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Albert Brooks’ secret epic aspirations.

Albert Brooks’ secret epic aspirations. (photo)

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Despite his status as one of the more cerebral comics to emerge from the ’70s, Albert Brooks — unlike rough stand-up contemporaries Woody Allen and Steve Martin — has never been much of an essayist, and certainly not a book-writer.

Until now: next May will see the publication of his first novel, “2030: The Real Story of What Happens in America,” which more or less makes it sound like Brooks — who hasn’t made a movie in five years — is entering his Al Franken period. The plotline sounds awfully didactic:

A population that has finally been freed from the scourge of cancer is dramatically aging, sparking resentment against the ‘olds’ and leading to a nation so hamstrung by entitlements and debt that its only way out are solutions heretofore unthinkable.

In the brief accompanying interview, Brooks also invokes taking “to the streets” during Vietnam and laments that the kids aren’t doing the same. “From what I’m reading, with the iPhone 6, they won’t have to,” he says, in a regrettable display of cranky-old-man-ness.

One part of the interview, however, was unexpected. Brooks confessed to relief at not having to write with budgetary considerations in mind. “I would type, ‘It was a stormy night,’ and I’d cross that out,” he said. “‘It was a pleasant night,’ and I’d cross that out. ‘It was noon.’ I’d cross that out. ‘He stayed in bed.’ That’s what you do with a script. You know how much everything costs.” Now, he’s finding the process so pleasant he’s already at work on a second book, happily freed from financial pragmatics.

07192010_reallife1.jpgWhat’s surprising about this is that you wouldn’t guess from his films that Brooks was having a hard time realizing his vision. Effects, action sequences and elaborate stunts are basically unknown. In his best work, Brooks (more or less as an asshole version of himself) commands the screen. The claustrophobia that emerges from watching him dominate constricted spaces through sheer tense energy (as in twin peaks “Real Life” and “Modern Romance”) makes the relative cheapness of the set-ups a positive asset.

It’d never occurred to me that Brooks had larger visions. Some low-budget filmmakers clearly don’t want to work with restricted physical resources (John Sayles keeps trying to make epics on the cheap, which certainly seems true of his latest, a Philippine-American war saga).

Comics, though, normally are their own best prop. Unless they’re going the pure physical comedy route (which, this not being the silent era, doesn’t happen often), their film generally don’t require elaborations on top of that. I suppose if the cliche about how within every comedian resides a frustrated tragic actor is true, every comic writer/director wants to be a… dystopian soothsayer?

In the meantime, here’s Brooks from 1973 on running out of material:

[Photos: Albert Brooks on the set of “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” Warner Independent, 2006; “Real Life,” Paramount Pictures, 1979]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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