From best friend Carl Reiner to wife Anne Bancroft, the great comic has had to face great loss. But even in the middle of a pandemic, the 95-year-old is still finding ways to laugh

In February 2020, I joined Mel Brooks at the Beverly Hills home of his best friend, the director and writer Carl Reiner, for their nightly tradition of eating dinner together and watching the gameshow Jeopardy!. It was one of the most emotional nights of my life. Brooks, more than anyone, shaped my idea of Jewish-American humour, emphasising its joyfulness, cleverness and in-jokiness. Compared with his stellar 60s and 70s, when he was one of the most successful movie directors in the world, with The Producers and Blazing Saddles, and later his glittering 2000s, when his musical adaptation of The Producers dominated Broadway and the West End, his 80s and 90s are considered relatively fallow years. But his 1987 Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs, was the first Brooks movie I saw, and nothing was funnier to this then nine-year-old than that nonstop gag-a-thon (forget Yoda and the Force; in Spaceballs, Mel Brooks is Yoghurt and he wields the greatest power of all, the Schwartz).

I loved listening to Brooks and Reiner – whose films included The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains – reminisce about their eight decades of friendship in which, together and separately, they created some of the greatest American comedy of the 20th century. The deep love between them was palpable, with Brooks, then 93, gently prompting 97-year-old Reiner on some of his anecdotes. It was impossible not to be moved by their friendship, and hard not to feel anxiety about the prospect of one of them someday having to dine on his own.

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