albert & ken in the mornings
Ken Hoffman relives wild week with 'funniest man in the world' as comedy icon's new HBO doc drops
A new documentary on HBO this month reminded me of the best week of my journalism career – this long, slow climb to the middle.
To show you just how terrific my best week was, my No. 2 best week was when KKBQ Radio and the Q Morning Zoo Show sent me to Germany to report firsthand on the Berlin Wall coming down. That was an incredibly exciting experience, witnessing a world changing moment of history.
But, that’s a distant runner-up.
A comedy icon and Ken — weekday mornings!
Before coming to Houston, I worked for the Phoenix Gazette as the Radio-TV columnist. Bill Heywood, the longtime morning man on KOY Radio (550 AM) called me to say he was going on vacation and there was going to be a guest host for the week. KOY was a middle of the road adult station, sort of like KODA (99.1 FM) in Houston. KOY played Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Fleetwood Mac, some country, occasionally Bruce Springsteen.
Southwest would be a fool not to hire George Santos as its new CEO. According to his bio when Santos was head of Airbus not one flight was more than 5 minutes late.
— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) December 29, 2022
Usually when a radio morning show goes on vacation, they have the afternoon jock hold down the fort, or they invite a local TV weather person to babysit the show, with orders to just play music and don’t say anything that will cause the station to lose its license.
Not this time. Heywood told me that the guest host for the week would be comedian and actor Albert Brooks. Yeah, the guy whose records I play over and over and whose movies I love, and I can’t stop laughing.
“Do you want to come in and sit in the studio with Albert on Monday?” Uh … yeah! Brooks was my guy back then — and now.
Brooks' work in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is pure genius.Image via Warner Independent Pictures
That Monday, starting at 6 am, Brooks followed orders. He played eight songs an hour and read commercials and gave the time and temperature like an obedient guest host.
On Tuesday, he played four songs an hour. By Thursday, no songs — Brooks just let his imagination go wild.
He was prank calling his Hollywood friends like Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner. He performed elaborate comedy bits off his head from scratch. I showed up every day that week for a front-row seat to genius. From 6 am to 10 am, for five days, I sat in a radio studio with a comedy icon going absolutely nuts with no limitations. I couldn’t wait to get out of bed at 5 am and head to the radio station.
"The funniest man in the world"
When Heywood returned, I asked him: “How did you get Albert Brooks to come to Phoenix and do five days of radio?” Heywood said that he was the narrator on one of Brooks’ comedy albums, A Star is Bought, and Brooks was paying back the favor.
Now, HBO is airing Albert Brooks: Defending My Life this month on HBOMax. The documentary has producer Rob Reiner sitting down with Brooks, who reminisces about his career and family. It's chock full of clips of Brooks’ movie and TV appearances. Brooks and Reiner recall how they met and became friends six decades ago in drama class at Beverly Hills High School.
Other superstar comedians pop up throughout the documentary to offer their opinions of Brooks’ work:
Chris Rock: “One of the most original thinkers we’ve seen and will ever see.”
Conan O’Brien: “I didn’t realize that someone could be funny that way.”
Jon Stewart: “The first alternative comic.”
David Letterman: “A shiny god of comedy.”
Larry David: “The sharpest, wittiest, funniest.”
C'mon guys, just come out and say it…
Brooks' guest appearance in Larry David's (right) Curb Your Enthusiasm was the perfect tribute to his brother Bob Einstein, a regular on the show.Screen capture via HBO
Judd Apatow: “He is the funniest man in the world.”
There. Thank you.
Defending a really funny life
Brooks started as a standup comic, appearing on every TV variety show, making 30 appearances on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His comedy albums A Star is Bought and Comedy Minus One are classics. From there, he began acting in movies, scoring roles in Taxi Driver, Private Benjamin, Finding Nemo, and gaining an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Broadcast News. (Editor’s note: His turns in Defending Your Life and The Muse are our favorites.)
He wrote and starred in unmistakably quirky Albert Brooks films, including Modern Romance, Lost in America, Real Life, Mom, and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
Brooks hails from a funny family: his brother Bob Einstein (right) was a longtime comedy star and cast member of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. Screen capture via HBO
Brooks, whose real name is Albert Einstein — for real — talks lovingly about his father, the radio comedian Harry Einstein (Parkyakarkus); his brother, the late Bob Einstein (you know him as Super Dave Osborne, Marty Funkhouser, and more); and his difficult relationship with mother, Thelma. Albert Brooks: Defending My Life is a touching, moving documentary about a brilliant American original.
But mostly, it’s just really funny.