8/27/08 - comedian albert brooks

In today's excerpt - comedian Albert Brooks (b. 1947), graduate of Beverly Hills High School and veteran of such films as Broadcast News and Lost in America, was a stand-up comedian in the late 1960s at the vanguard of a new direction in comedy. Where Lenny Bruce and his acolytes had set out to make comedy more socially relevant, Brooks set out to lampoon the narcissism of celebrity and show business itself:

"Brooks' comedy didn't seem to be about anything but show business itself—or more to the point making fun of show business. ...

"For the most part they were lampoons of bad show business acts. Brooks played an animal trainer, for example, whose elephant has gotten sick at the last moment and has to be replaced by a frog; he gamely tries to do his routine with the stand-in apologizing when the tricks (roll over; grab a peanut) don't come off. He did a parody of the old vaudeville stunt in which a man tries to keep a dozen plates spinning simultaneously on top of poles. Instead of plates, Brooks brought a half-dozen people on stage and tried to keep them all laughing at the same time; whenever the yuks started to die down, he scurried around trying to rev them up again with a new joke. In another bit, Brooks dressed up in a leotard, slippers and Marcel Marceau whiteface, to play the world's worst mime. He starts out by telling a bit of his life story ('My mother was quite domineering. I was afraid to speak. ...') and becomes so caught up in the monologue that soon he's puffing a cigar and delivering Vegas zingers ('Take my wife—si vous plait!'). When he finally performs his mime, he provides a running commentary to explain what he's doing ('climbing ze stairs'), before belting out 'Make Someone Happy' for the schmaltzy, Jolson-style big finish.

"It was inspired nonsense, Brooks' demolition of the entire history of cheesy showbiz. ... At the first American Music Awards, he appeared as a children's songwriter who performs a Vegas-style tribute to his own greatest hits, simplistic ditties like, 'Eat Your Beans' and 'Brush Your Teeth.' ...

"Some dubbed it post-funny or anti-comedy: the joke was how bad the jokes were. Comedians before him, like Carlin and Klein, had poked fun at the slick and foolish and insincere in show business. But Brooks carried it a step further: he was making fun of how show business had infected all of us, creating a world of amateurs and wannabes so desperate for applause that they could barrel through any kind of inanity."


Richard Zoglin


Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America


Bloomsbury USA


Copyright 2008 by Richard Zoglin


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