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Albert Brooks’ mockinfomercial introduction

The glad-handing human laugh track, assures his audience, “That was funny.”

This week, it’s Albert Brooks’ first and (hopefully not) last, plus a bit of Sinatra propaganda.

Video:

Albert Brooks Famous School for Comedians (1972)

Albert Brooks Famous School for Comedians (1972)

Omnibus television at its finest, The Great American Dream Machine was a weekly PBS presentation that John Lennon called “as good as, if not better than…Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The series will live on for eternity, if for no other reason (and there are many) than this 10-minute short, based on a 1971 Esquire article, that introduced the world to Albert Brooks. Watch as Albert’s embryonic mockinfomercial blows the lid off the “comedy fraternity of show business” by revealing, with near Masonic-like abandon, its deepest secrets. From an office that could just as easily belong to an Allstate agent, Albert makes a mockery out of intercutting — a simple turn of the head — before leading us on a personal tour of the campus. Core curriculum includes classes on punctilious pie-placement, how to properly execute a spit-take Danny Thomas-style or, in the event the student cracks the big time, finding what disease best suits their talent (and so which charity to rep). All the while, Albert, the glad-handing human laugh track, assures his audience, “That was funny.” Bits and pieces are available on YouTube, but the only way to see the short in its entirety is on the 4 disc DVD collection.

Video:

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

During the studio system heyday, the premise for this would have laid the groundwork for a Bob Hope vehicle to rival all others: in an attempt to establish world peace through comedy, Uncle Sam invites Albert Brooks to travel to Pakistan, entertain the locals, and compile an ominous 500-page report on what makes them laugh. With the possible exception of the SCTV players, no one savors the sniggering art of satirically celebrating old (ancient?)-school showbiz superficiality more than Albert. With both feet firmly planted at the altar of The Jack Benny Program, Albert plays an ostensibly autobiographical character — well-versed in the art of rehearsed showbiz spontaneity — named Albert Brooks. (The ersatz Albert has a wife and daughter, and while Brooks was married and at the time of production, the couple had yet to produce an off-screen offspring.) Unlike Woody Allen, who constantly relies on verbal and visual digressions (and yards of exposition), Brooks employs an unobstructed point-of-view and straightforward structure. With a pair of Government foils (John Carroll Lynch and Tony Montero) to guide him, we rationally observe every step of Albert’s two-month pilgrimage. He secures an assistant (the doe-eyed, effervescent Sheetal Sheth), sets up shop in a ramshackle building, and reasons that the surest way to gauge a culture’s sense of humor is to put on a show, hit them with everything you’ve got, and see where the laughs land. Brooks’ on-screen persona never has been all that likable: in order to add drama to his reality-TV forerunner Real Life, Brooks (again playing “Himself”) decides to burn down his subjects’ home; there is nothing even remotely cute, cuddly or Alvy Singer-ish about Albert in his hilariously unromantic Modern Romance; and his egocentric yearnings to “touch an Indian” in Lost in America prove as illusory as they are amusing. This time around, Brooks presents a self-eviscerating overview of his career — and no one is more aware of their ‘Q’ rating (the measure of a celebrity’s name recognition) than Albert. Hindus might not place the face, but everyone knows the voice of Nemo’s father! Don’t let the title deter you as it did so many xenophobic viewers who refused to watch any film with the word “Muslim” in its title. (Sony Pictures, the film’s distributor, initially refused to release it under its original name.) It had been ages since filmmakers took comedy seriously enough to actually attempt a breakdown of just what makes us laugh. Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels was one of the first films to put humor under a microscope, and for decades of Labor Days, Jerry Lewis explained (at times condescendingly) comical humoressness at its most marvelous. The Aristocrats brought renewed scrutiny, but the trail has since gone cold. From the start, Albert’s been branded an “acquired taste,” a “comedian’s comedian” who dares insist that his audience does not check their brains at the door. It has been fifteen years since Albert Brooks has stepped behind the camera. Brilliant though it may be, his Twitter feed is not enough. What about the pictures? Come back, Albert. We need you now more than ever.

Video:

The House I Live In (1945)

The House I Live In (1945)

The Great American Dream Machine not only introduced viewers to new faces, it occasionally dusted off a few old ones. Such was the case in this short, released towards the end of the war by RKO Pictures. Writer Albert Maltz, producer Frank Ross, producer/director Mervyn Leroy (Three On A Match, The Wizard of Oz), and star Frank Sinatra were determined to confront the evils of antisemitism head on after news of Hitler’s ovens reached American shores — and they did it without once uttering the “J” word. We open with Mr. Sinatra laying wax under the orchestral command of musical director Axel Stordahl. Stepping outside for a smoke between numbers, Mr. Sinatra hits the alley just in time to witness 10 kids dogpiling on one unlucky soul. It seems the religion of the lad in question has raised objections. Mr. Sinatra cuts off one hooligan (eager to demonstrate what his parents no doubt taught him: the only time you say “Jew” is when the word “dirty” precedes it), and informs the gang that blood used to save their soldier dad’s lives could have come from Jewish veins. With one “J” word out of sight, it’s time to turn our attention to another. “Japs” — as in “God created everyone equally, except for them” — is liberally sprinkled throughout. Note that Mr. Sinatra isn’t called upon to lecture a group of right-thinking adult musicians, but rather a group of unruly adolescent stand-ins for the bigoted bunch of ticket-holders in need of this type of elementary education. In that sense, the filmmakers knew their audience. Watch the Library of Congress print here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_House_I_Live_In_(1945_film)

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This week, it’s Albert Brooks’ first and (hopefully not) last, plus a bit of Sinatra propaganda.

