The setup for Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World -- that the government sends Albert Brooks, playing a variation on his neurotic, narcissistic comedic persona, on an international fact-finding mission in order to learn what makes people in Muslim countries laugh -- is little more than an excuse for Brooks to fire off a stream of his characteristically witty one-liners while also writing jokes about what he himself thinks makes great comedy. The highlight of the film is Brooks performing some of his oldest routines in front of a crowd of non-comprehending Muslims. Any longtime fan of the comic should find these bits, especially the one involving him "improvising" a comedy bit on the spot, painfully funny. The humor is compounded by the fact that the audience Brooks is performing for in the movie remains mostly silent. Assuming the film's audience finds the classic Brooks routine funny, we are now laughing at the routine as well as the fact that he as a performer is dying on-stage. That moment should make a viewer question why he or she is laughing, and why the audience in the film is not -- and this is the larger theme of the entire film. Brooks is getting at a lesson not dissimilar to the one Preston Sturges served up in Sullivan's Travels: everybody laughs, and that brings joy in even the most difficult situation. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World falls short of offering any deep insight, but it might make the audience think just a little about the nature of comedy. For that reason, and as an excuse to film Brooks doing some of his classic standup bits, the movie is certainly worthwhile.
by Perry Seibert review