If a comedian proposes Syrian solution, does that make it a joke?

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With just over 500,000 followers, the comedian and actor Albert Brooks is a popular presence on Twitter. Most of his tweets are mild, 140-character jokes about events in the news. (Examples: “Neiman Marcus to be Sold for 6 billion. That is, of course, retail,” and “Diana Nyad’s going to be so pissed when she finds out there was a flight,” and “Happy New Year to my Jewish friends, or as I like to call them, my friends.”)

But Brooks, judging by Twitter at least, has taken the crisis in Syria seriously. Between jokes about Miley Cyrus and Johnny Manziel, on Aug. 29, as leaks detailed U.S. options for attacking Syria, Brooks tweeted, “I don’t know the right decision on Syria, but basically telling them Saturday between 3 and 4 seems stupid.” Two days later, when President Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for an attack on Syria, Brooks tweeted, “I like POTUS asking Congress, but I think they should be called back now, not when they casually return from vacation.”

Those were perhaps a little too serious for a Twitter account not devoted to foreign policy. So on Friday night (early Saturday in the East), Brooks sent out a Syria joke. “Russia and the U.S. could unite for one week,” he tweeted, “go into Syria, remove the chemicals, and let them continue fighting.”

It was kind of grimly funny. Except it didn’t turn out to be a joke. Forty-eight hours later, leaders in the U.S., Russia, and Syria were embracing the Brooks Plan, although no one called it that. At first it seemed the idea originated in a gaffe by Secretary of State John Kerry. Then Obama told interviewers that he and Russian leader Vladimir Putin discussed it at their recent meeting. Whatever the case, several key players in the Syrian crisis, plus a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, welcomed a plan that was immediately characterized as a way to avoid U.S. intervention in Syria. For Obama especially, the idea seemed to be a lifeline out of the terrible trap he had constructed for himself.

Brooks got no credit, although his 114-character tweet predicted precisely the essence of the new proposal. As the story began to dominate the news Monday, Brooks, who had heretofore not been recognized as a major player in the Syria crisis, tweeted simply, “I believe I tweeted this idea last Friday.”

Too late. The proposal is already known as the Russian Plan, not the Brooks Plan. But now, after the initial flush of excitement over a possible way out of the Syrian dilemma, the plan’s many flaws — it could be fundamentally unworkable — will likely come to dominate the news. It might not be long before Brooks is joking about his own joke that somehow became the latest development in the long Syrian tragedy.


The Short Films of Albert Brooks

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The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 120,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

Albert Brooks, stand-up, author, actor, and comedy legend, was recently interviewed in the January issue of Vanity Fair which was guest edited by Judd Apatow. In it, Judd, a comedy vanguard himself, describes Brooks as “the prototype. He’s the original smart, sensitive Jewish neurotic guy, with huge flaws and a heart of gold.” But what’s most fascinating to me is that this statement was true about the man from the very beginning of his comedy career, which began while he was in his early twenties. In the late 1960s and early 1970s when he began playing on the national stage, his comedic character already seemed fully formed, and he never lost sight of it or compromised his unique voice as he moved from stand-up to television to film.

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Albert Brooks Extensive Interview by Judd Apatow in Vanity Fair

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Albert Brooks in Vanity Fair’s January 2013 issue.

“Twitter is the Devil’s playground,” says Albert Brooks (384,000 followers and counting). “I don’t know if I’m addicted. It’s a horrible waste of time for the writer of it, the reader of it. We will lose the war to China because of Twitter.”

Brooks tells Vanity Fair Comedy Issue guest editor Judd Apatow (who directed him in his new movie, This Is 40) that the subjects of dying and death are constantly on his mind. “I mean, this getting-old stuff is something,” Brooks says. “I think I envy my dog, because my dog is 16 and she’s limping and she’s still living, but she doesn’t look at me like she knows. She’s not thinking what I’m thinking. It’s a cruel trick, that we all know the ending.”

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Albert tells Amazing Stories on Letterman

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The first rule of doing the late night talk show circuit is “Be Interesting”. Now, Albert Brooks is generally a pretty interesting guy, so you wouldn’t think this would be a struggle. But when you’ve been holed up in a room writing and have nothing else going on, you find yourself pressed for humorous true-life anecdotes.

Fortunately, for Albert Brooks, he has a fantastic imagination. But he also has a guilty conscience. Watch part one of Albert Brooks’ tall tales above and part two below.

THIS is a crazy story.



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Albert Brooks Rules the New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards

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Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were in the house. Meryl Streep was there. And yet the annual awards dinner of the New York Film Critics’ Circle was stolen by one Albert Brooks last night at Crimson in Manhattan. Brooks said he had hoped Debbie Reynolds (a friend of his father and the woman who played the title role in “Mother,” a Brooks film which won him the NYFCC’s screenwriting honors in 1996). Reynolds, alas, couldn’t make it. Peter Travers filled in, saying Reynolds had sent a note saying, “Your father was great ad so funny you received all of his talent and so much more.” Travers, who added that “making a movie was like a war and after the war a critic comes in and shoots the wounded,” yielded the stage to a very dapper-looking Brooks, who saluted Aaron Sorkin (who earlier in the evening had praised Brooks’ screeenplays). “I feel so guilty for selling my Academy copy of ‘The Social Network,'” Brooks said. Then, continuing the night’s theme of mocking the David Denby-Scott Rudin feud (ably recounted by my senior colleague here ), he said, “The real reason David Denby isn’t here is he was picking up Scott Rudin’s dry cleaning.”

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Albert Brooks is not playing for laughs

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ALBERT BROOKS has a very long record of playing movie roles for laughs. Not in his newest role, however, and thereby hangs a tale. Mo Rocca has a Sunday Profile:

Albert Brooks kills in his latest film, “Drive,” and not in the knock-’em-dead funny kind of way.

“Well, I’d wanted to play a part that was different from something I’ve played before for a while,” Brooks said. “I didn’t put out on the casting call, ‘Want to kill.'”

Turns out Albert Brooks … who’s made us laugh for 40 years … can be a really good bad guy, too.

“Drive” is a neo-noir crime drama, with Ryan Gosling as a solitary wheelman, and Brooks as small-time mobster Bernie Rose. Film critics from New York to San Francisco named Brooks Best Supporting Actor, and he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe.

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