After handshakes and photographs with his lingering admirers, Albert Brooks followed his publicist into a closet-size room deep within the Barnes & Noble bookstore on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, where two neat stacks of books waited for his signature.
Brooks, the comedian and movie star, is the author of the novel “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America.” This week he was on a promotional swing through New York, including spots on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and the "Late Show with David Letterman;" he kissed the latter's host in an attempt to boost book sales through viral marketing.
These and other obligations had kept Brooks from traveling to France, where his latest movie, “Drive,” in which he plays a gangster, is in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. “The only time I was invited to Cannes, and I can’t go,” he said in an interview. “But this,” he said, nodding at the stacks of hardcovers bearing his name, “this is more important to me.”
Brooks, who was born Albert Einstein and changed his name when he began working as a stand-up comedian in the late 1960s, is best known as the writer, director and actor in such movies as “Defending Your Life,” “Broadcast News,” and “Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World.” He also provided the voice for Marlin, the protective father fish in “Finding Nemo.” He will play the father of Paul Rudd's character in a forthcoming movie directed by Judd Apatow, which Brooks described as a continuation of 2007’s “Knocked Up.”
Yet Brooks, for all his movie credentials, is relishing his hiatus from Hollywood. In “2030,” published this week by St. Martin’s Press, he imagines the state of America in that not-too-distant year: a country besieged by economic woes, rattled by a devastating earthquake in Los Angeles, and grappling with the dark side of medical advances. Cancer has been cured, by a doctor who is “no genius”: “like all of the greatest discoveries, from Newton to Einstein,” Brooks writes, “Dr. Sam Mueller’s cure was so exquisitely simple.” As life expectancy increases, so do generational tensions, as young Americans come to resent “the olds” who monopolize resources and benefits.
Brooks sat down every weekday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. to write. By his own admission, it took some time to fully exorcise the nagging, budget-obsessed Hollywood execs he delights in excoriating. Brooks often found himself looking over his shoulder, he said, expecting the “writing police” to tell him his ideas for the book were too expensive.
On Wednesday, Brooks (whose wife, Kimberly Brooks, is editor of The Huffington Post's arts section) took questions from his Barnes & Noble audience, laughing aloud when asked to share his own opinions on the future and the fate of mankind.
These included: complications from overpopulation; “a Black Plague-like situation”; and the prediction that the human race will roam the earth for many years to come, though not necessarily the human race as we know it today. In support of this prediction, he observed, “Our asses are already getting bigger.”
In the America of “2030,” a man named Matthew Bernstein has been elected the country’s first half-Jewish president, having triumphed over a female rival who utters an anti-Semitic gaffe during a debate.
In an interview, Brooks said he had once considered Eliot Spitzer a viable Jewish American president, until the former New York governor was disgraced by a prostitution scandal. Asked if a half-Jewish president could get elected in America by the year 2030, Brooks quipped, “As long as the mother isn’t Jewish.”
On Wednesday night, about 200 guests packed into the bookstore’s event space. “He’s an original comic, a comic about things that matter,” said Annie Kirkwood, an Upper East Side resident who attended the event with her husband David. “And he’s not overexposed.”
After the crowds had gone, Brooks relaxed in the tiny room adjacent to the event space, musing on the tolls and pleasures of the writing life. With the isolation of the writing process behind him, he was enjoying the social aspects of promoting and touring. He said he’d like to write a memoir. Asked how he would begin his life story, Brooks thought for a moment, laughed, and said, “Probably being born with the name Albert Einstein.”