‘Somebody Ate Part of My Lunch!’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About Albert Brooks
A true artist, Albert Brooks finds success in whatever comedic lane he chooses, be it filmmaker, actor, stand-up, writer or voice actor. From films like Defending Your Life and Modern Romance to animated performances in The Simpsons and Finding Nemo, Brooks has done it all. That also means a lot of tidbits from that long comedy career for us to dive into…
A Showbiz Natural
Brooks was born Albert Einstein on July 22, 1947, and is part of an accomplished showbiz family. His mother was actress Thelma Leeds, and his father was Harry Einstein, a dialect comedian who infamously died during a roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Brooks’ older brother was Bob Einstein, best known for his Super Dave Osborne character and playing Marty Funkhouser on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Changing His Name Was a No-Brainer
Albert changed his name to “Brooks” — a family name — when starting in stand-up to avoid confusion with the renowned scientist/kickboxer Albert Einstein.
His Grammy Nomination
During his stand-up career, Brooks dropped two comedy albums, Comedy Minus One and A Star Is Bought. The latter earned him a Grammy nomination.
‘Turn-On’ was a Turn Off
He was a writer on the notorious 1969 TV flop Turn-On, a show deemed so bad that several stations stopped carrying it after the first commercial break. It was canceled after just one episode.
He Kind-Of Improvised in ‘Taxi Driver’
His first film role was Tom, the campaign worker in Taxi Driver. He has said of the role, “We rehearsed in a hotel room for about two-and-a-half weeks. There, it was improvisation. Out of that, it was set into a script. Because, for the most part, improvising while cameras are rolling is very difficult. Ninety-nine percent of people you should never ask to do that because they’re under pressure, the clock is running, 80 people are staring at you… it’s always unnatural. But the place to do it is in a quiet place where you have nothing to lose. So Marty would sit there, and the actors would be there, and Paul Schrader would be there. Out of that came a script. And then we stuck to the script when the cameras were rolling.”
His Directorial Debut
The 1979 mockumentary Real Life was Brooks’ directorial debut. He also co-wrote and starred in the movie about a filmmaker trying to live with a dysfunctional family for a year. It was a parody of the documentary TV show An American Family, a 1970s reality show that followed a suburban family.
Stanley Kubrick Loved ‘Modern Romance’
The next film Brooks wrote, directed and starred in was 1981’s Modern Romance. The story about a neurotic film editor’s love life is often cited as his best work, and among its many fans was Stanley Kubrick. Brooks recalled, “One day, I was sitting at home, and the phone rings. It’s Stanley Kubrick. He had seen the movie and wanted to know how I did it. That’s the first thing he said — ‘How did you make this movie? I’ve always wanted to make a movie about jealousy.’ I said to him, ‘The guy who did 2001 is asking me how I did something?’”
‘Lost in America’s Inspiration
1985 brought audiences Brooks’ next film, Lost in America, where he and Julie Hagerty give up their yuppie Los Angeles lifestyle to live in a motor home. Brooks said the inspiration came from the landmark 1960s movie Easy Rider, in that he wanted to do a more realistic take on dropping out of the rat race.
Defending ‘Defending Your Life’
Meryl Streep starred alongside Brooks in Defending Your Life, which centers on a man finding himself on trial after dying, having to defend his choices in life. Brooks said that the idea grew out of a dissatisfaction with how the afterlife had been portrayed in other films, and he liked that you’d have to defend yourself against the idea that, while you were living, you were afraid of things, which he said, “is the common bond between all human beings.”
His Oscar Nod
Brooks received an Oscar nomination for playing reporter Aaron Altman in Broadcast News but lost to Sean Connery for The Untouchables.
He’s Been to Springfield Many Times
Brooks has supplied voices for several characters on The Simpsons, including the beloved Hank Scorpio in the 1996 episode “You Only Move Twice.”
Another Springfield Villain
Hank Scorpio was supposed to return in 2007’s The Simpsons Movie, but writers thought his affection for Homer might undermine his role as a villain. Instead, they created the character of Russ Cargill, head of the EPA, for Brooks to voice.
Brooks also supplied the voice for Nemo’s father, Marlin, in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Because it requires more imagination, he compared doing voice work to working in radio, something he enjoys as his father was a big radio star.
Playing a Tough Guy
The 2011 film Drive saw a dramatic turn for Brooks, who played mobster Bernie Rose. Brooks revealed his reason for taking the role, saying, “Drive came to me because the casting director knew my manager and called and said, ‘You’ve always talked to me about Albert wanting to play the heavy. I think he should read this.’ My ears just perked up. If I hadn’t done something for a few years, it was a chance to at least come back in a whole different way. That made me excited, so I took it.”
Brooks’ Live Funeral
In 2021, he paid tribute to his late brother by appearing on Curb Your Enthusiasm as Bob Einstein had played Marty Funkhouser on the show. In the episode, Brooks, playing himself, throws his own funeral while still alive, inevitably drawing Larry David’s ire.