The Arty Semite

Mel Brooks, Out of His Element

By Curt Schleier

Spend an hour with Alan Yentob and you quickly realize just how good Dick Cavett is.

Courtesy of HBO

Yentob hosts “Mel Brooks Strikes Back!” a conversation with the comic genius that premieres on HBO December 10 at 9 p.m. It comes a little more than a year after Cavett performed similar duties in another HBO special, “Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again.”

Cavett brought out the best in Brooks, offering straight-man questions that launched one hilarious anecdote after another. I wouldn’t say that Yentob pales in comparison to Cavett. I’d say he’s an albino.

The irony is that Cavett, by Brooks’ description, is “spectacularly gentile.” Yentob comes from an Iraqi Jewish family in the shmata business. Unfortunately, that business is in Britain, where Yentob serves as creative director of the BBC.

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