Brooks shuns political correctness in ‘Comedy in the Muslim World’ |

Brooks shuns political correctness in ‘Comedy in the Muslim World’

Howie Nave
The U.S. government sends comedian Albert Brooks to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh in "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World."

Albert Brooks is arguably one of the funniest human beings living today. He’s always had this cult following that seemed to “get” exactly what it was he was lampooning or observing. As a filmmaker, the actor/comedian has made some of the smartest comedies reflecting the times we live in.

During the 1980s, Brooks wrote, directed and starred in “Lost in America,” about your typical modern-day Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) going through a mid-life crisis and seeking out what America has to offer in a Winnebago. In the ’90s, Brooks showed us what the afterlife (or the waiting period before one’s afterlife begins) was like, and how we advance to that next plateau, in “Defending Your Life,” which he also wrote, directed and starred in. That movie helped Brooks reach his widest audience to date.

More recent efforts have included “Mother” (also one that he wrote, directed and starred in), which showed us the sibling rivalry that can take place to gain the love and attention from one’s mom. OK – maybe as a child, but as a full-grown adult? Debbie Reynolds was hysterical in the role of Brooks’ mom. “The Muse” gave us an inside look at Hollywood, and how those in the creative business sometimes need a little something (or a someone) extra to keep them from getting writer’s block. That one was so-so, although the cameos were fun.

Now comes Brooks’ latest, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” and once again Brooks has found a way to inject humor into a topic that otherwise would never be touched upon. I mean, seriously, outside of Germany, I can’t think of another people that is in dire need of comedy more than ever.

Even Sony Pictures, which was originally going to distribute the film, decided to pass for fear of the controversy that might ensue. Hello? And that’s not good for a film’s publicity? Does anybody remember a little documentary called “Fahrenheit 9/11” that sparked a little controversy? I wonder how many more people went out to see what all the hubbub was about after that film was getting tons of press? Sony’s loss, but Warner Independent Pictures’ gain for picking up the ball.

It should be noted that the movie doesn’t take place in the Middle East, which the title implies, but rather in India and its neighboring country, Pakistan. The plot is interesting enough, though, where the American Government hires Brooks (playing himself) to travel to India and Pakistan to find out exactly what it is that makes people laugh in that part of the world and write a 500-page report on Muslim humor for the president. Not an easy assignment for sure.

He’s given a pair of escorts from the State Department, Stuart (John Carroll Lynch) and Mark (Jon Tenney). They’re anything but useful. However, once he gets a personal assistant – a young Hindu woman named Maya (Sheetal Sheth) – the comedy really kicks in. Sheth is very funny, and it becomes apparent she is smitten with Brooks. Add to that her anything-but-steady relationship with her boyfriend, and we get another story happening, which just adds to the impending conflict already taking place.

The American government hopes that by finding out what it is that makes those folks laugh, our government can better understand their culture. Of course, there are so many beautiful set-ups at the idea of tapping into the funnybone from a sect usually not associated with comedy, which will make a few people cringe, but so what? It’s refreshing to see something so un-politically correct that I found myself laughing at how American humor can be misunderstood in other parts of the world, and understandably so. His appearance on Al-Jazeera, the Arab television network for news, was very un-PC, to say the least. I mean, c’mon. The idea that they would even offer him his own TV show (“That Darn Jew”) is not only outrageous, but improbable, to say the least. OK, it’s just a movie.

Like a well-crafted joke, the set-up or premise here is very entertaining, no matter what the eventual punchline will yield. I found myself waiting in anticipation for the outcome that would leave me roaring with laughter, but at times I was disappointed. There are moments of brilliance here that were clearly improvised, like the scene where he put together a stand-up routine for his Muslim audience that is met with stunned silence. To be fair, Brooks does a good job keeping things (to quote FOX News) fair and balanced, poking fun at our culture as much as he does with those from India and Pakistan.

Still, the film felt incomplete and ended rather abruptly. Maybe because there really isn’t any answer as to what can be done to further our relationship in that part of the world? That part was frustrating, but maybe that’s what Brooks wanted us to walk away with. Still, I like a movie that can attack something with words instead of bombs.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.

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