LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
And I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for. . .
Release Date: January 20, 2006
Starring: Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth,
Jon Tenney, and John Carroll
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 98 minutes
Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Director: Albert Brooks
Executive Producer: Joann Perritano
Producer: Albert Brooks, Herb Nanas,
Deepak Nayar, Tabrez Noorani,
and Joann Perritano
Writer: Albert Brooks
Address Comments To:Mark Gill, President
Warner Independent Pictures
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
(A Time Warner company)
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001
Phone: (818) 954-6000
LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD stars Albert Brooks playing himself, a comedian sent to the Middle East by the U.S. government to determine what makes Muslims laugh. Such cultural knowledge, they explain, may help the U.S. improve foreign relations. Actor and former politician Fred Dalton Thompson flies the unemployed Brooks to Washington, D.C. and informs him of his assignment, which is to spend a month in India and Pakistan, learn about their brand of comedy, and submit his findings in a 500 page report. His efforts, he is told, will earn him the Medal of Freedom, a prospect the idealistic comic cannot turn down.
Upon his arrival to India, the fish-out-of-water Brooks’ circumstances are far from ideal. The two Washington bureaucrats (Jon Tenney and John Carroll Lynch) sent along to assist his efforts are too tangled in red tape to be of much help, though his hiring of the enthusiastic and fastidious Maya (Sheetal Sheth) as his assistant proves to have been wise. With Maya alongside as his note-taking jack of all trades, Brooks takes on his task from a variety of angles. He interviews passersby on the street, puts on the first comedy show in New Delhi and meets undercover with Pakistani comedians, but, as his presence begins to attract attention of government officials, Brooks’ meanderings threaten to stir up once again the region’s notorious volatility.
Brooks starts his interviewing process as soon as he lands in India by asking the locals, “What makes you laugh?” While writing the movie, Brooks should have perhaps asked the same question stateside. Brooks is a likable fellow with a disarming and self-deprecating charm, which is one of the reasons this movie is often so difficult to watch. It’s a bit like suffering with a stage-frightened classmate as he’s forced to stumble through a mandatory presentation. Although you root for him to succeed, you mostly find yourself cringing as he stumbles through his delivery.
The story does have its funny elements. For example, Maya’s overly jealous boyfriend, originally from Iran, defensively tells Brooks, “I know about comedy! I was the funniest guy in school! And, in explosives training!”
Another brief but interesting joke is about American businesses, particularly IT companies’ use of outsourcing in India. While walking to his New Delhi workplace, Brooks passes by an office of Indian customer-service representatives working for American companies and posing as Americans, a trend recently expounded upon by Thomas Friedman in his bestseller THE WORLD IS FLAT. One rep says “Thank you for calling Dell, how can I help you?”
While the script's tone seems to patronize Hindus and Muslims, Brooks bends over backwards to direct his jokes at his own audience. He lightheartedly makes fun of his own Jewishness and takes an indirect swipe at evangelical Christians. For example, when someone suggests the prospect of lying to Mel Gibson in order to work with him, Brooks jokes, “Did you see the PASSION OF THE CHRIST? You don’t want that to happen to you!” His solution to America’s tension with the Muslim world seems to be, “Can’t we all just laugh at ourselves?”
Hollywood is well-known for its self-important celebrities, those who think their fame as movie stars somehow qualifies them as experts on national policy or foreign trade. Brooks’ approach, however, is less like the condescending indignation of Sean Penn, and more like Farris Hassan, the naively idealistic Florida high school boy who became a media sensation this past December after secretly flying to Iraq.
Hassan eventually had to be rescued by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and came to realize that his self-appointed mission to be an ambassador of democracy to the Middle East may have been ill-conceived. Hassan came to understand that, while ambitious, he overreached his limitations, and essentially had no new answers to offer the Iraqis. After watching LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD, Brooks seems destined for a similar fate. Lacking any answers, Brook’s brave project fails to find comedy in the Muslim World and likewise bungles at delivering comedy to the West.
The movie also contains some foul language and a couple of indirect but irreverent comments about Jesus. Furthermore, it has a strong Romantic worldview portraying man as basically good, which contradicts both historical reality and biblical truth. Therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
While writing this movie, Brooks should have perhaps asked the same question stateside. Brooks is a likable fellow with a disarming and self-deprecating charm, which is one of the reasons this movie is often so difficult to watch. Though Albert Brooks deserves credit for having the courage to occupy such turbulent territory in this comedy, the movie is too timid to accomplish anything other than a few cautious, uncomfortable chuckles. The movie also contains some foul language and a couple of indirect but irreverent comments about Jesus. Furthermore, it has a strong Romantic worldview portraying man as basically good, which contradicts historical reality and biblical truth. Therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution