Ask anyone who’s worked with Albert Brooks, and they’ll say that his comedy style is exceptionally honest and original. He’s also lots of fun.
“My feeling is that he is original and you don’t compare him,” says James L. Brooks , writer, producer, director of “Broadcast News” and “I’ll Do Anything.” “He has the ability to be extraordinarily honest about himself. It’s no coincidence that his first picture was ‘Real Life.’ ”
“He tends to make parts his own,” Brooks explains. “One of the things about Albert is that he has first-rate intelligence. His originality isn’t confined to comedy,”
Herb Nanas, producer of “Mother,” “The Scout,” “Lost in America,” and “Defending Your Life,” has been Brooks’ manager since 1969.
“Albert deals with reality. He finds humor in reality,” Nanas says. “Albert Brooks pushes the buttons that just jiggle spines a little. People find themselves going, ‘Yeah. I can relate to that.'”
“When Albert Brooks directs a movie, he entertains because his approach to life is funny. The crews who work on his movies work 8 to 12 hours a day because they’re laughing their asses off all day long. He tells wonderful stories, makes people laugh,” Nanas says.
Brooks’ style, according to Nanas, is distinctly different from his east coast counterpart.
“Woody Allen writes from his level of angst. Albert writes from everyone’s angst,” he explains.
“Albert is much more about the essence of who he is and his place in the world,” says Paul Slansky, a friend, producer, and journalist whose interviews with Brooks have appeared in major magazines. Slansky recalls how in Brooks’ second album, “A Star is Bought,” the comedian mixed musical pieces (like Ravel’s Bolero) with crude lyrics. “He’s very inventive musically,” Slansky adds.
Debbie Reynolds, who starred opposite Brooks in “Mother,” says that the comedian turned actor-writer-director simply “breathes life into the ordinary.”
“He’s very funny in a very human, real way. He takes real moments and makes them funny,” she says.
Reynolds recalls that the most challenging aspect of acting in “Mother” was to let the comedy flow out of the story itself. That meant no slapstick, no ad lib, and no punch lines.
“Albert knows timing. There’s no question of that. He doesn’t like anything overplayed. He’s underplayed,” she says.
“The hardest part of the role was what not to do. Just let the comedy come and go with what they (Brooks and Monica Johnson) wrote,” she explains. “He has his script written and you stay letter perfect and he doesn’t make a change. He wants you to do exactly as he’s written it.”
Unlike other comedy directors whom she’s worked with (namely, George Marshall, Frank Tashlin, Norman Taurog and Blake Edwards), Reynolds explains that Brooks really doesn’t care about matching dialogue with props.
“Albert Brooks cares more about the improvisational moment of the scene. He works a lot with hand-held cameras. The other directors were perhaps a bit more blocked. Albert Brooks likes to find his way,” she says.
Brooks began to find his way when he wrote satires on famous artists’ correspondence schools for Esquire Magazine. Nanas remembers them well.
“Every piece was an original piece of comedy,” he says. “If he’s faced with the most serious topics, everything has a humorous point of view.”
But Nanas explains that Brooks never wanted to be a comedian. Brooks first came to Nanas as an actor and liter-ally made him laugh for six hours. “And the world’s going to find you first as a funny human being then they’ll find you as an actor,” Nanas told him. He then introduced the budding comedian to producers of “The Steve Allen Show” and “The Dean Martin Show,” where Brooks was able to knock out his comedy routines at the spur of the moment in front of a live audience.
“Albert doesn’t write jokes,” says Nanas. “He was able to be creatively funny in free form.”