January 20, 2006

"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World."

I enjoyed this NPR interview with Albert Brooks about his new movie, in which a character, played by him and named Albert Brooks, is sent to India and Pakistan to try to learn what makes Muslims laugh and write a 500 page report about it, which, Fred Thompson tells him, would be doing his country a great service. Well, that's the concept. Yes, of course, it doesn't make any sense. He's just one comedian, and the Muslims in question are millions of people, many of whom don't speak English. I wouldn't even expect Albert Brooks to be able to figure out what Americans find funny. But none of that matters much, I assume. The question isn't what makes Muslims laugh, but whether Brooks can make us laugh with this material. That sounds like a rather difficult task.

How is he doing? Rotten Tomatoes is showing seriously mixed reviews. Here's J. Hoberman in the Village Voice:
[T]he movie is complicated by two paradoxes—one annoyingly obvious, the other fascinatingly implicit. The first is the use of India, which, although home to 150 million Muslims, has six times as many Hindus; the second is that Brooks's comic sensibility travels so badly. Woody Allen may bestride the world like a colossus, but—the brilliance of Real Life, Modern Romance, and Lost in America notwithstanding—not even the French have shown any interest in Albert Brooks. I'd hazard that this has something to do with the untranslatable subtlety of his one-liners (dependent as they are on situation and delivery) and the uningratiating nature of his persona (complete with refusal to acknowledge blatant neuroses).
"Not even the French have shown any interest in Albert Brooks" -- I love that.

13 comments:

BrianOfAtlanta said...

Well, the muslim/muslin joke was funny. I didn't know what to make of the rest of the interview, though. I kept being reminded of Nemo's father, the clownfish and the "You're a clownfish, tell us a joke!" running gag.

Goesh said...

-and here I thought we were going to be entertained with beheading jokes. You know, something along the lines of an al Jazeera Carson and Ed McMahon.

Mahmoud (Carson): Hey Jaleel (Ed), a viewer wants to know if a dull knife or sharp knife is best for beheading infidels?
Jaleel: Oh I don't know, what do you think, Mahmoud?
Mahmoud: It depends on how close to prayer time the beheading is!
-and loud guffaws follow from Jaleel and the audience-

Stay tuned for "Beheading Trivia" at 10:00PM folks, when the winner who provided the correct response to last week'a question of the hour, how far does arterial blood spurt from a severed head, will be announced!

bill said...

It's Albert Brooks, I'll see it. For me, he gets a lifetime pass for Lost in America and the nest egg speech. Also from his comedy album, Comedy Minus One, his 15 minute routine of opening for Ritchie Havens in San Antonio is still one of the funniest acts I've ever heard.

paulfrommpls said...

TNR had a review (highly negative by two staffers from Foreign Policy) that mentioned the movie ends with Albert Brooks entertaining a group of "stoned Pakistani comedians" sitting around "a campfire."

That Pakistani comedians exist is in itself good news and a step in the right direction. That they get stoned, probably ditto. That they gatehr together around campfires - that makes me curious about life as a Pakistani comedian.

knoxgirl said...

ugh, Albert Brooks gets on my last nerve.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake said...

I am with Bill. Because of "Real Life", "Modern Romance" and "Lost in America", I will see any Albert Brooks movie he makes. But it is a tough sitting through the movies he has made since 1985.

He is a good actor though.

DEC said...

In many ways, Muslim cultures are as different from each other as European cultures are from each other. The Egyptians view themselves as the sophisticates of the Arab world. The residents in Saudi Arabia often behave like rich Texans. (In fact, folks in Cairo frequently refer to Gulf Arabs as "country people.")

Few comics are able to cross all cultures. Lucille Ball did. So did Bill Cosby.

What makes Muslims laugh? The answer varies from country to country most of the time. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, "All jokes are grievances." Grievances vary from country to country.

paulfrommpls said...

Actually, Lucille Ball never did cross over into my own little culture.

Jonathan said...

I saw Lost in America and that was enough Brooks for me: intermittently funny but I had difficulty sympathizing with such annoying characters. It's hard to enjoy a movie if you can't sympathize with any of the characters.

Neurotic self-absorption doesn't travel well. I can imagine a person in a foreign culture dismissing a Brooks-like character for being too wrapped up in in-jokes. "Dry humor" in this context sounds like a euphemism for "lacks interest in people who aren't exactly like himself." But I didn't see the movie.

And Woody Allen an international colossus? Now there's a joke.

"cwiyss"

P. Froward said...

Jonathan, Allen is indeed a colossus throughout the entire world. There is no place on Earth, from the Battery all the way to the Bruckner Expressway, where his name is not magic. Even in Astoria, he is known.

Charlie Eklund said...

Albert Brooks' real name is Albert Einstein. That makes him a comic genius in my book.

Albert Brooks trivia of the day: Brooks' brother Bob Einstein played Super Dave on the Showtime series of the same name in the 1980's and he also had a cameo role as an athletic equipment salesman in "Modern Romance".

Charlie Eklund said...

Albert Brooks' real name is Albert Einstein. That makes him a comic genius in my book.

Albert Brooks trivia of the day: Brooks' brother Bob Einstein played Super Dave on the Showtime series of the same name in the 1980's and he also had a cameo role as an athletic equipment salesman in "Modern Romance".