Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

Rating: C+

Dir: Albert Brooks
Star: Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth, John Carroll Lynch, Jon Tenney

For some reason, I thought this was an actual documentary, but it’s more pseudo- than doc, even if it does have some basis in reality [Penny Marshall plays herself, as does Brooks, but his wife and daughter are actors] He’s commissioned by the State Department to learn about Muslims by locating their sense of humour; presumably on the basis, it’s hard to bomb anyone when you’re laughing. A month-long fact-finding trip to India and Pakistan follows, where his local assistant (Sheth) and a pair of State minions (Carroll and Tenney) try to…well, find facts. Needless to say, it doesn’t quite work, though if you hope to find out why anyone laughs, you’d probably be advised to have better material than “Why is there no Halloween in India? Because they took away the Gandhi.” Which is half the point, perhaps.

The humour is mostly culture-clash inspired, but is pretty soft in most cases. I think I laughed loudest when the team were handing out flyers for Brooks’ show, and casually spiked one on the horn of a passing cow, a sacred animal to Hindus. [Another irony: Muslims only make up 14% of Indians] That casual indifference to local mores is typical, though Brooks pokes fun as much at himself and Western culture. It has some strong moments, and I did enjoy the way Brooks’ offhand comment, “It’s okay to bomb” – speaking about stand-up – nearly causes nuclear war, after he’s overheard by government officials. More of that darkness would be welcome, and while the results here are generally amusing enough, it has disappointingly little repeat viewing potential.