Brooks had been called the comedian’s comedian, mostly because it’s a nice joke. His father, Harry Einstein, had a nice career in the 30s and 40s under the name Parkyakarkus. His son Albert went into the family business, though changed his last name to Brooks for reasons that should be obvious.*
He started doing guest spots on various variety shows and eventually got a recording contract. Comedy MInus One was his first effort.
It was definitely a strange mix. In the middle is a straight standup act about him as an opening act for Richie Havens, the crowd chanting “Richie, Richie, Richie” throughout his routine. There’s also an interruption where he asks “What do you think of the Record?” and the introduction where he brings in a notary public to prove that the album was in front of a live audience.
But it was the second side is where it takes off. “Comedy Minus One” is a standup act – only you’re the comedian. A script was written inside the album cover, and the listener could read it and have Brooks – and later Georgie Jessel (a legend of vaudeville comedy) – play the straight man.
The cover even showed what was going on. There was the legend, “Introducing the comedy team of Albert Brooks and . . . (over).” When flipped over, there was an aluminum foil “mirror” with the word “You” above it.
Like many of Brooks’s comic idea, the idea was offbeat and played straight.
I remember when it came out. I was program director of the college radio station, and put out a warning that no one was to try to take the part. It was difficult to make it work over the air because you needed to get the timing right. But, of course, I broke my own rule. Since I had rehearsed it a bit, there were no awkward pauses and I think it came off pretty well.
Brooks did a second comedy album before branching out into short films and full-length comedies.** He always had a slightly different view of life, which made him so much fun.
*Brooks said that his father claimed to have never heard of Albert Einstein, but that he was probably pulling Brooks’s leg.
**His brother, Bob Einstein, carved out a niche for himself as Super Dave Osborne.