Mel Brooks Live in London (Prince of Wales Theatre)

The comedy legend performed his first ever West End solo show on Sunday

Mel Brooks performed his solo show in the West End for the first time
Mel Brooks performed his solo show in the West End for the first time
© Dan Wooller

"Good evening, ladies and Jews". It’s springtime for 88 year-old Mel Brooks, genius creator of The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety: his audio comedy classic The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man is to be re-released, The Producers is on tour, he was honoured with a BFI Fellowship on Saturday night and on Sunday night he gave a one-off stand-up in the West End.

Would I miss it? At those prices, you bet I would. But I coughed up anyway, cancelling my summer holidays budget to hear the maestro recap on his early days in the Catskills as a borscht belt comedian (where the old Jews died of strokes while singing in their bath chairs after lunch while trying to hit the high note in "Dancing in the Dark"), as a sketch writer for Sid Caesar with Neil Simon and hilarious encounters with Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock.

I’ve never seen Brooks live – except once in the street in New York when he was leaving backstage at The Producers, and I yelled "I love this show": "What", he snapped back viciously, "didn’t you like the movie?" Actually, as he said last night, the New York Times hated the movie, so did most of the British film critics (he name-checks Alexander Walker) but he thinks they were sulking after Peter Sellers took a two-page ad in The Guardian to proclaim its virtues.

I expected more aggression, more abrasiveness, but if you look at YouTube snippets, there’s always a soft, "love me a little" side to his schtick – something you don’t get with Jackie Mason, whom I probably prefer – but for me his talent and his character are best preserved in the great Kenneth Tynan profile. In that piece, my old (deceased) friend Sidney Glazier, who produced The Producers, snorts his coffee, he’s laughing so much when Brooks reads him the first draft; last night, he merely spat out a tuna sandwich.

His timing and relaxation on the stage are impeccable. He layers a joke with the sharpness of a haiku, the stark detail honed to perfection, so there are four cumulative pay-offs instead of just one, as in the débâcle over a dead man’s ashes destined for the Hudson River. First they’re put in a coffee can (cheaper than the moratorium’s urn), then they blow back into a fake cashmere coat, then the coat is brushed down; where are they now? Mostly in a dry-cleaner’s on Columbus Street.

He’s prepared for the Q&A, answering his own questions, which is an improvement on the flabby formula adopted by recent Hollywood visitors. And he surprises us with his affectionate non-singing of his own songs from Blazing Saddles (taking a prompt from his grandson in the stalls) and High Anxiety ("Hope for the best, expect the worst") and a brilliant subversive patter song he wrote with Ronnie Graham for the New Faces revue of 1952, "Mal de Guerre".

Above all, like all the great American Jewish comedians, there’s something historic and deeply moving about Brooks, his immigrant, Brooklyn and vaudeville background, the particular type of liberated non-PC vulgarity that is the preserve of the entitled minority, the child-like innocence and sense of wonder in show business.

He’s a torpedo with a bulldog face who’s grown moss and accomplishment round the edges. And I love the moment when he hitches up his pants and confesses that he hates wearing suspenders ("braces" in our language) and there are no loops for a belt; and it’s a two-hundred dollar tux! For that, he could almost afford to see his own show.

Mel Brooks Live in London ran for one night only at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The UK tour of The Producers is running to July 2015.