Still left ‘Looking for Comedy’

Ryan deBiase

Brooks’ film fails

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, a Warner Independent Pictures release. COURTESY OF WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES”>

Albert Brooks stars as himself in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, a Warner Independent Pictures release. COURTESY OF WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Albert Brooks, in the aptly titled Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, embarks on a quest for patriotism in the face of ignorance.

Brooks, in his first writing/directing credit since 1999’s The Muse, plays himself in this plodding trek through superficial representations of Muslim society.

Looking for Comedy stems from Brooks’ own desire to find humor in the post Sept. 11 world and to present a film with real cultural value. He steps away from his usual Los Angeles dynamic to film in a foreign land, trying to preach acceptance and tolerance. He may have gotten in over his head.

Looking for Comedy

in the Muslim World

Starring Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth, Jon Tenney, John Carroll Lynch

Directed by Albert Brooks

Distributed by Warner

Independent Pictures

Rated PG-13 for drug content and brief strong language

Stater rating: **½

Early in the film, an outwardly self-loathing Brooks is accosted by the U.S. government to conduct a report on that which Muslim culture considers humorous. Humor can unite, so by locating the Muslim funny bone, cultural gaps can be bridged.

Naturally, Brooks accepts this job offer, momentarily wooed by the possibility of winning the Medal of Freedom for his service. His task is to spend a month in India and Pakistan, compiling research on what makes Muslims laugh.

Afterwards, he must submit a 500-page report on his findings. Brooks remains flabbergasted. He’s never written anything that has remotely approached 500 pages.

This writing deadline persists as Brooks’ driving force. Foremost on his mind through his stay in India is the progression of this mammoth report. Brooks’ point of view throughout the film is myopic, or rather, reflective.

He and his film do little to interpret Muslim society.

The vibrant New Delhi cityscape merely provides the backdrop to a film about Albert Brooks. In a film inherently about cultural ignorance, Brooks makes little attempt to frame the diversity and, instead, retains the viewpoint of the ignorant American.

He becomes the displaced tourist, rambling about the exotic locales of New Delhi and the Taj Mahal, interviewing natives, purchasing the cultural garb and wasting time. Eventually, he resorts to rehashing his old stand-up bits to an utterly unimpressed Indian audience in his self-produced “Big Show.”

The scene is funny in an unfunny sort of way. But that’s the point. Witnessing joke after joke pan pitifully did evoke some laughter, but for the most part, humor was in short supply over the duration of Looking for Comedy.

Brooks’ failing stand-up routine references other parts of his life. This movie abounds with reference humor, which can be great – if you get the reference.

The sporadic laughs do not come from outright jokes. Instead, they result from the irony of the situation – the irony in Albert Brooks leading a governmental investigation; the irony in the U.S. trying to research anything about Muslim culture; the irony in titling the movie Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.

Still, the film does have its bright spots. Brooks’ ebullient Indian assistant, Maya (Sheetal Sheth), is eye candy, and remains one of the most genuine portrayals in the film.

Brooks tries his best to act genuine and pulls it off most of the time, but his own self-loathing makes it hard to relate to him.

At one point he confesses, “All comedians ever want to talk about is themselves.” This quote could very well summarize the whole film.

Albert Brooks enters the framework of this diverse culture, but ends up focusing on himself, using the surroundings as fodder for his own dry humor. He can use Muslim culture as reference, but only in relation to himself, an ignorant American. In the end, the audience, along with Mr. Brooks, is still left looking for comedy in the Muslim world.

Contact ALL correspondent Ryan deBiase at [email protected].