McGilligan has found a good critical balance as he extols his subject’s comedic and artistic virtues while being forthright about Brooks’s occasional stubborn attitude toward creative and financial control. McGilligan is one of the few film biographers not to indulge in extensive criticism of the projects themselves, instead offering commentary through the contemporary reviews or financial results of a given work ... Well researched, engaging, and of interest to all of Brooks fans.
...Funny Man...is teeming with fascinating details about Brooks’s life and career, but doesn’t always seem to know which way to point its fire hose or when to turn it off ... There’s plenty of information in Funny Man, and it’s often illuminating ... Despite its overstuffed nature, the book nonetheless paints a portrait of Brooks as a wildly talented—emphasis, occasionally, on wild—artist whose intensity both advanced and impeded him ... But as Funny Man marches on, the book makes the mistake of giving equal emphasis to every phase of its subject’s career, lavishing excessive attention on events that don’t merit them and leaving other, more significant plotlines underdeveloped. I, for one, would have liked to hear more about episodes like Brooks’s difficult (and ultimately unfruitful) team-up with his idol Jerry Lewis ... By the time McGilligan gets to important late-stage developments...you can feel him racing to the finish line, rushing past moments that would have benefited from closer examination. Still, it is worth seeing Funny Man through to its conclusion, where Brooks attains the status of a reluctant elder statesman and starts to reckon with his legacy.
For the vast majority of McGilligan’s telling, the Mel of the Mel Brooks brand is Bad Mel. And not just bad, but a new Jewish supervillan, the Incredible Schmuck, who, whenever anyone else receives credit or compensation for creative work, turns green with envy and rages in a destructive, often litigious fury that wrecks anything and anyone who gets in his way, friend or foe. Good Mel becomes a mere mask that Bad Mel could wear when trying to sway judges or woo potential investors ... McGilligan’s cataloguing of the artistic, financial and personal atrocities of Bad Mel constitutes the main thrust of the telling of Brooks’s life story. You do not come away from the book feeling like you have spent time with Mel Brooks. Rather, you feel like you were on a long car ride with Brooks’s gossipy, catty accountant. In exploring a prolific figure in show business, we get lots of business and much less show ... McGilligan is so enthusiastic about the destructive aspects that the complexity becomes caricature...The minimal descriptions of his caring thereby seem peculiar ... For those who want an in-depth account of Mel Brooks, the ruthless businessman, Funny Man is for you. For those who want a genuine funny book about the man, you’ll feel more like you were ruthlessly given the business.
[A] brick of a biography ... [it] has more stupefying chronological detail than the kind of adroit writing that would animate its subject ... Mel Brooks is such a gifted monster—explosive, whip-smart, vulgar, histrionic, egomaniacal, yet miraculously able to make people laugh their guts out—that the book is worth reading.
McGilligan paints the filmmaker as a credit hog who’d rather harm a relationship than fully acknowledge a collaborator’s contribution. He claims Brooks was rampantly unfaithful to his first wife, Florence, and a 'deadbeat dad' to their children ... McGilligan brings expertise: The professor and journalist has written biographies of Brooks’ fellow onscreen legends Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, as well as of directors Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. In this book he claims he had never been faced with so many potential interviewees who declined to cooperate, or did so on the condition of anonymity. The author posits that this was, in part, because people 'feared Brooks’ temper or litigiousness.' That might explain McGilligan’s attitude toward his subject, but it makes plain why this book is longer on dry facts than flavorful reminiscences. The result is a gold mine for those in the market for dirt on Brooks, but may be greeted by fans with, well, crickets.
... exhaustive ... It's these moments, in which we meet Brooks the intellectual, where this book shines. Had McGilligan trimmed much of the discussion of taxes and wages and accumulation of material things while friends came and went, the reader might have gotten a better sense of Brooks the artist. Indeed, it takes a while for this story to get started ... Again, this biography would have been helped had McGilligan narrowed his focus. Did he want to chronicle every particular element of Brooks's life and times in excruciating detail, or did he want to focus on the specific highlights of his impressive artistic career? ... McGilligan knows exactly where he wants to go in Funny Man, but like the best of Mel Brooks films in the '70s, it's a book that wears out its welcome in the second half and drifts home through the final pages, floating on a fumes of goodwill for a time long gone.
A veteran showbiz biographer, McGilligan has produced a book rich with knowledge of the industry and overflowing with the fruits of his research. Unfortunately, some of them might better have been left on the trees. He’s also an awkward writer, a limited student of human psychology and not particularly insightful about Brooks’ work. Nor does he seem to have much of a feel for the sheer Jewishness of the proceedings. At one point he resorts to the dictionary to explain what a bialy is ... Yet Funny Man still manages to be a pretty interesting book, especially for those of us who remember when American comedy seemed entirely Jewish. It will have to do for now.
... superb ... persuasively sketches two sides of the comedian-filmmaker’s personality: 'Nice Mel,' a zany performer who is always on, cares deeply for others, and craves affection, and 'Rude Crude Mel,' a tenacious negotiator and a genius at self-promotion who is riven by insecurity ... While the book sometimes bogs down in the minutiae of Brooks’s legal deals, it is best at showing Hollywood as a place full of remarkable talents intricately interconnected through friendship and career ... McGilligan’s exhaustive biography will be essential reading for anyone interested in Brooks or, more broadly, how Hollywood functioned during the second half of the 20th century.
... isn’t exactly a hagiography ... Much of this material has been documented elsewhere, which makes the book overlong. In the second half, the author gets bogged down in the minutiae of Brooks' business deals, and the prose is occasionally peculiar or old-fashioned. For example, McGilligan repeatedly refers to Brooks’ first wife, Florence Baum, only as 'Mrs. Brooks'; he does the same thing a couple of times with his second wife, Anne Bancroft, a far more famous figure than Baum. These choices are emblematic of the troubling tendency to represent women in biographies only in relation to the men in their lives. Nonetheless, McGilligan does a nice job dramatizing the insecurities that drove Brooks and offers entertaining anecdotes about Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Brooks’ other collaborators, who didn’t always speak favorably of him ... Readers can decide for themselves whether the Brooks who emerges in these well-researched yet sometimes-tiresome pages caused more joy than harm.