Today is the 65th birthday of Albert Brooks — in my humble opinion, one of the funniest men to ever grace the planet.
Brooks has been dubbed in many ways — “the comedian’s comedian,” “the West Coast Woody Allen” — all of which are another way of saying that usually, Brooks is too smart for the room. It’s the reason why much of his work is brilliantly funny, and also probably the reason he doesn’t get bigger box-office for his movies.
In his early days as a comedian, Brooks was part of the “ironic” comedians of the 1970’s (think Steve Martin or Andy Kaufman) who deconstructed stand-up comedy. (On one of countless appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” he did an entire bit about how frustrated he was that he’d run out of comedy material.)
When he started making movies — first as a contributor to the first season of “Saturday Night Live,” then in actual feature films — Brooks adopted a persona in which he was so intent on being hip and “doing the right thing” that he never realized how self-absorbed and obnoxious he was.
This culminated in what I feel is his finest movie achievement: Lost in America (1985), in which a frustrated ad man (Brooks) decides to take his wife, chuck all of their middle-classness, and get out into nature and “touch Indians” — all while touring the country in a 40-foot Winnebago.
(I’d go into more detail about this delicious, daintily black comedy, except that I’ve already devoted a website to it. If you want to find out more about this movie, please go to lostinamerica.moviefever.com)
Brooks has also done a fine job in playing other people’s characters, having twice been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for his work in the movies Broadcast News (1987) and Drive (2011).
To brighten your day, I leave you with one of my all-time favorite Brooks bits, in which he does a ventriloquist act with a Speak & Spell toy.