I just finished watching “Defending My Life,” the documentary about Albert Brooks made by his friend of sixty years, Rob Reiner, which is now streaming on Max. Although — as I mentioned last month in advance of seeing the final product — I knew many of the stories, comedy bits, and movies that made up his life, I was still quite entertained. I’ve seen some of them dozens and dozens of times, but they still made me laugh tonight.
Much of the doc consists of Reiner and Brooks looking back on the latter’s life while sitting at a table in an otherwise empty restaurant (a la “My Dinner With Andre,” but much funnier). It’s not quite an inquisition as in his movie “Defending Your Life,” but an opportunity for both of them to share memories, interrupted by a slew of stand up comedians — some of them contemporaries of Brooks, others of a more recent vintage — all of whom praise everything he ever did.
Of course, no one in show business has hit a home run every time they stepped up to the plate, but it’s the variety of material and performances Brooks has created over the years that sets him aside from so many others. At one point, one of his fans compares him to Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen. Not that he was attracted to very young women like they were, although Albert’s wife is 20 years his junior, but rather in the total control they exerted over the movies they wrote, directed, and starred in — to great effect.
Brooks gave up that aspect of his career eighteen years ago, but has continued working in other people’s projects on both the big and small screens. He long ago proved himself adept at drama as well as comedy, beginning with his film debut in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and including his Oscar-nominated performance in James L. Brooks’ “Broadcast News.” But watching clips from Albert’s first few movies and his TV appearances back to the 1970s (on primetime variety shows and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”) made me wish he still had that comedic spark.
Here’s a Brooks routine that is among my favorites but not included in Reiner’s tribute to his friend. It dates back to NBC’s “The Flip Wilson Show” in 1972 and was released the following year on Albert’s “Comedy Minus One” album…