A biography of comedy giant Mel Brooks, covering his rags-to-riches life and triumphant career in television, films, and theater, from Patrick McGilligan, the acclaimed author of Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light.
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.