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Television Mel Brooks, lame sitcoms and the superiority of codger humour

Hello, Holiday Monday readers.

What times we live in. Fun times. Duffygate. Here in Tronna it's Crackgate. In B.C., Christy Clark returns, triumphant. How the heck did that happen? Oh, and the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead to lose a Game 7 and exit the playoffs. How the heck?

In the U.S., the accumulation of scandals – Benghazi, the IRS targeting The Tea Party, the Justice Department targeting Associated Press reporters – could amount to another Watergate, some say, especially if President Obama and his cabal are involved in a massive cover-up.

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Jokes about these matters abound. Snippy comments, acid remarks, one-liners. Most can be found on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. One good joke gets repeated ceaselessly.

Our current circumstance helps us put into perspective, I think, the dearth of good TV comedy these days. In recent weeks I've written about both Louis C.K. and Amy Schumer, presenting them as the stand-up comics of the moment – one a seemingly amiable guy offering a weary perspective on the world, the other a woman offering mockery that overlays an anger about the way women are perceived in the popular culture.

All fine, though I can't say that I feel much empathy with either C.K. or Schumer. I can admire the style and note the impact. But funny? Nah, not so much.

What we lack these days is goofy, full-of-gusto comedy. Broad, hamming-it-up fun. Some slapstick mixed up with knee-slapping goofing around. The kind of humour that emanates from a Brooklyn-born octogenarian, the son of immigrant Jews and old enough to tell yarns about serving as a soldier in the Second World War.

American Masters: Mel Brooks – Make a Noise (PBS, 9 p.m.) is about that Brooklyn-born octogenarian and, boy, is it a breath of fresh air. At age 87, Mel Brooks is raring to go, happy to talk to the program's producer and tell funny stories with all the zest of someone a fraction of his age.

We're talking codger humour here. And a good many of those interviewed in the 90-minute assessment of Brooks are certainly codgers. Joan Rivers, Rob Reiner, Carl Reiner and Neil Simon are among those who talk about Brooks and his body of work.

Brooks himself is a good storyteller, skipping across the events of his life without lingering much on the periods of pain in his life. He explains that when he was nine years old, an uncle who was a cab driver had tickets for a new Broadway show and took him to see it. The show was Anything Goes, essentially a lot of singing and dancing starring Ethel Merman, and Brooks says, "I was literally crying with happiness."

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"I said to myself, one day l'm gonna have a show on Broadway. No factories for me, no driving a cab … I'm gonna write things that are in my heart and in my soul and l'm gonna be in showbiz. I'm gonna enjoy my life and have fun. And I did."

He ended up writing for Sid Ceasar in the early 1950s on Your Show of Shows. He was making thousands of dollars a week, but, as sometimes happens, he burned out and was miserable for a while. He got back in the game and after more TV work he made films such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. He also married Anne Bancroft and was insanely happy for years. In an old clip, the late Bancroft says, "I loved him. He looked like my father and acted like my mother."

The program is a delight from start to finish. Directed by Robert Trachtenberg, it never loses pace and manages to treat Brooks with respect without being reverential. What emerges is a sense of humour that's hard to analyze or deconstruct because it's the natural outpouring of the man himself. Brooks says, "I don't want just a little laugh. I want people to be doubled over and falling down with laughter."

That's so rare these days, and it is utterly captivating. It's a codger approach to humour and worth savouring in these times that beggar the imagination and, apparently, beggar great comedy, too.

Also airing tonight

The Goodwin Games (Fox, 8:30 p.m.) is a new summer-season comedy that's all idea and no delivery. Three rather implausible siblings discover that their recently deceased father (Beau Bridges, wildly overdoing it) left a fortune of $23-million and devised a game they must play in order to inherit it. Thus, a stiff-necked doctor (Scott Foley), a flighty actress (Becki Newton) and a dumb thief newly out of prison (T.J. Miller) meet, squabble and attempt to play dad's crazy game. Of course, dad's point was to bring these squabbling siblings together, so sentimentality gets all mixed up with the slight humour. It's so wobbly it's a lesson in how not to do comedy.

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All times ET. Check local listings.

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