Legendary filmmaker Mel Brooks unloaded on political correctness yesterday, blaming P.C. pressures for undermining comedians’ abilities to perform social satire.
“We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy,” he said on BBC Radio.
Brooks, an actor, writer, and director known for making such comedies as The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs, described comedy as “the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior.” He complained that his 1974 film Blazing Saddles—in which a black sheriff overcomes the racism of an all-white frontier town—couldn’t be made today, given the likelihood that someone would deem it problematic.
We have seen this phenomenon play out again and again in recent years. Can We Take a Joke? a documentary film directed by former Reason TV producer Ted Balaker, highlights a number of cases of comedians being castigated for making politically incorrect jokes on college campuses. Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Tina Fey have made similar complaints.
Audiences are under no obligation to appreciate politically incorrect humor, of course, and tastes do change with the times. Consider this part of Brooks’ comments, as reported by The Telegraph:
The director said he could find comedy in almost everything but conceded there were areas even he would not mine for material.
“I personally would never touch gas chambers or the death of children or Jews at the hands of the Nazis,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Everything else is ok.”
Brooks never satirized death chambers, but he did make fun of Nazis in his very first film, The Producers, in which a theater company produces a deliberately offensive pro-Nazi play called Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden. One could very easily imagine a boycott of the film today, with some activist accusing Brooks of normalizing Nazism.
But with the alt-right ascendant and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, is not the need for un-PC Nazi-skewering greater than ever? We don’t need to punch Nazis; we can just belittle them.