In 1968, people were shocked to see Hitler in a comedy, even as the butt of the jokes at the heart of a musical chosen to offend audiences. By 2001, on Broadway, it ruffled few feathers. In 2009, a German translation of The Producers took the stage in Berlin, turning a few more heads, but still without uproar. In 2015, long after edgy comic works from Blazing Saddles to South Park have become widely accepted, is there still room for comedy to be controversial? Is it only “too soon” works like The Interview, or can satire cut as it ages? And if the blades dulls with time or as audiences become desensitized, is less controversy a good thing, or is something lost?
“I’ve never been happier than when I was writing the musical score of The Producers. One song after another tumbled out of my head in what was the most soul-satisfying experience of my career. And in my less than humble opinion, I must say that it turned out to be surprisingly good.”
Bloomsday, Ulysses, James Joyce… What does this have to do with The Producers?
Leo Bloom. A certain Tuesday in 1959. “When will it be Bloom’s day?”
Mel Brooks is known for his blend of high and low humor, and while the low is often more obvious, The Producers is sprinkled with allusions to Ulysses and much of it deliberately takes place on Bloomsday. What do you think? Which works better, high or low comedy? Would you change Brooks’ balance, or not?
If you’ve ever wondered how rehearsal becomes performance, or ever survived a tech rehearsal yourself, it’s a part of the process The Producers skips over. But in Anne Washburn’s world premiere at Soho Rep, 10 Out Of 12, it’s the metatheatrical world of the play. It’s “a wry and absorbing look at how work forms us and deforms us.”
As The Producers rehearses, the Broadway world is gearing up for Sunday’s Tony Awards. I won’t link to any predictions (how would I choose?), but I’ll remind you that The Producers holds the record for most Tonys won by a musical. 12! Check out the details below.
And if you love theater, take some time this awards season to think about the shows that remind you why, whether on the Great White Way or not. Whether you watch or not, be a part of our theater community, and then read Mel Brooks’ love letter to us all when The Producers opens.
In this article, KPBS reporter Beth Accomando looks at the way humorists take on dictators, from fictional ones to Hitler to Saddam Hussein to Kim Jong-Un. With the recent controversy surrounding The Interview, there has been a lot of talk about where the line is between satire and poor taste.
Back in 1968, Mel Brooks understood the power of comedy to cut a dictator down to size. He defined comedy as a weapon and was criticized for his humorous attack on Hitler in “The Producers.” In the film, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are looking to produce a play that’s a sure-fire failure, and they choose to mount “Springtime for Hitler,” which includes dancing female Nazi stormtroopers and a Beatnik Hitler played by Dick Shawn.
Brooks was told that Nazis were not meant to be funny. But the comedian retorted, “If you ridicule them, you bring them down with laughter. They can’t win. You show how crazy they are.”
Mel Brooks also chimes in on The Interview: