Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

 What makes Muslims (and Hindus) laugh? The quest for the answer to this question is the theme of the movie “Looking for Comedy in The Muslim World” (2005). The movie starring Albert Brooks, who played himself, is a low-key, simple story describing the US Government’s attempt to better understand the Muslim world by understanding what constitutes humor in the muslim world.

In the movie, Abert Brooks plays an out-of-work comedian who is sent to India by the US government to look for humor in the Muslim world. He is asked to spend four weeks in India and turn in a 500-page report on this topic. He eventually spends two weeks in India, trying to interview people on roads, doing a stand-up comedy show, and crossing illegally into Pakistan to meet with some ‘comedians’.  His efforts don’t help him learn much, but his naive remarks and actions do lead to an escalation of situation between India and Pakistan, two countries that have been at war since the British divided India into two countries.

I have to admit that the movie is not my favorite. It does not have a tight storyline and the humor was somewhat subtle. I do find it interesting, however, that I didn’t get many of the jokes in the movie till my American students or colleagues explained them to me. As the movie highlights, humor definitely is cultural-specific. The one cool thing about the movie is that we will be visiting several of the places shown in the movie- The Red Fort, India Gate, Taj Mahal (which Albert missed seeing because he was engaged in a heated conversation), Rajiv Chowk (where his Indian office was), and Old Delhi. (In fact, students who noticed a building called ‘Ambadeep’ near Albert’s office, will see the same building in Delhi when we visit Rajiv Chowk, the heart of Delhi’s tourist circuit).

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9 responses to “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

  1. Allie DeMartino

    I agree with our professor’s analysis of the movie. The storyline was somewhat lackluster and the inconclusive (almost cop-out) ending definitely left something to be desired. It was interesting, though, to see the different areas of India. The crowded streets of Old Delhi and the way that people seem to interact.

    I, too, found it interesting that there seemed to be a disjoint in communication at certain points in the movie, which I am even experiencing somewhat in my communications with my email buddy. Still, I think we can learn from these differences and be able to communicate effectively together, if we make an effort to do so, and to understand that, yes, humor among different cultures may vastly differ (even if the movie doesn’t really tell us how).

  2. I did not think the movie was as good as it could’ve been given that it had a $10m budget. Besides the interesting insights to some of the historical sites of India, I did not find the storyline or the jokes entertaining. I do not blame the Indians who didn’t laugh at his stand up comedy act because he was just not funny. I feel that if the goal was to find out whether or not humor in India is relatively similar to humor in America, they could have made funnier jokes or found someone who had better jokes.

    The most interesting part of the film was the background they used. I liked the scene where someone was riding an elephant in the middle of the street. I wonder if that is how it is really like in India. I guess we will see when we go elephant riding. Also, I did not know if it was staged during the scene where they handed out fliers in Old Delhi. There was just so many people and for them to put a flier through the animal’s horn seemed disrespectful. I was more surprised the people didn’t force them to leave.

    To me this film just wasn’t up to par. If there was one moral, then it was to show that an outsider has to work really hard and need to be mindful when in another culture in order to grasp an aspect of their lifestyle, especially humor.

  3. Though I agree with the reviews above of how ‘Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World’ was a little fragmented and a little lackluster, I was most captivated by the IDEA of humor and comedy. In the movie, the protagonist, Albert Brooks the professional comedian, was not that funny. The jokes made were not funny, and by the time the scene where Albert put on a free concert and bombed, I was starting to shift around in my seat.

    The climax or transcendent moment in the movie was when Albert, who was facing failures and barriers to complete his assignment, traveled illegally to Pakistan for 4 hours in order to meet with a group of Pakistani comedians. This scene was especially memorable to me, for when the name ‘Pakistan’ came up in the movie – or anywhere for that matter – I can only think of the current war going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how many people are dying, and how messed up, chaotic, and corrupt the Pakistani governmental system and military system really is. As a Westerner, when we hear a name of a country that we often hear in the news in relation to terrorism or middle-eastern wars, a vision of AK47s, old military jeeps from the Cold War era, and RPGs pop into my head.

    To play around with this preconception that many westerners have built up, the filmmakers put Albert in a situation where he had to put on a blindfold when being driven through Pakistan to meet with a group of comedians. As it turns out, the blindfold was a practical joke, and the group of scary and rugged looking Pakistani men sitting around a campfire were just a bunch of friendly, jovial, and brotherly group of comedy enthusiasts. The joke was on the Western viewer here, for we were loaded with preconceptions and paranoia, that the film makers decided to have us all ‘melt’ or ease our alarms with good old-fashioned universal belly-laughs amongst our comedic on-screen friends.

    Though humor is culture-specific, as our Professor mentioned earlier, I believe that the biggest and most tragic form of humor/comedy occurs is when an individual takes him/herself too seriously. The Indian and Pakistani governments building up their military presence along their borders, as well as the US government being so unaware to the point of naïveté by sending Albert on a trip to the Muslim world to understand Muslim humor are just examples of how absurd situations can get when people take themselves way too seriously.

