Though he may be the furthest from a stoner himself, Mel Brooks films have always been included as favorites among the cannabis community, especially to those in a deep #CouchLock.
You can’t deny the classic comedies of Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs or Robin Hood: Men In Tights. The jokes are quick, largely visual and with an inane goofiness that only a person made of stone could deny laughing at.
One of those films, The History of the World Part 1, was released in 1981, the year of my birth, and turns thirty five years old this week. With this, I decided it’d be the perfect time to dissect the movie a little bit.
Making this film was a little bit of a knee jerk reaction for Brooks. In press junkets he would be constantly asked what his next project would be, and he began to reply in exasperation, “The History of the World Part One!” as more of a brush off answer.
After further joking that the only thing he hadn’t spoofed yet was historical epics and Biblical spectacles, Brooks set forth to conquer that gap in his films, taking on five roles himself. He would also try to cast Richard Pryor in a pivotal role but scheduling never worked out, and tragically, Pryor infamously set himself on fire. Don’t freebase with 151, kids.
As the norm with all Mel Brooks films, the master of the spoof wrote, produced, and directed the movie with a $11 million dollar budget. It had pretty sizeable success for 1981, taking $31 million. But, unfortunately, it was also considered one of the worst movies of the year.
Having just watched it again this week, I can say that it’s not the worst Brooks film, as Life Stinks comes to mind. But it’s not the best and it seems like he was trying the channel the vignette stylings of the British comedy troupe Monty Python, even going as far as trying to secure John Cleese for a cameo.
The film starts it’s comedic retelling of history starting at the very beginning with a 2001: A Space Odyssey looking dawn of time scene that degenerates into all the monkey men masturbating until they pass out in front of the title card.
We then get the dawn of man and cave man times led by the legendary Sid Caesar. It’s here Brooks would be a little ahead of the times, showing that this was the invention of the first marriage and first gay marriage. Very progressive for 1981.
Then there’s the quick jump to the Old Testament with Moses (Brooks in role #1) coming down the mountain with the Fifteen Commandments, until one tablet breaks leaving ten. What were the five that broke?
They are as follows:
11. You shall not pass.
12. You shall not make people laugh.
13. You shall not buy.
14. You shall not stay.
15. You shall not break. This last one is ironically funny.
The Roman Empire is next and kind of the most important for this #CouchLock column. Brooks plays his second part, the first stand up “philosopher,” Comicus, who just landed a sweet gig at Caesar’s Palace. On the way to his dream job, he falls for a vestigial virgin and befriends a slave, played by Gregory Hines in his first role as Josephus. This character is the most important in Mel Brooks films when it comes to cannabis lovers.
In all of his films, Brooks alluded to cannabis only twice, the first being in 1974’s Blazing Saddles when Cleavon Little’s character Bart shares a doobie with an inmate at the sheriff’s office.
The second time is in this movie when, while escaping from the Roman guards, our main characters come across a lush green field. Josephus immediately identifies it as “Roman Red” and proceeds to roll a giant joint. He then lights it up and uses it to create a smoke screen to blind and inebriate the chariots chasing them down. It has to be one of the biggest joints on screen, maybe alongside Tommy Chong’s Great Dane joint from Up In Smoke.
Brooks makes a quick stop during the Spanish Inquisition for a big musical number, featuring himself in a third role as Torquemada, the grand inquisitor, which goes all Rogers and Hammerstein.
The movie then goes to it’s final act, the French Revolution that plays a variation on the Prince and the Pauper with Brooks playing Jacques the Piss Boy and the King of France, Louis. All of this plays ridiculously into Josephus leaping through time to save Jacques and his fair maiden, the same vestigial virgin from the Roman age. Surely, the Roman Red must be some really good shit! It can break both space and time. Where can I buy some?
While Mel Brooks uses cannabis to show a cultural and racial divide with his black characters smoking weed and his white characters divulging in cocaine, it shows what the general consensus was on cannabis at the time.
Now we can view this as just a character humorously smoking a giant joint, but the fact that Josephus can sniff out a weed field from miles away and knows the strain immediately says that either Mel Brooks has a little insight into what he’s writing about, or that he had some people with at least a little knowledge onset.
I really wish someone would ask him about it. Heck, I really hope to be that guy one day because, who knows, maybe Mel has a dank and sticky secret. Could you imagine? I’m picturing him and Carl Reiner lighting up as I write this.
Make sure to check Trevor Dueck and Steve Stebbing out every Friday on Cannabis in Canada for Flix Anonymous. They review all the new film releases, give you their weekly stoner flicks and more.