May I turn your attention to exhibit A: Let’s examine Mel Brooks showstopper “Springtime For Hitler” from the movie, then subsequent Broadway show, of the same name. WTF! Where do I even begin…
It’s hard to imagine anyone pulling this off today – in 1967, a mere 22 years after the end of World War II, with it’s genocide of 6 million Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany, a 40 year old Jewish comedy genius named Mel Brooks decided to write the ultimate “fuck you” to the oppressors in the form of this comedy masterpiece. Seriously, just stop a minute and appreciate how profound this was – it is the ultimate example of weaponized comedy, polished to diamond hard perfection with an edge sharper than a razor. It is so ridiculously over the top and funny it’s breathtaking. And like all great art, it’s a gift that just keeps giving.
Before going any further, take a moment to watch the 1967 clip of this set piece from the film, and then the longer version from Mel’s re-worked number in the 2005 Broadway show.
Springtime For Hitler, 2005 (apologies for the ad – trust me, it’s worth waiting for)
Hats off to Alan Johnson who died last Saturday for choreographing this piece in the style of a Busby Berkeley musical. When the ensemble assumes the formation of a swastika and we switch to an overhead view where they begin rotating with the dancers taking tiny goosesteps is dumbfounding. Some of these lyrics are little comedic gems by themselves: “It’s springtime for Hitler and Germany, winter for Poland and France” and “We’re marching to a faster pace, look out, here comes the master race” kill me every time. If anything, the 2005 version is even funnier – playing Hitler as a gay man channeling Judi Garland has to be seen to be believed. When they bring the lights down and Hitler sits on the edge of the stage and softly begins singing:
“I was just a paper hanger
No one more obscurer
Got a phone call from the Reichstag
Told me I was Fuhrer
Germany was blue
Oh what oh what to do
Hitched up my pants
And conquered France
Now Deutschland’s smiling through
Oh it ain’t no mystery
If it’s politics or history
The thing you gotta know is
Everything is show biz”
This is one of the things I love about comedy, and why NOTHING should be off limits as subject matter – it’s one of the most powerful art forms for making a statement about the worst parts of human behavior in a way cuts to the truth and makes you laugh at the same time. But I would argue that what Mel is doing here is much, much deeper. For a brief moment he turns the tables on Germany – the funny Jewish kid from Brooklyn is going to figuratively usurp the entire Third Reich and make fools of them for all the world to see – forever.
Question: How do you make comedy out of the holocaust?
Answer: Springtime for Hitler!