  4. Andrew Kneller

    I greatly disliked this movie. And I’m pretty tolerant of bad movies. I wish I could be more diplomatic about it but I can’t hold it back. For all the conflict this movie sets up (Albert vs. himself to find what makes Muslim’s laugh; Albert vs. himself to write a 500 page paper; Maya vs. Majeed in their struggling relationship; India vs. Pakistan as their paranoia about each other grows into militarization of their borders), every single one is left unresolved or resolved hastily. I was left totally unsatisfied. I felt like there were 20 or 30 minutes missing from this film, not that I would have wanted to sit through any more of Albert Brooks’ lame humor or poor film writing. I could have been more prepared for the premise of the film if it was called “Anxiety Over Writing a 500 Page Government Report.” Brooks seems to bring up this aspect of his assignment far more than his true mission of discerning what Muslim people find humorous.

    What was truly frustrating was watching Brooks continue to miss obvious learning points about the difference between comedy in the US and India. He refuses to admit that his stand up in New Delhi bombed. He also ignores the (in my opinion, dead on) criticism of Stuart, one of his companions from the State Department, that his ventriloquist bit wouldn’t work without the audience knowing how a real ventriloquist works and the improve routine doesn’t work without the audience having seen or known what an improve skit is like. One Indian man provides an example of what makes him laugh about how if a friend is trying to make him look foolish he’ll go along with it just to see his friend laugh about it which will in turn make him laugh. This was a legitimate response and Brooks brushes it off by not having Maya make note of it and moving on to another interviewee.

    I did try to glean something from this movie that might provide some insight into India and its people. On the plan ride to India the film juxtaposes the peace and serenity of first class that has calming Indian music playing with the cries of babies and crowded chaos of coach. I found this interesting since these seem to big the two main perceptions of India portrayed in the media. On one hand, you have the India of Gandhi’s non-violence, meditative religious practices, and bathing in the Ganges, on the other hand, you have the India of crowded streets, rickshaws everywhere you look, and vast poverty. The film brings these two perceptions of India side by side in this brief scene and contrasts these notions of what India may or may not be very readily. I also noticed other aspects of India portrayed in Outsourced such as bicycles and tricycles clogging the streets as well as large domesticated animals, wheeled carts that seem very outdated, and outsourced call centers from large American companies.
    Maybe I missed the forest through the trees with this film. I was so focused on the plot and finding what makes Muslims laugh that I missed the visual tour of India that the film provided. Knowing, in advance, that the film was going to provide visual reference to important Indian landmarks might have helped focus my attention on the real value of this film which was certainly not the plot.

  5. I did not like this movie at all. I fond it quiet boring although it was a comedy. I think at one point I fell asleep. The jokes were also horrible and dragged out for too long. The plot itself was also bad. The only thing that I liked was the scenery that the film provided of India. And I find it impossible to overlook the Taj Mahal while talking on the phone! It is not hard to miss.

  6. Marissa Essuman

    I really didn’t like this movie. I got the jokes but they weren’t really that funny to me. Humor can be culturally specific but I think those jokes just weren’t that great.

    Through the scene where Albert was trying to put together an improvisational skit, we were able to see some of the values of the Indian people through their responses. By Albert changing those suggestions to what his idea of comedy was, he completely eliminated the chance f tryin to connect with his audience. When visiting a foreign country it is important to be open minded to the ideas of other cultures, not just so that you can have an enjoyable experience but this will give you the opportunity to learn more about that culture.

  7. Unfortunately, I too did not enjoy this movie. The title alone was not impressing to me. I could understand the importance of understanding the culture of different people but I think the title was not too positive. The title made me feel like Muslims had no sense of humor so the US was on a quest to help bring humor out of them.

    I think it was hard for Albert to find humor within the Muslim world because he was trying to hard and didn’t take the time out to understand the culture.

  8. I didn’t like this movie to the point of being offended by it. I found the overarching theme of the movie to be American stupidity. Albert was the worst stereotype of Americans that foreigners have. Instead of trying to learn about Indian culture, he imposed American culture. This is clear in the scene when he does the improv at his comedy show and he changes all of the answers he got from the Indian people to what he thinks is funny.
    There was some insight into Indian culture to be seen through the character of Maya. She showed the Indian work ethic with her eagerness to please her boss, and her desire to understand through him American culture. She also gave insight into romantic relationships in a changing culture.

  9. ‘Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World’, was a rather lackluster look at what makes Muslims laugh. This is something which remains wholly inconclusive, as the Albert Brooks does not present his test subjects with anything of humor to test their funny bones. We are ultimately left to conclude that Muslims, and Hindus, simply have no sense of humor; something which can be seen as wholly untrue if one were to watch one of the many great Hindu comedies, such as ‘3 Idiots’. All of the other character were flat as well, with Brooks’ assistant being easily replaced with any Indian from ‘Outsourced’. The film did provide good views of Delhi and the surrounding areas though, and I hope traveling there will be as much of an adventure as it was for Mister Brooks.

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