A school reunion for Albert Brooks and Rob Reiner

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Sixty years ago Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks met at Beverly Hills High School in a drama class. Recently they returned. “This is the first time both of us have been back since we graduated,” said Reiner.

“Over a certain age, it’s against the law,” added Brooks, who riffed on memory and reunions: “When you have to confront the actual people you were with [back then] – ‘Oh my God, who are you? You’re my grandmother?’ ‘No, you were in love with me.’ Oh my God!”

“You liked older women,” Reiner explained.

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Albert Brooks and Rob Reiner back at Beverly Hills High School, surveying the Wall of Fame. Yes, they are on it. 

CBS News


They haven’t been back, but they’ve remained close friends for six decades, as Reiner went from playing Meathead in Norman Lear’s “All in the Family” to a career as a top-tier movie director: “A Few Good Men,” “Misery,” “When Harry Met Sally.” Rob’s father, legendary comedian and writer Carl Reiner, knew funny as well as anyone, and during an appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1963, singled out his teenaged son’s teenaged friend, referring to 16-year-old Albert Einstein (Brooks’ birth name) as the funniest person he knew.

Brooks changed his name at the start of his career because of the other guy named Albert Einstein. His parents, Harry Einstein, a famous radio comic known, and his wife, Thelma, never owned up to why they burdened their son with the name of the world’s most famous physicist: “I asked. Believe me, I asked,” he said. “And all I got was, ‘Ask your dad.’ ‘Ask your mom.’ Nobody would tell me.”

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Rob Reiner and Albert Einstein’s yearbook photos. 

CBS News


Albert Brooks went on to become the funniest comedian of his generation, relativity speaking. Reiner said, “He can’t split the atom, but he can create energy through laughter.”

Brooks’ originality was on display as soon as he found an audience, mostly on variety shows in the late 1960s and ’70s. Rather than tell jokes, he performed extended bits and created characters, like the world’s least-talented ventriloquist:

Albert Brooks on “The Flip Wilson Show” in 1972:


Albert Brooks Ventriloquist Bit by
StandApartComedy on
YouTube

Brooks said, “It was like an elixir. I mean, it could make dead people laugh. It made everyone laugh. So, I kept getting jobs because of it.”

As Brooks kept working, Reiner kept pestering with a request: let me make a movie about your life.

Reiner’s documentary, “Albert Brooks: Defending My Life,” is currently streaming on Max. Why now? “Because he wouldn’t do it when I wanted to do it!” Reiner said.

Brooks (whose credits include the voice of Marlin in “Finding Nemo”) said, “There’s a lot of young people who, if they know me at all, they know me as a fish. You just would like to say, ‘You know, there’s more to it.’ And you can’t [say it] yourself on a street corner, ’cause that’s mental illness: ‘Well, wait a minute, I’m not just a fish. Do you know that in 1975 –’ ‘Look, I gotta, my car is here.'”

And Reiner helped out: “I knew all the things that Albert had done. I knew how brilliant he was. I wanted them to know.”

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Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks. 

CBS News


There’s a lot to know. In 1971, Brooks wrote a piece for Esquire Magazine about the Albert Brooks Famous School for Comedians. It didn’t exist, but some didn’t get the joke. He got 2,000 applicants. “I had a two-page ‘talent test,’ the silliest test you ever saw,” Brooks said.

Soon after came a short film about the non-existent school, a pioneering example of the mockumentary:


Albert Brooks Famous School For Comedians by
Wayne Shellabarger on
YouTube

Then came what might have been his big break. In 1974, Lorne Michaels was preparing a sketch comedy show for NBC that would become “Saturday Night Live.” He asked Brooks to be the permanent host; Brooks turned him down. “Can you imagine – 50 years, you’re doing that?” laughed Reiner.

Instead, Brooks made short films for “SNL”‘s first season, which led to his true calling: writing, directing and starring in some of the funniest – and most deliberately uncomfortable – movies of their time: “Real Life,” “Modern Romance,” “Lost in America,” “Defending Your Life,” and the semi-autobiographical “Mother” costarring Debbie Reynolds.

All of this in addition to his work as an actor, most memorably schvitzing his way to screen immortality in “Broadcast News.” 


Broadcast News (2/5) Movie CLIP – Aaron Struggles on Air (1987) HD by
Movieclips on
YouTube

When he is described as “The Marx Brothers meet Richard Pryor,” Brooks said, “Well, that’s the greatest thing I ever heard. Because that’s four people!

Back at their old high school, the two old pals found themselves at the Wall of Fame – friends still making each other laugh.

Though don’t expect a duet: Reiner went solo serenading us with the school hymn, where memory allowed: “Oh Beverly, we love you, our loyalty we sing. To thee all faith, all honor, our praises we sing. Our custom, traditions bring glory to thee … We love you, the, the, Beverly …’ and then there’s the end.”

“We need help!” Brooks cried out.

To watch a trailer for “Albert Brooks: Defending My Life” click on the video player below:


Albert Brooks: Defending My Life | Official Trailer | HBO by
HBO on
YouTube

     
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: George Pozderec. 

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