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No. 14: The Producers

The origin of the Holocaust joke

Marc Tracy
December 08, 2011

1968, dir. Mel Brooks. We are lucky enough if a film gives us one fully fleshed out portrait of a classic Jewish stereotype. Within its first 15 minutes, The Producers gives us two: the con man and the nebbish, the Ponzi schemer and the neurotic accountant, the boisterous macher and the repressed schlemiel. (Does anything besides the original Odd Couple boast anything quite like this pairing?) Only this deadly combination could have come up with something so cheap as the gambit they play on their investors. But it’s by the end of the film that its real accomplishments become clear: This movie’s release was the moment it became OK to laugh at Hitler. And it had to be Jews who did it first, to make it OK for everyone else. Which kind of means that we owe every Holocaust joke, for better and for worse, to Mel Brooks.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.