Q: Do you want to upset them?
Q: When you're pitching joke ideas to the makers of "Get Smart" is it intimidating for them? Do they humor you and then not use it?
A: That's normal. That's part and parcel of our business from day one. Where the powers that be, the producers, say, "Oh, love it, love it, love it." And then you never see it again.
My son Max Brooks wrote for a couple years on "Saturday Night Live." He said there were 18 writers, like puppies trying to get to their mother's teats, trying to get one joke in. And the powers there would say yay or nay. Max had a million great ideas. So three years later, he had a great idea for a book, "The Zombie Surival Guide." And when he asked whether he could take six weeks off to go on a book tour and he would come back, they said, "No, what do you love your books? Do you love your thoughts? Or do you love 'SNL'?" And he said, that's an easy one. And he left and went on his tour and he's been happy ever since. He's not one of 18 or 20 writers struggling to get one lousy joke onto a show. It's awful.
He would sleep with a sleeping bag under the desk at NBC to be available.
Q: Was it like that back in the days when you were a comedy writer?
A: No. There were three of us. Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen and Mel Brooks in 1950 and we wrote the Admiral Broadway Revue, the precursor to "Your Show of Shows." Three of us! With the help, of course, of the producer Sid Caeser.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story misspelled Sid Caesar as Sid Ceaser.
Q: Were the hours as grueling?
A: No. We were young and stupid. We just poured our heart out. I don't know if we worked as many hours as the 'SNL' writers. We certainly gave it all we had. The strange thing was, we'd do the show on Saturday and on Saturday afternoon, we'd do a dress rehearsal with an audience to keep whatever we could in the show. The dress rehearsal was at one in the afternoon and it ran for an hour and a half. And then around 3 p.m. we'd begin rewriting the show. And we'd go on again at 7 p.m. and we'd have four hours of nonstop thinking and correcting and writing and rewriting. But we always had a pretty good show.
Q: You produced the 1986 remake of "The Fly" and your son wrote the zombie thriller "World War Z." Is horror a Brooks family passion?
A: [Max's] got a lot of comedy in him. But his real passion and love, I guess, is zombies. I'm more of a World War II geek than I am of a horror geek. That's my avocation. Max is also. Max knows more about German and Russian submarines than anybody alive. The brilliance of Max Brooks is that he always quotes authorities at the back of his books that never existed. Like a Russian professor he made up that validates a story or character. He has maybe 200 "authorities" and he makes every one of them up. That's so brilliant.
Q: Maxwell Smart's shoe phone once seemed so ridiculous But now we have cell phones that could easily be shoes.
A: I guess Buck Henry and I actually invented the cell phone. We didn't know we were doing that. We still haven't gotten any royalties from that or the Cone of Silence. And I think they did a great job with the Cone of Silence in the movie. They super-teched it.
Q: Were you trying to predict future spy-tech with these gadgets?
A: I don't know. I stole it from Dick Tracy. I think Dick Tracy had a watch that was a TV watch or a radio watch. And he communicated through this watch. I thought that's too simple and too nice. Let's put his communicator device in his shoe. And it worked.
We were very lucky to get Don Adams. Around one season on NBC and they cancelled it. For some reason they couldn't find a proper replacement. And no one knew about the show, so they threw it on another season. And the second season it caught fire. They kept it for the run, and then in the last year CBS took it over.
Q: How difficult is it to Maxwell Smart stupid?
A: You want to be as smart as you can about being stupid. Peter Segal and the writers respect the audience. And I have always thought there were a lot of people in the audience were smarter than I was. I was watching "Blazing Saddles" with an audience and when they exploded, I thought, these people are as smart as I am. In writing comedy, I've never written down. I've always written as hard as I could.
Q: "Get Smart" was on all the four networks at one time or another.
A: I never knew that. Until you told me just now.
Q: If the movie is a hit, is the plan to take the sequels around to each of the different studios?
A: No. But that's a good idea. I'm writing it down. I'm going to tell them to do that and I want a piece of the action.
Q: When you meet the public, which of your projects do you find yourself talking about the most?
A: "Spaceballs." I don't know why. They are always talking about Just Plain Yogurt and President Skroob. The young people see it. Older people will talk to me about "Blazing Saddles." But little kids will always have a "Spaceballs" reference. In fact, we're doing "Spaceballs" as an animated series. I'm doing two voices: Just Plain Yogurt and President Skroob who isn't that far from the Bush administration.