Video:

Albert Brooks Famous School for Comedians (1972)

Albert Brooks Famous School for Comedians (1972)

Omnibus television at its finest, The Great American Dream Machine was a weekly PBS presentation that John Lennon called “as good as, if not better than…Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The series will live on for eternity, if for no other reason (and there are many) than this 10-minute short, based on a 1971 Esquire article, that introduced the world to Albert Brooks. Watch as Albert’s embryonic mockinfomercial blows the lid off the “comedy fraternity of show business” by revealing, with near Masonic-like abandon, its deepest secrets. From an office that could just as easily belong to an Allstate agent, Albert makes a mockery out of intercutting — a simple turn of the head — before leading us on a personal tour of the campus. Core curriculum includes classes on punctilious pie-placement, how to properly execute a spit-take Danny Thomas-style or, in the event the student cracks the big time, finding what disease best suits their talent (and so which charity to rep). All the while, Albert, the glad-handing human laugh track, assures his audience, “That was funny.” Bits and pieces are available on YouTube, but the only way to see the short in its entirety is on the 4 disc DVD collection.

Video:

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

During the studio system heyday, the premise for this would have laid the groundwork for a Bob Hope vehicle to rival all others: in an attempt to establish world peace through comedy, Uncle Sam invites Albert Brooks to travel to Pakistan, entertain the locals, and compile an ominous 500-page report on what makes them laugh. With the possible exception of the SCTV players, no one savors the sniggering art of satirically celebrating old (ancient?)-school showbiz superficiality more than Albert. With both feet firmly planted at the altar of The Jack Benny Program, Albert plays an ostensibly autobiographical character — well-versed in the art of rehearsed showbiz spontaneity — named Albert Brooks. (The ersatz Albert has a wife and daughter, and while Brooks was married and at the time of production, the couple had yet to produce an off-screen offspring.) Unlike Woody Allen, who constantly relies on verbal and visual digressions (and yards of exposition), Brooks employs an unobstructed point-of-view and straightforward structure. With a pair of Government foils (John Carroll Lynch and Tony Montero) to guide him, we rationally observe every step of Albert’s two-month pilgrimage. He secures an assistant (the doe-eyed, effervescent Sheetal Sheth), sets up shop in a ramshackle building, and reasons that the surest way to gauge a culture’s sense of humor is to put on a show, hit them with everything you’ve got, and see where the laughs land. Brooks’ on-screen persona never has been all that likable: in order to add drama to his reality-TV forerunner Real Life, Brooks (again playing “Himself”) decides to burn down his subjects’ home; there is nothing even remotely cute, cuddly or Alvy Singer-ish about Albert in his hilariously unromantic Modern Romance; and his egocentric yearnings to “touch an Indian” in Lost in America prove as illusory as they are amusing. This time around, Brooks presents a self-eviscerating overview of his career — and no one is more aware of their ‘Q’ rating (the measure of a celebrity’s name recognition) than Albert. Hindus might not place the face, but everyone knows the voice of Nemo’s father! Don’t let the title deter you as it did so many xenophobic viewers who refused to watch any film with the word “Muslim” in its title. (Sony Pictures, the film’s distributor, initially refused to release it under its original name.) It had been ages since filmmakers took comedy seriously enough to actually attempt a breakdown of just what makes us laugh. Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels was one of the first films to put humor under a microscope, and for decades of Labor Days, Jerry Lewis explained (at times condescendingly) comical humoressness at its most marvelous. The Aristocrats brought renewed scrutiny, but the trail has since gone cold. From the start, Albert’s been branded an “acquired taste,” a “comedian’s comedian” who dares insist that his audience does not check their brains at the door. It has been fifteen years since Albert Brooks has stepped behind the camera. Brilliant though it may be, his Twitter feed is not enough. What about the pictures? Come back, Albert. We need you now more than ever.

Video:

The House I Live In (1945)

The House I Live In (1945)

The Great American Dream Machine not only introduced viewers to new faces, it occasionally dusted off a few old ones. Such was the case in this short, released towards the end of the war by RKO Pictures. Writer Albert Maltz, producer Frank Ross, producer/director Mervyn Leroy (Three On A Match, The Wizard of Oz), and star Frank Sinatra were determined to confront the evils of antisemitism head on after news of Hitler’s ovens reached American shores — and they did it without once uttering the “J” word. We open with Mr. Sinatra laying wax under the orchestral command of musical director Axel Stordahl. Stepping outside for a smoke between numbers, Mr. Sinatra hits the alley just in time to witness 10 kids dogpiling on one unlucky soul. It seems the religion of the lad in question has raised objections. Mr. Sinatra cuts off one hooligan (eager to demonstrate what his parents no doubt taught him: the only time you say “Jew” is when the word “dirty” precedes it), and informs the gang that blood used to save their soldier dad’s lives could have come from Jewish veins. With one “J” word out of sight, it’s time to turn our attention to another. “Japs” — as in “God created everyone equally, except for them” — is liberally sprinkled throughout. Note that Mr. Sinatra isn’t called upon to lecture a group of right-thinking adult musicians, but rather a group of unruly adolescent stand-ins for the bigoted bunch of ticket-holders in need of this type of elementary education. In that sense, the filmmakers knew their audience. Watch the Library of Congress print here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_House_I_Live_In_(1945_film)

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