Albert Brooks

I bought a comedy album by Albert Brooks when I was 12–“A Star is Bought”–and was absolutely amazed and confused. I laughed really hard, but I couldn’t share its punchlines at school; unlike Steve Martin, say, or Richard Pryor or George Carlin, who if nothing else came with value-added profanities, and who always drew an appreciative laugh from the kids who might otherwise have punched me, Brooks…. well, how could I explain that his parody of the “Mr. Jaws” records was about the funniest damn thing I’d heard?

I was able to find on video at a local hole-in-the-wall Real Life, his and Harry Shearer’s absolutely brilliant send-up of reality television made thirty years ahead of its time (riffing on the contemporaneous PBS documentary ‘inside’–and destructive of–a family’s home). Mauer and Bruns have rhapsodized about that wonder elsewhere on this blog.

And although I got almost none of the specific angst pervading his next two films–Modern Romance and Lost in America–I got the existential genius of the arrogant, doomed-to-failure character “Albert Brooks.”

I’m kind of just gushing here. I’ve watched everything since–and even relished The Mother–but haven’t seen anything close to that early genius.

So, with great trepidation but also great hopes, I thought I’d post the trailer for his new flick, Looking for Comedy in the Moslem World. The trailer hits a couple high notes, and squawks awkwardly (and sounds almost Catskillsy, in the worst way) in a few instances. But…. here’s hoping I have a devil of a time talking to my colleagues, those ones who might otherwise punch me, about why this movie is funny.

11 thoughts on “Albert Brooks”

  1. One thing that I’d really like to see from Albert Brooks are his old Saturday Night Live films. I remember one where he had a cold (as I do now), and he just laid in bed complaining about how he wasn’t complaining. Then a delivery guy brought him some pizza or soup.

    That and some of his old Carson visits. I’ve seen no one crack up Carson the way Brooks did.

    Now let’s talk about how funny Michael O’Donaghue was.

  2. Robots do love Dyan Cannon. In the coming robot apocalypse, I believe, deep in my heart, that we won’t have to worry about Dyan Cannon. She’s gonna be okay.

    Jerry Van Dyke, on the other hand… That fucker will have nowhere to sleep in peace when our robot overlords ascend!

    And I wish I had a funny snap-back to Frisoli, but his comment is far funnier than any reply I can imagine, so…. I’m putting his name on the robot list, too. He and Van Dyke can yuk it up together, in the bunkers under our burned-out cityscapes. We’ll see who’s laughing then!

  3. just as long as Jerry brings his banjo. I have to credit Andy Kindler for my remark. let me explain by quoting myself, partly because I am a pretentious git and partly maybe to open up a discussion on kinds of comedy, since Brooks definitely has a connection to the tradition of “shtick.” this is from comments on stories by kafka:

    “Shtick” inevitably brings up the role in Kafka’s work of his status as a European Jew. Comedian Andy Kindler has a routine: he says an agent tells him to “go easy on the shtick.” He translates this phrase to mean “We hate the Jews!” According to James Rolleston, “…Kafka’s family were not particularly observant Jews, [but] the conspicuous ‘identity’ of Prague Jewry was inescapable. Kafka became increasingly interested in Jewish issues… And his three sisters, as well as his close friend and Czech translator Milena Jesenska, all died in Nazi concentration camps between 1942 and 1944”

    I have tried to talk about modernist comedy as a kind of suspension of the relations of the subjective to the objective; “shtick” is a particular kind of suspension of identity within a routine. I suppose you could speak of it as partly a “defensive” activity, where the “shtick” supplants identity and protects it from being known too closely; but it is also rich and productive, a convergence point for the individual identity, the community and the objects of the world. Kafka’s animals share with the aims of “shtick” an emphasis on the ability of performance to reconfigure subject-object relations—to the benefit of both…Shtick makes performing a way of being in the world, of relating to objects. Shtick—especially of the modernist variety in comedians like Kafka and Beckett (and Brooks? Woody Allen? and in its traditional forms like Jackie Mason,Henny Youngman and their generation?)—acknowledges the world because its performance is directed outward, but it also protects the autonomy of the subject by making performance its central principle, thereby making the subject more lithe, flexible and slippery.

    Kindler’s agent wants a non-modernist comedy that conceals its performance, in the name supposedly of “authentic” comic observation; Kindler, a Jew like Kafka, gives the modernist answer that comic performance should underline and revel in its self-constitution rather than efface it.

