Without Mel Brooks, comedy simply wouldn’t be the same. His works turned low-brow humor and vulgarity into sophisticated art. From the early years growing up in Brooklyn, Mel always had a knack for making people laugh. He also had a penchant for music, having worked as a drummer in his teens. After serving in the US army disarming landmines during World War II, he took on comedy full time, working in clubs and an occasional radio stint before becoming a writer on Your Show of Shows. Then, he created the slapstick spy comedy series Get Smart.
It wasn’t long after that when he wrote and directed The Producers, a comedy about two men trying to get rich from creating the worst, most offensive Broadway musical ever made. It was a bold, daring, and risky form of comedy, but audiences embraced it and Brooks even won an academy award for Best Original Screenplay. The 1967 masterpiece marked the beginning of a long career that spawned some of the funniest films to grace screens such as Blazing Saddles, History of the World, Part 1, and Spaceballs.
Comedy is a weird beast, though, and not every joke is universal. When one parodies pop culture, understanding gets lost to time. This list will point out ten jokes from Mel Brooks films most modern viewers wouldn’t understand. Some of these jokes are still funny without the context because of how downright absurd they are, and there is still plenty to laugh at in each movie even if some of the references go above people’s heads.
10 A Laurel, And Hardy Handshake – Blazing Saddles
Blazing Saddles is a western about a black man appointed sheriff of a small town. When the town is getting ready to greet their new officer of the law, and before they know how he looks, the chairman of the welcoming committee is preparing his speech and saying “we’d like to offer you a Laurel, And Hearty Handshake.”
This is a direct reference to the legendary comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy. The man rehearsing the speech extends a literal laurel, giving people something to laugh at if they don’t understand the deeper allusion.
9 Frau Blucher – Young Frankenstein
One of the characters in Young Frankenstein is Frau Blucher, played by Cloris Leachman. Every time someone utters her name, horses start wildly neighing.
This is erroneously attributed to her name allegedly sounding like the German word for glue, but it doesn’t bear a resemblance. Instead, it’s a joke about old villains in old melodramas. A sound effect or dramatic cue would play whenever the villain appeared or their name was said.
8 Walter Raleigh Reference – History Of The World Part 1
Walter Raleigh published one book before his execution called The Historie of the World. It was only the first volume in what was meant to have several additions, but he couldn’t keep his head on long enough to write anymore.
The name of Mel Brook’s classic historical epic comedy is taken directly from Walter’s book, save for a small change in spelling. The fact that only one movie exists despite the “Part 1” in the title could also be a gag based on the writer’s circumstances.
7 Frankie Laine Singing The Blazing Saddles Theme
Frankie Laine made a name for himself singing the themes to several famous westerns like 3:10 to Yuma. What good fortune, then, that Mel Brooks managed to get the singer for Blazing Saddles.
Frankie didn’t know it was a parody when recording the song, either, and Brooks didn’t have the heart to tell him.
6 Xenomorph Doing The Michigan Rag – Spaceballs
Alien just celebrated its fortieth anniversary, but all generations are familiar with that horror masterpiece. It’s what the Xenomorph does in Spaceballs after he bursts out of John Hurt’s chest again that leaves people scratching their heads.
The song and dance routing is “The Michigan Rag”, taken from a legendary animated short called One Froggy Evening.
5 Leo Bloom’s Name – The Producers
Leo Bloom is an innocuous name for a protagonist, especially for a comedy.
It’s not immediately outlandish or funny, but bibliophiles will quickly point out the name as a reference to the main character in Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses.
4 Jews In Space Is A Battlestar Galactica Parody
The fake teaser for Jews In Space is a fantastic gag at the end of History of the World, Part 1. The joke gets better when one realizes the connection to Battlestar Galactica. The science-fiction miniseries takes inspiration from the Mormon faith, and the faux trailer’s direct usage of the Jewish faith parodies this.
3 For My Next Impression, Jesse Owens – Blazing Saddles
After Sheriff Bart and Jim’s KKK disguises are blown after Bart shows his hand to sign some papers,Bart says “and now for my next impression – Jesse Owens.”
For those not up on their sports history, Jesse Owens was an Olympic runner who competed in the 1936 games.
2 Bird Poop – High Anxiety
High Anxiety is a parody of Alfred Hitchcock films. It’s one thing to parody a genre, but it’s a bolder move to parody the style of one particular director. To be fair, Hitchcock could be considered its own genre.
The genius of the film is how funny it still is even without knowledge of the legendary filmmaker. The famous bird poop scene, for example, mirrors a scene from The Birds, but is still grossly hilarious for those who have no idea what The Birds is.
1 Orson Wells Narrating History Of The World, Part 1
Orson Wells was one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century. He also has one heck of an iconic voice. Mel Brooks managed to get him to record the narration for History of the World, Part 1, which would be like getting Johnny Cash to narrate Walk Hard.
The movie’s intro also uses the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and mirrors the idea of starting the movie out with the dawn of man.
NEXT: 10 Best Comedy Movies Of All Time, According To IMDB