Albert Brooks was a poet of neurosis, one of the most unique and acclaimed comedic voices of the late 20th century. Although his career as a standup proved short-lived and secondary in light of his success as a filmmaker, his slim recorded output remains groundbreaking, and expanded the boundaries of the comedy album format in new and unexpected ways.
Brooks was born Albert Einstein (really) in Beverly Hills, CA, on July 22, 1947; his father was radio comedian Harry Einstein, best known for his character Parkyakarkus, while his brother Bob later found success with his creation Super Dave Osborne. After studying drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Brooks began performing as a standup comedian, and made his national debut on The Steve Allen Show. A stint as a regular on The Dean Martin Show followed, as did appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Hollywood Palace. He also opened for Neil Diamond and Richie Havens.
In 1973, Brooks issued his debut LP, Comedy Minus One, which comprised both live standup bits and studio performances; the title track, performed with George Jessel, was a bit of interactive entertainment allowing the listener to participate in the sketch. Around the same time he made his directorial debut with the short film Albert Brooks' Famous School for Comedians, a piece created for the PBS series The Great American Dream Machine based on an article he wrote for Esquire magazine in 1971. The Grammy-nominated 1975 album A Star Is Bought (featuring guest appearances from Rob Reiner, Linda Ronstadt, and Harry Shearer) followed, as did his film debut in Martin Scorsese's 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver.
Brooks declined an invitation from producer Lorne Michaels to assume permanent hosting duties of the show that ultimately became the NBC hit Saturday Night Live, but wrote and directed a number of short films for the program that helped lead into his 1979 feature debut, Real Life, a scathing satire of the PBS cinéma vérité series An American Family. Modern Romance (1981) and Lost in America (1985) solidified his standing as one of the era's great comedic filmmakers, while a role in James L. Brooks' superb 1987 comedy-drama Broadcast News won him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He returned to the director's chair for 1991's Defending Your Life, followed in late 1996 by the acclaimed Mother, 1999's The Muse, and 2006's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. ~ Jason Ankeny