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A Serious Search for Comedy Among Muslims


A Hollywood star has a new movie that is as serious as it is funny. VOA's Jim Bertel reports Albert Brooks delivers laughs with a global message in his new film "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World."

Albert Brooks is an award-winning actor, writer and filmmaker whose movies often focus on the funny side of some very serious issues. His latest film, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," is packed with laughs as it confronts subjects that are dominating the news.

In the movie Brooks plays a comedian -- named Albert Brooks -- who is assigned a high-level government mission.

MAN: “The President, as you know, has a pretty darn good sense of humor. (Laughs) And he felt that maybe the only way to really understand somebody was to see what makes them laugh. So, we'd like for you to head up a project. Take a month and go to India and Pakistan and write a 500 page report and tell us what makes the Muslims laugh."

India, where 14 percent of the population is Muslim, provides the backdrop for much of the film, taking the comedian from a concert stage in New Delhi to the Taj Mahal. He even travels to a secret location in the mountains of Pakistan -- all to figure out what Muslims find funny.

In an interview with VOA, Brooks talked about the power of comedy and how he believes it can play a key role in bringing cultures together.

"It can't hurt. That's the beauty of it. (The) worst is you make somebody not laugh, like my show did in the movie,” he said. “That's the worst that happens. And if you fail at it you have no harm, nobody is going to die."

Man: A man can feel really important in an office like this.

Woman: I am so glad you said that. I was worried that you were going to think that it was tiny and sad.

Man: It is.

Woman: Sarcasm. Of course. Why would you like this office? If I don't laugh at something that I'm supposed to then please feel free to just kick me so I understand.

Man: You want me to kick you?

Woman: Now I'm being sarcastic.

Man: You're a fast learner.

While the film is a comedy, it examines some very serious issues, such as the lack of understanding between many Americans and members of the Muslim faith. Brooks' co-star Sheetal Sheth told VOA she believes the movie's message is one of tolerance.

"I think the movie is about learning about the whole world and realizing that we all have perceptions about each other and we have a lot to learn."

Brooks was struck by the power of personal relationships.

"What I found when I was over there, (I) saw that if I had 10 minutes with somebody and we had a nice exchange, they had a great feeling about America,” Brooks said. “It's like you're a representative of a whole nation just being a person."

That's the theory behind many cultural exchange programs. But this is still a comedy. And Brooks hopes it provides some true laughter as well as food for thought.

Footage and images courtesy Warner Independent Pictures

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