza Theatre include Cinderella’s Tom Keifer and Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy (Jul. 13); Killer Queen (Jul. 14); Ted Nugent (Jul. 20); Dancing With The Stars: Live! (Jul. 29); Montgomery Gentry (Aug. 11), Retro Futura starring Howard Jones, The English Beat, Modern English, Men Without Hats, Katrina and Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella (Aug. 18) and UFO with Saxon (Oct. 13). For additional details, visit StarPlazaTheatre.com and Ticketmaster.com.

Upcoming concert highlights at the Chicago Theatre include Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Indigo Girls (Jun. 11); King Crimson (Jun. 28); Natalie Merchant (Jul. 9); The Art Of Rap Tour (Jul. 22); Bring It! Live (Jul. 28); Lyle Lovett and His Large Band (Jul. 29); Mary J. Blige (Jul. 30); Alphaville (Aug. 6); Idina Menzel (Aug. 12); Belle and Sebastian (Aug. 16); Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson (Aug. 19); Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit (Sept. 1-2); Chris Rock (Sept. 7-10); Harry Styles (Sept. 26); Fleet Foxes (Oct. 3-4); Steve Martin and Martin Short (Oct. 6-7); Pixies (Oct. 8); Jim Gaffigan (Oct. 13-14) and Trevor Noah (Oct. 20-21). For additional details, visit TheChicagoTheatre.com and Ticketmaster.com.