Albert Brooks' Famous School for Comedians
February 10, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

A look back at 1971's "Albert Brooks' Famous School for Comedians," a founding document for a generation of humorists.

Brooks was 23 at the time. Within a year, he leaped to television with an adaption of the article for PBS' The Great American Dream Machine; a series of eccentric short films for Saturday Night Live followed, pointing the way to Brooks' feature film work in the decade to come.

He would revisit the Comedy School conceit in a pair of 1983 Tonight Show appearances:
Celebrity Impressions Kit
Buddy the Electronic Dummy

In 2002, Esquire commemorated the original article with an update from Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.

More early Brooks:
"Here I am, five into my career; I have no more material left."

The Carl Heller Story
A New National Anthem

Previously: Ventriloquism
posted by Iridic (14 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I have two of Brooks' early comedy albums -- Comedy Minus One and A Star Is Bought. And you know, he was really really funny, in his own signature way.

But my favorite thing by him, far and away, is the movie Defending Your Life.
posted by hippybear at 10:45 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also his work on the Simpsons.
posted by The Whelk at 10:47 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Whoa, thanks for posting this. My desk is about 20 feet from the Oversize AP 2 section of the library, and I now have the bound volume of Esquire Jan-July 1971 on my desk. It will be a nice lunch break for sure.

The Feb. issue also features the considerably less-light-hearded confessional interview of Lt. William Calley.

Defending Your Life, Mother, and even the Muse are all funny late period Brooks movies, but I will always love Real Life the most.
posted by activitystory at 10:53 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World wasn't that great overall, but it did have a great improvisation bit.
posted by Copronymus at 11:02 AM on February 10, 2011

"The state of American humor is no longer a laughing matter," it states, going on to bemoan the "good old days of Benchley, Marquis, Lardner and other witty writers,"

Benchley is so awesome we named our cat after him. Find some of his essay collections, they are great.

And I had no idea Regis Philbin used to be a comedian.
posted by DU at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not even mention the word 'nest egg' to this man....
posted by exparrot at 11:15 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was introduced to Brooks by the "School" segment on "The Great American Dream Machine", a short-lived series that deserved much better. "Dream Machine" also showed a video of Carly Simon singing "That's the Way I've Always Hoped It Would Be" that perfectly framed the song's cynicism and made this hopeless romantic teenager cry. Lots of memorable stuff.

But I did also acquire his "Comedy Minus One" album (featuring the immortal "Rewriting the National Anthem") and "A Star Is Bought" that was premised on providing promotable 'singles' for every radio format, and being in the middle of my College Radio period, I LOLed mightily and played it to death on my 'Demento-Clone' show. Brilllliant.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:09 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will always love Real Life the most

Can't agree more. Always been a huge Albert Brooks fan and I'm looking forward to spending some time with this FPP. Anyway, at one point in my life I read the Bill Zehme profile in which he describes a letter that Brooks had dictated to his secretary and then had framed on his wall, ostensibly from Babe Ruth to a doctor at Mt. Sinai hospital in 1928. The letter was hilarious, and I decided I wanted to hang it on my wall, too. But I wanted it to look authentic, so gave myself a little project that summer. First I went to a used bookstore and bought a book from the 1920s of an appropriate size, with a few blank pages at the beginning and end. OK, there's the paper. Then I went out and found a typewriter from the period. Not in great shape, but usable for my needs. But there's also a Yankees letterhead and Babe Ruth's signature on that letter. So I created a 1920s looking letterhead in Word using some old looking font, and ran my 1920s paper through the inkjet to get the logo on it. For the signature, only a fountain pen would do, so I took the ink cartridge out of a fountain pen, and using an ink refilling syringe I had laying around, I injected enough water into the ink to make the writing a little fadey looking. At least it looked that way to me. Finally, I found the Babe's signature online somewhere and spent a few hours copying it into a notebook. All set. I typed the letter, burning through about six sheets of old paper before I got the hang of not relying on a backspace key to fix my typos. Once the typing was done, I put my best "Babe" at the bottom, and framed that sucker. Most people who see it think it's real. Here's how it turned out.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:20 PM on February 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

Oh, I also bought the first season of SNL on DVD just so I could rip all the Albert Brooks short films onto their own DVD. Tried uploading them but youtube's copy protection thing blocked them. There's got to be an Albert Brooks trading community out there, no?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2011

Celebrity Impressions Kit, so funny. His career might be taken as evidence that it's really really hard to sustain that supreme level of humorosity. The other Brooks, Mel, seems similar: bits and pieces of total utter hilarity and a lot of other stuff that didn't come close.
posted by cogneuro at 12:53 PM on February 10, 2011

Benchley is so awesome we named our cat after him. Find some of his essay collections, they are great.

Benchley you say?
posted by timsteil at 1:05 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not even mention the word 'nest egg' to this man....

Things over easy and a bird lives in a round stick.
posted by davebush at 1:13 PM on February 10, 2011

Just relistened to "A Star Is Bought"... co-written by Harry Shearer (!!!) with music arranged by Andrew "Lonely Boy" Gold, each track was surrounded by 'the making of' segments with 'interview clips' from David Geffen, Linda Ronstadt, the Monkees, Alice Cooper, Rob Reiner and a couple radio guys you may not know but I definitely did.

He parodied the obnoxiously patriotic spoken-word "The Americans" and the 'flying saucers' song edit novelties (using 'clips' he created himself), added appropriately bawdy lyrics to Ravel's Bolero, did a 'blues jam' with Albert King telling the bluesman a bad joke, staged a 're-creation' of a 1940s Jack-Benny-style radio show (with Sheldon Leonard, among other familiar voices) and his 'talk radio' cut consisted of him taking phone calls (from himself, doing other characters) and, in a kind of extension of his "Comedians School" bit, dispensing Stand-Up Comedy advice...
"What about delivery?"
"Well I think you can pick it up yourself, can't you?"...

Album generally unavailable on the web except for some guy who recorded entire-side mp3s off the original vinyl (complete with skips) here. And yes, the album cover comes with a non-personalized signed 8X10 glossy that you can fit into the front of the album cover which can be made into a picture holder. To say he went 'all out' on this project is an understatement.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2011

Sweet mother of how did I miss that Benchley post?!?
posted by DU at 1:40 PM on February 10, 2011

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