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Albert Brooks (born as Albert Lawrence Einstein) is an Academy Award nominated American actor, writer, comedian and director.
Brooks was born Albert Lawrence Einstein in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California to a Jewish American family. His father, Harry Einstein, was a comedian who performed on Eddie Cantor's radio program and was known as Parkyarkarkus. His mother was actress Thelma Leeds (born Thelma Goodman). His brother is Bob Einstein, better known by his stage name "Super Dave Osborne".
Brooks grew up among showbusiness royalty in southern California, attending high school with Richard Dreyfuss and Rob Reiner.
Brooks attended Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, but dropped out after one year to focus on his comedy career. He changed his surname from Einstein (to avoid confusion with the famous scientist) and began a stand-up comedy career that quickly made him a regular on variety and talk shows during the late 1960s and early 1970s. His onstage persona, that of an egotistical, nervous comic, influenced other comedians, including Steve Martin, Martin Mull and Andy Kaufman.
After two successful comedy albums, Comedy Minus One (1974) and the Grammy Award-nominated A Star is Bought (1975), Brooks left the standup circuit to try his hand as a filmmaker; his first film, The Famous Comedians School, was a satiric short which appeared on PBS and was an early example of the mockumentary sub-genre.
In 1975, he directed six short films for the first season of NBC's Saturday Night Live:
ad:10/11/75 h:George Carlin - unlikely news items
ad:10/18/75 h:Paul Simon - failed Candid Camera stunts & home movies
ad:10/25/75 h:Rob Reiner - heart surgery
ad:11/8/75 h:Candice Bergen - upcoming season
ad:12/13/75 h:Richard Pryor / Gil Scott-Heron - sick
ad:1/9/76 h:Elliot Gould / Anne Murray - audience test screening
In 1976 he appeared in his first mainstream film role, in Scorsese's landmark Taxi Driver (Scorsese allowed Brooks to improvise much of his dialogue). The role reflected Brooks's decision to move to Los Angeles to get into the film business.
Brooks directed his first feature film, Real Life, in 1979. The film, in which Brooks obnoxiously films a typical suburban family in an effort to win both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize, was a sendup of PBS's An American Family documentary. Brooks also made a brief cameo in the film Private Benjamin (1980), starring Goldie Hawn.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Brooks co-wrote (with longtime collaborator Monica Johnson), directed and starred in a series of moderately-successful comedies, playing variants on his standard neurotic and self-obsessed character. These include 1981's Modern Romance, where Brooks played a film editor desperate to win back his ex-girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold). The film received a limited release and ultimately grossed under $3 million domestically, but was well received by critics, with one reviewer commenting that the film was "not Brooks at his best, but still amusing". His best-received film, Lost in America (1985), featured Brooks and Julie Hagerty as a couple who leave their yuppie lifestyle, drop out of society and live in a motor home, only to find the disadvantages of poverty.
Brooks's Defending Your Life (1991) placed his lead character in the afterlife, put on trial to justify his human failings and to determine his cosmic fate. Critics responded to the offbeat premise and the surprising chemistry between Brooks and Meryl Streep as his post-death love interest. His later efforts did not find large audiences, but still retained Brooks's touch as a filmmaker. He garnered positive reviews for Mother (1996), which starred Brooks as a middle-aged writer moving back home to resolve his tensions with his mother (Debbie Reynolds). 1999's The Muse featured Brooks as a down-and-out Hollywood screenwriter using the services of an authentic muse (Sharon Stone) for inspiration.
Brooks also acted in other writers' and directors' films during the 1980s and 1990s. He moved into the horror genre in one of the stories in Twilight Zone: The Movie, playing an unsuspecting driver who picks up a suspicious hitchhiker (Dan Aykroyd). In James L. Brooks's hit Broadcast News (1987), he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as an insecure, supremely ethical network TV reporter, who offers the rhetorical question, "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?" He also won positive notices for his role in 1998's Out of Sight, playing an untrustworthy banker and ex-convict.
Brooks received positive reviews for his portrayal of a dying retail store owner who befriends disillusioned teen Leelee Sobieski in My First Mister (2001), and he has appeared as a guest voice on The Simpsons five times during its run (always under the name A. Brooks). Brooks continued his voiceover work in Disney and Pixar's Finding Nemo (2003), as the voice of "Marlin" the clown fish; Nemo is Brooks's largest grossing film to date.
In 2005, his film Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World drew controversy for its title. Sony Pictures eventually dropped the film altogether because of their desire to change the title. Subsequently, Warner Independent Pictures purchased the film and gave it a limited release in January 2006; the film received mixed reviews and a low box office gross. The movie goes back to the days of Brooks's Real Life, as Brooks once again plays himself, a filmmaker commissioned by the U.S. government to see what makes the Muslim people laugh, thus sending him on a tour throughout Muslim countries.