ON THE TOWN: Mel Brooks stands up as America’s iconic comedy man
June 28, 2015 12:22 AM
At first blush, Mel Brooks may simply seem like a silly man. But there’s immense intellect behind the inanity. There is a method to his gladness , you could say, whether lampooning the Wild West, disaster movies, horror classics or the history of the entire world, for that matter.
UCSB Arts & Lectures featured Mr. Brooks in a special dinner performance at the Montecito Country Club as a benefit for its arts education program. A&L’s arts outreach into local schools has utilized visiting talent ranging from jazzman Wynton Marsalis to violinist virtuoso Joshua Bell in the award-winning program.
Lots of local funny people were there: Prudence Fraser and Bob Sternin, producers of television comedies, and Magic Castle’s Milt and Arlene Larsen. Others ready for fun: Terry Suding, Nancy Koppelman, Chad Dreier, Gretchen and Robert Lieff, Dolly Granatelli, Bobbie and Ed Rosenblatt, Anne Luther and Julian Nott, and Richard and Annette Caleel.
Celesta Billeci, executive director of UCSB Arts & Lectures, introduced “Two powerhouse women in our community”— Leslie Ridley-Tree and Marcy Carsey, who sponsored Mr. Brooks’ appearance. She also acknowledged other benefactors and ambassadors, such as Lucy Janssen, Diana and Simon Raab, Judy and Bruce Anticouni, Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz, Fredric Steck, Anne and Michael Towbes, and Barrie and Arlene Bergman.
Celesta proudly exclaimed, “We are frugal with our money. Everything is underwritten tonight. All of this goes for our arts education fund.” Then co-auctioneers Dan Dunham and Eric Sonquist came up for fun and fundraising, explaining their purpose straightforwardly, “We live in one of the most cultural gems in the world. But we can’t bring this calibre of culture here without your help.”
Mr. Brooks lit up the room as he entered the “stage” set up in the Montecito Country Club. His stand-up monologue traced his beginnings working as a busboy in the Catskills and went on to touch on his wonderful parody flicks “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “History of the World,” and more.
Mr. Brooks saluted his patrons, Marcy Carsey and Leslie Ridley-Tree, and then proclaimed it was time for a Q-and-A. “Ask me this, Lady Leslie! Don’t be shy!” he coaxed. “You say, ‘Mel have you ever been arrested?’ ” She complied and he retorted with a twinkle, “That’s really none of your business!”
Other queries (unprompted) from his adoring audience: “Who makes you laugh?” (Henry Youngman). “What superpower would you like to have?” (The ability to see through clothing). When someone asked Mr. Brooks to tell us about his wife (the late Anne Bancroft), he gently responded, “No, I’m sorry. You see, it’s too personal … but you can ask a question just about me!”
He enthused about being a leading man like Mickey Rooney. He reminisced about Imogene Coca: “Sweet as sugar and could sing and dance.”
In the end, we had the appropriate last laugh — at a class act and true national treasure.
PHOTO Locals with a great sense of humor looked forward to the evening with lovable comedy man Mel Brooks. From left, Prudence Fraser, Milt Larsen, Bob Sternin and Arlene Larsen. Ms. Fraser and Mr. Sternin were producers of the hit television comedy “The Nanny.” The Larsens are well-known not only for their Magic Castle but also Milt’s clever comedic songs and shows. ERIN GRAFFY/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS Longtime supporters of UCSB Arts & Lectures’ outstanding presentations, from left, Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin, Dan and Meg Burnham, and Marla Phillips. From left, table sponsors Lew and Genevieve Geyser with Bob and SallyCorlett were among those who enjoyed the “Evening with Mel Brooks,” a benefit for UCSB Arts & Lectures’ award-winning artseducation outreach in schools From left, table sponsors Barrie and Arlene Bergman and Bobbie and Eddie Rosenblatt are among the enthusiastic supporters of Arts & Lectures’ astounding array of cultural offerings presented throughout the year.