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).