Career Achievement

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks! Not many people deserve an exclamation point like that, but if anyone does, it’s this writing/producing/directing/acting/songwriting powerhouse who has been a foundational part of American comedy since the 1950s.

Brooks would qualify for our Career Achievement Award even if he’d only made his first few films. The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are era-defining comedies — brilliant and bold and just as fresh and funny now as the day they were made. Brooks was one of the first generation of great TV comedy writers, and he set an incredibly high bar for how to make the jump from the small to the big screen. He has gleefully deconstructed every genre with the same surgical precision, and the jokes from those films have long since passed into common vocabulary, the movies themselves becoming rites of passage that are passed down as sacred text.

The conversation about his contribution to film is so much broader than his comedy work, though, and the truly amazing thing is how much he downplayed his own contributions to some remarkable films. Brooksfilms could have been a vanity shingle, but Brooks worked to keep himself out of the spotlight when producing and releasing films like The Elephant Man, My Favorite Year, The Fly, Frances and Fatso, the directorial debut of his beloved wife and collaborator, Anne Bancroft. He supported artists instead of eclipsing them, pushing them into the spotlight and using his success to empower them.

Brooks never made these films simply to feed the pipeline. Every single time he worked on a movie, no matter what role he played in it, he did it because he genuinely believed in it. You can feel the profound affection he has for the entire process every single time. As we have a larger ongoing cultural debate about punching up or punching down in comedy, Mel Brooks remains the heavyweight champ of all time because he always backs up his haymakers with that giant heart.

— Drew McWeeny