  4. Why, he’s right here; we’re watching Diagnosis Murder on the Pax Network, and he keeps muttering “damn you, damn you” I said, at least you’ve got Big Lots and reruns of Coach. rather than mollifying him,my attempts at consolation appear to enrage him. he glares a hole in the Wild Turkey bottle and mutters “bastard bangs mary tyler moore and i get my mother the fuckin’ car.” I just stay quiet, hoping he passes out before “Bye Bye Birdie” comes on “Night Owl Theater.”

    and, hey, how come nobody rises to the bait of discussing shtick. you all anti-semites like Mike? favorite joke: When you were born you were so ugly, the doctor slapped your mother” hey-o!!!!

  5. I’ll rise to the bait. Except I’ll recharacterize it as a smart bit, and say I agree. It wasn’t just shtick in the trailer that struck me unfunny, but the Catskills swipe was a resistance to a conventional set-up/punchline retort/spit-take kind of joke that seemed so formally dissonant next to Brooks’ far stranger reaction shots and absurdist set-ups. But I like your read on how to read: in a comedy so pointedly made by a Jew about Muslim comedy, to make shtick a complicated reaction is indeed a brilliant move. I rededicate my life to Brooks.

    I still, however, feel sorry for Jerry V-D. And I’ll get to the post on Oldboy, I promise, Chris. I want to watch it again, but I’m completely swamped of late.

    On another comedy note, I’m almost done with Arrested Development‘s second season, and wow. It is so sublimely silly, I almost can’t believe it. I had liked season one, but unbound by any real interest in coherent plot arcs, it springs off into ineffable beauty. To Buster’s hook!

    And another comedy note, with crossover: The Colbert Report can be quite funny, or can be a bit strained. But there are moments–and I saw in a rerun yesterday that they’ve created a liberal foil, one “Russ Lever” from Wisconsin, who seems interesting… and whose photo looked suspiciously like David Cross, so here’s hoping he becomes a frequent guest.

  6. I saw Looking for Comedy last night, and I wish it were more thoroughly-biting, more focused, funnier… but it’ll definitely do. While I might cringe about or respectfully watch various films about 9/11 and terrorism, it’s a pleasure to see such an alien approach to the issues–sending Brooks to survey what makes Muslims laugh is a brilliant conceit, even if the film is comfortable with being merely amusing rather than scathing. In brief, I recommend it.

    Brooks’ comedy of discomfort is in fine form, and there are moments that suggest a kind of manic and smart reframing of post-9/11 anxieties. Brooks’ narcissism is itself reflexively if obliquely illustrative/critical of American blundering in foreign policy; there is much hay made around anti-semitism (beating Borat to the punch) while also a gleeful exploitation of ethnic stereotypes. (As Brooks notes, while doing his survey, Polish jokes sell everywhere.)

    I also delighted in seeing some of his old routines–his brilliant “improvisation” with audience suggestions–delivered to a room that never laughs. That scene alone is worth a rental.

    I’ve been kind of tickling an idea about trying to write on post-9/11 narratives. And I’m particularly struck by the comic takes; I’m reading a novel called _The Zero_ by Jess Walter that models itself more on Heller than heroism, and its corrosive attention to the pieties and anxieties in the days following the attack are… well, very fucking refreshing.

  7. I was fairly disappointed in this.

    Brooks’ films are rarely ever laugh-out-loud funny until you actually become an admitted fan of Albert Brooks films. Then they seem funnier. But whlie I am an Albert Brooks fan, I had a hard time finding many laughs in this one. I liked the beginning: Brooks’ disasterous meeting with Penny Marshall for a remake of Harvey (I can’t be alone in thinking that Brooks would be excellent in such a thing). I liked all of the references to his fish character in Finding Nemo.

    But come on; there have to be more laughs in a film that is so directly about the very concept of comedy and who finds what funny.

    I was hoping there might be something a little edgy in the deleted scenes – something they thought might work while filming but that they were too nervous about using in the film. Instead we get jokes about “not drinking the water” that might as well be used in a sit-com about vacationing in Acapulco.

    Know what else isn’t funny? The Simpsons. There was one line last night that made me laugh. I don’t remember what it was now, but it was otherwise entirely unfunny.

    There was a terrible reliance on “guest-stars,” running jokes into the gorund through repition, and stale overused jokes related to the regular characters (Hibbert, Moe, Milhouse). Blah.

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