We’re sad to report that comedy writer Mel Tolkin passed away yesterday, November 26th, at his home in Century City. Mel Tolkin was interviewed for the Archive of American Television for four hours. In his interview, Mr. Tolkin discussed his long writing partnership with Lucille Kallen (also an Archive interviewee) and writing for such shows as Admiral Broadway Revue and Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, The Sid Caesar Show and The Danny Kaye Show, as well as writing for All in the Family. The interview was conducted by Bob Claster on November 4, 1997.
From his Archive Interview:
On teaching comedy.
First I’d say that humor cannot be taught. Humor is an attitude towards life. It’s a rather cynical approach. It’s a negative approach. It’s saying people misbehave. People put on shows. People wear masks. People are proud of what they shouldn’t be. People compete unfairly. If you think life is wonderful, you don’t belong in comedy. Of course, there’s a lot that can be taught and at UCLA I taught very detailed things. Some of the things I mention here: how people recognize themselves on the screen and so on. What people are funny? And I quote the opening line of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy when she says, happy people are alike in their happiness. Only unhappy people are different from each other, and that’s all there is. Because she proceeded to have one of the unhappiest marriages of all time, Karenina. But she left him. So that’s an important lesson. Happy people are dull conversationalists — no fun to be with and probably vote Republican.
On how he would like to be remembered.
I will be remembered and that’s good enough. I speak about that subject to my son, Michael, and said if I never wrote another line, I’ve done my share. I’m pretty proud of what happened up to now.