Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World


"It has been wisely said that we cannot really love anybody at whom we never laugh." Agnes Repplier, "Americans and Others"

With a title such as "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," and a star such as the sometimes edgy Albert Brooks, it's hard to believe that comedy cannot be found in the movie itself. Although actor Brooks's dry, deadpan delivery has worked in the past, as in My First Mister (a personal favorite of mine), without a daring script, he just makes the film seem longer than it is.

Good lines allow a performer to pause while the audience savors them; weak lines cry out to move on as quickly as possible. When one character shouts he was the best comic at explosive camp, I was delighted at the MEL Brooks-like abandon but also aware that moments like this do not appear in the rest of the film.

Albert Brooks has been hired by the federal government to seek out the source of laughs in Muslim India and Pakistan. Right away I was suspicious because Muslims are a minority in India, albeit a 150 million minority. Was Brooks not dealing directly with the issues? It appears so since his insights into Muslim culture, as promised in the title, are nonexistent, and his connection to the culture superficial.

When Brooks performs a standup routine in New Delhi, the audience barely laughs, even at the silly but sometimes funny ventriloquist bit. When he performs the same routines for Pakistani men around a campfire, they laugh at everything--Brooks is elated. The rest of us know they're stoned enough to laugh at anything. Additionally Brooks's research turns up the insight that "shit jokes don't play in New Delhi." The companion discovery that "Polish jokes work everywhere" emphasizes the limited nature of his roles as a comedian and an ambassador.

But we do gain from his visit to Al-Jazeera, the Arab TV news channel. That they offer him a sitcom, "That Darn Jew," depicting an American Jew moving into a Muslim neighborhood, is a hint at what controversial material awaited Mr. Brooks and his producers if they just dared. Ultimately, no laughter or success in this tepid effort.