Though it may sound like one of his cerebral comedy routines, Albert Brooks came into this world as Albert Einstein. The son of comedian Harry Einstein (better known to millions of radio fans as Parkyakarkus), Brooks briefly attended Carnegie Tech before launching a hills-and-valley career as a standup comic. Like such contemporaries as George Carlin and Robert Klein, Brooks delighted in finding humor in the inconsistencies of everyday life, and had a particular fondness for exploiting clichés that many people never realized were clichés. Two of his most fondly remembered routines involved a talking mime and a ritualistic recital of the ingredients in a carton of Cool-Whip.
After appearing as a regular on the 1969-1970 season of The Dean Martin Show (as well as its 1971 spin-off The Golddiggers), Brooks gained instant pop-culture fame for his brilliant short-subject directorial debut, The Famous Comedian's School, which was highlighted on a 1971 installment of The Great American Dream Machine. Even today, comedy buffs can cite from memory the particulars of "The Danny Thomas/Sid Melton School of Coffee-Spitting." In 1975, Brooks won a Grammy for his album A Star Is Bought; that same year, he began filming short sketches for Saturday Night Live. Though often the highlights of that series' first season, Brooks' skits were dropped from SNL because they were considered "too inside."
Brooks made his theatrical film debut in 1976, playing Cybill Shepherd's clueless co-worker in Taxi Driver. His subsequent film roles included the first husband of Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin (1980), Dudley Moore's cuckolded manager in Unfaithfully Yours (1984), and, best of all, his Oscar-nominated turn as the acerbic, freely perspiring TV journalist Aaron Altman in Broadcast News (1987). Even more impressive have been Brooks' credits as writer/director, including the PBS-documentary lampoon Real Life (1979), the angst-driven Modern Romance (1981), the yuppie odyssey Lost in America (1985), and the "Heaven is a Strip Mall" fantasy Defending Your Life (1991). In 1994, Brooks both wrote and acted in the darkly humorous baseball film The Scout. In 1996, he directed, wrote, and starred opposite Debbie Reynolds (making her first screen appearance in over two decades) in Mother. After taking some time off from directing and scriptwriting to appear in such films as Out of Sight (1998), Brooks resumed his director-screenwriter-actor hyphenate with The Muse (1999), starring opposite Andie MacDowell and Sharon Stone as a struggling Hollywood scriptwriter in search of divine inspiration; Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World followed in 2005.
Unarguably, Brooks's highest-profile performance came not in one of his directorial projects, but in the 2003 Pixar underwater adventure Finding Nemo. Lending his voice to the film's lead clown-fish, the critically-acclaimed picture went on to be one of the highest grossing movies of all time and also featured the talents of Ellen Degeneres and Willem Dafoe.
He became part of the cast of the Showtime series Weeds as the main character's former father-in-law.
2011 turned out to be an excellent year for the revered performer. That year saw publication of his first novel, 2030, a comedy about the future of America. He also played the part of Bernie Rose, the bad guy in the hotly buzzed about action film Drive. Though he captured numerous year-end critics prizes, Brooks was denied an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category.