This one goes out to Gene Wilder, my Crazy Eyes, Silly Accents, and Fart Jokes Idol
By Caitlin Brady
Caitlin Brady is an MFA candidate from Texas who writes fiction and humor. She studied screenwriting at New York University and collaborated with Animal Kingdom Films (It Follows, Short Term 12), on a feature-length script.
Correction thanks to Lou Applebaum: Spot of bother, the sherrif in Blazing Saddles was Cleavon Little, not Richard Pryor. Though Pryor was first choice, he ultimately was not cast.
Yesterday, the day Gene Wilder died, I took a destructively long nap, woke up believing I slept through a psych appointment, clumsy sprinted to the train, and discovered that appointment wasn’t until the next day. To recover from my shock and confusion, I did the only thing that made sense and went to Home Depot for a 10 lb. bag of cactus soil. While I’m not sure why this is critical to eulogizing the comedic genius my father introduced me to as the king of campfire fart jokes, maybe we’ll get there together.
If there’s anyone who would be okay sharing their eulogy with over 300 reindeer (around 332) it would be Gene Wilder.
Further, I was distraught to learn this morning that over 300 reindeer were killed by a lightning strike last night in Hardangervidda, Norway, and if there’s anyone who would be okay sharing their eulogy with over 300 reindeer (around 332) it would be Gene Wilder. He would probably insist their individual names be read or stated, but I could barely spell this city.
David Edelstein of New York Magazine called Wilder a master of “simmering hysteria” in his eulogy, and I honestly can’t think of a phrase that better defines how I relate to him, even though I’m not method acting (or am I?). As a kid, Willy Wonka made me feel numerous firsts – doubt about sugar, gratitude for not sharing a bed with my grandparents, and sartorial envy for that purple coat. In that film, Wilder taught me unblinking crazy eyes, how to shut people down with a cane, and how to make skipping sinister. More importantly, he showed me appearances aren’t always what they seem, and that a candy-filled utopian warehouse can also contain trippy irreversible shrink machines and uncontrolled elevators, the latter of which I still deeply fear. He was hands-down the classiest, most complicated man to ever dance beneath a mushroom parasol.
I was probably 11 the first time I saw it, but I wanted to make my dad laugh like that. I wanted to be like those cowboys, uninhibited farts and all.
It’s been years since I’ve seen Blazing Saddles, but my first memory of it is not only how adamant my dad was that we watch it, but of how hard my dad laughed. Big, big laughter, tears in his eyes, face red. I was probably 11 the first time I saw it, but I wanted to make my dad laugh like that. I wanted to be like those cowboys, uninhibited farts and all. I still unapologetically love fart jokes, though that wide shot of Richard Pryor riding into town alone is seared into my mind as the gold standard of satire. Young Frankenstein is my favorite Wilder film; I also saw the musical, which is a testament to the fact I am a very devoted fan. It was one of the rare films I felt was too short, with the timeless bits of Igor’s head on the shelf, the glue factory down the road, the candle-triggered secret door— this film encapsulated every aspect of what I loved about Wilder’s style and his collaborator Mel Brooks’ writing. It might seem weird that reindeer and potting soil are getting more top billing in this eulogy than Mel Brooks, but again, I have a sense he’d be down with it.
Gene Wilder made a skin-quilted dancing corpse, a musical about Hitler, Hollywood’s racial blind spot, and a creepy candy billionaire funny. Beyond funny, he made them classic. He was a comedic genius who inspired and continues to inspire the best performances and writing around, and with his subtle sense of mania, reliable levity, and hypnotic intensity, he showed me that beyond subdued, silliness can be thoughtful, and beyond thoughtful, it can be tender; beyond tender, it can be generous, and beyond generous, it can be brilliant.