January 24, 2006 > Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Written, directed, and starring, Albert Brooks
by Sarah Baig
Don't let the title of this film deceive you. In an effort to build bridges between the U.S. and the Muslim World, the State Department in Washington summons comedian Albert Brooks ("The Muse," "Finding Nemo") for a special diplomatic assignment. His task? To find out what makes Muslims laugh. Unemployed and enticed by the thought of obtaining a medal of freedom by the government, Brooks accepts the assignment and is sent to India to research Muslim humor.
Accompanied by two State Department handlers, Brooks sets up office in New Delhi and hires a local energetic woman, "Maya," as his assistant. His first instinct is to roam the city streets and ask people at random just what makes them laugh. Making no progress with this research method, he decides to hold a free stand-up comedy show for the locals and unfortunately finds his routine doesn't generate any laughter among his Indian audience.
Slightly daunted, he decides to head over to Pakistan to continue his research, but his visa request is denied. Nevertheless, he solitarily sneaks over the border overnight and has a secret campfire meeting with seven Pakistani comedians. He does his stand-up routine again and finds it to be a hit with the hash-smoking Pakistanis. With his slight glimmer of success over the border, Brooks sneaks back to his assistants in India and finds more potentially good news; Al-Jazeera executives want to meet with him.
Thinking he's made a breakthrough in diplomatic relations, he accepts the Al-Jazeera interview only to find they are offering him the star role in a controversial sitcom. He politely declines; meanwhile his secret Indo-Pak border crossing has been discovered by both Indian and Pakistani officials and causes unnecessary tension between the two nations which also results in Brooks' early departure back home to the U.S.
Brooks' mockumentary about finding comedy in the Muslim World is futile foremost because the movie concentrates on India where Muslims are a minority. The people that Brooks comes in contact with were not all Muslims, but came from a variety of religious backgrounds. Standing around a campfire with seven Pakistanis and a five-minute meeting with Al-Jazeera executives hardly constitutes "The Muslim World." Furthermore, his attempt at understanding humor in a foreign land seemed to become more about promoting American humor. However, the one thing Brooks was successful at was playfully bringing to attention some of the tiresome and absurd Muslim stereotypes. For instance, the character of Maya's over-jealous, controlling Muslim boyfriend. Despite this, plus, the title of the film, is still an unfair shot at grabbing the attention of inquisitive movie-goers. A more appropriate title would've been "Looking for Comedy in South Asia," but that wouldn't have been as catchy.