While at NYU film school I served as informal joke tester for Mel Brooks. Well, that’s how I describe it. I doubt Mel Brooks would describe it at all, or even remember this important moment in my education. He and Anne Bancroft lived at 1 Fifth Avenue, which at the time was also an NYU dorm. Often when Mel would see me he’d tell me a joke. If I laughed, even in spite of myself, he’d look happy and I imagined he was earmarking the joke for use in conversation or in a film. If I didn’t react or clearly didn’t like it, I could almost hear him throw it out. This is a true story.
I don’t know why Mel picked me, but he was always holding the elevator door open on the seventh floor to finish a joke while a whole elevator-full of people waited patiently and Anne Bancroft would say, “Mel, let the door go. I’m sure she has things to do.”
I learned a great lesson from Mel Brooks. I learned that it’s important to write carefully but not to overthink things. It’s important to let ideas flow, and I encourage my clients to do the same. Even if the ideas seem silly, I know they’ll lead to something useful. They’ll lead to newly drawn boundaries and new horizons.
The goal of good writing is to change the reader or listener just a little bit, so that you’re not the same person leaving the elevator as you were when you entered it.