The Producers for Purim: The Book of Esther and Mel Brooks with comedies about genocide

by Bob Schwartz

The Book of Esther, the basis for today’s holiday of Purim, is a funny book. Scholars agree that it is an over-the-top absurd burlesque, having little or nothing to do with history or the real world.

Debauched drunken parties, sexy women, ridiculous cosmetics, a beauty contest, royal intrigue, buffoonish king, nasty villain, crowd-pleasing heroics. With no God to be seen or heard from. And a planned Jewish genocide.

One question frequently asked is how a book so lacking in piety or holy lessons ended up in the Hebrew Bible. The answer: Jewish people demanded it because that’s entertainment. Enough with the earnest gloom, scolding and tragedy.

Which brings us to Mel Brooks. There may be other comedies about Jewish genocide, but none more infamous or funny than his 1967 movie The Producers. Though it was remade in later decades, as a film and Broadway show, it is important to place the original in its time. It was released little more than twenty years after the revelation of the Holocaust. How could we be expected to laugh? The Book of Esther, composed more than two thousand years ago, is the answer. As Stephen Sondheim wrote in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.

This Purim, read The Book of Esther. Any time, watch The Producers.