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Albert Brooks: Comedy And Dystopia

Actor and director Albert Brooks of  “Broadcast News” and “Lost in America” fame, with his dystopic view of America in the year 2030.

Albert Brooks (AP)

Albert Brooks (AP)

For a long time, Albert Brooks has been known as the comedian’s comedian.  Hero to Steve Martin and more.  The genius at work in Broadcast News, Lost in America, Finding Nemo, The Simpsons.

Now, to his work as actor, director and stand-up legend, he adds the role of author.

His new novel, his first, is called 2030.  It looks at America in that year – and what a scene.  Cancer is cured.  Elders are living very long.  And young Americans in a tough era are sick of them hanging around.  Dangerously fed up.  Then the earthquake comes.

This hour On Point:  Albert Brooks and his book “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America.”

- Tom Ashbrook


Albert Brooks, writer, actor, and director. He wrote and directed “Lost in America,” “Modern Romance,” “Defending Your Life,” and more. He acted in James L. Brooks’s “Broadcast News,” Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.” His first novel is “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America.”


2030: The Real Story of What Happens To America
By Albert Brooks

It was a normal day, or so it seemed. Actually, nothing in 2030 seemed normal, not to Brad Miller anyway. Brad was surprised at how many people showed up for his eightieth birthday. Surprised because he had these friends in the first place and surprised at how healthy they all were. This was not what people in their eighties were supposed to look like. Sure, the lifts helped, along with the tucks and the hair and the new weight- loss drug, which, while only seven years on the market, had become the biggest selling drug in the history of the world. That’s what happens when a chemical works almost one hundred percent of the time, in everyone. But still, Brad thought, these folks look good.

And they did. They were thin, healthy, all looking better than their parents were at forty. The only thing missing were younger people. Brad couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a young person at his birthday. Other than his son, whom he never talked to anyway, he didn’t even know anyone under fifty. Nor did any of his friends. There was just too much resentment and too much fear.

As the lights dimmed, the customary “life” movie played in the middle of the room, holographic style. People were getting tired of these. It was one thing to watch home movies of someone else; it was another to feel like you were in them. It was like boredom squared. But people watched; they laughed and told Brad how much fun it was to see him “age.” He, like many of them, actually looked better now than he had ten years ago. But it was funny. Where once that was a compliment relating to how you lived your life, whether you ate well or exercised enough or got a good night’s sleep, now it was just about what you could aff ord. And once cancer had been cured, the youth business went crazy.

Most people in that room were only in their twenties when Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer. Like all the wars going on at the time, this one seemed to have little success. The progress was so slow. Still, people held out hope that when they got older there would be a cure for what ailed them. But when the year 2000 rolled in, there they were: bald, fat, and ugly. And there was still cancer.

But everyone in that room, probably everyone in the world, remembered where they were when they heard the news. Oh, there had been so many hopeful stories over the years. So many false starts. So many mice that were cured, but when the human trials started, people dropped dead of all kinds of things that had never bothered a mouse. But then it happened. And like all of the greatest discoveries, from Newton to Einstein, Dr. Sam Mueller’s cure was so exquisitely simple.

Dr. Mueller was no genius. He grew up fairly normal, in Addison, Illinois. A big night out was going to Chicago for pizza. After graduating Rush Medical College, Sam Mueller interned at Rush- Presbyterian- St. Luke’s Medical Center and then, realizing that making a living as an internist was going to be tough at best, he started looking elsewhere. He thought of concierge medicine, which was all the rage, but decided to take a fairly lucrative position at Pfizer. He figured he would do that for a while and then something would unfold. Oh my, did it unfold.

Mueller had always been interested in the immune system. So much in medicine was pointing to the body’s own defenses as a cure- all, but the success rates were modest at best. He was assigned various projects at Pfizer. Some were interesting, some he hated. He never understood the Viagra- for- women thing. Every woman he ever knew could go all night, have a bowl of cereal, and go for another afternoon, but he worked on it anyway, and when it happened it was huge.

The team got big- time bonuses and raises and all kinds of rewards. They were even sent to Hawaii, where Sam Mueller met his wife. She wasn’t Hawaiian, she was an assistant on the project whom he had never really gotten to know, but then one night on Kauai they both got drunk, walked on the beach, watched the most beautiful sunset in the world, and fell madly in love.

Maggie was a great companion for Sam. Smart, easygoing, and very supportive. He could talk to her about his ideas and she would not only listen but also encourage him. The idea she liked most was an interesting one. Something about using a person’s own blood to attack cancer cells. Sam was convinced that if a person’s blood was combined with someone else’s blood that wasn’t compatible, if the combination of the two was just right, one person’s blood cells would fight not only the other blood cells but the foreign bodies in their system as well, including the cancer. But the real break came when Pfizer merged with a Swiss firm and Sam was let go. Thank God he never told anyone there about what he was working on or they would have owned it.

With Maggie’s help, Sam Mueller raised three hundred thousand dollars, took on a partner, and started Immunicate. His blood idea was in the right direction but it didn’t work properly; it knocked out cancer cells but attacked the other organs, too, and the body’s immune system went into overdrive, killing everything. Something had to be done to make the blood combination work against the disease without working against the rest of the body. The answer turned out to be common amino acids.

Sam and his partner, Ben Wasser, spent an entire year injecting the blood with different aminos. With the help of computers they tried millions of combinations. There were so many months where they felt it was not going to work. And then on the night of June 30, 2014, they put together alanine, isoleucine, proline, and tryptophan. Four common amino acids that had never been combined before, certainly not in this precise measurement.

Two years later, over ninety- four percent of the participants in the human trials were cancer- free. There were still rare cancers that did not respond, but all the big ones were knocked out, and the success was so overwhelming that trials were stopped early and the drug was available to the general population by the spring of 2016.

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  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

     I loved Brooks in Broadcast News but the sleeper in his film resume is My First Mister. 

    • Anonymous

      Agree!  Not only that but his grace in that film seemed to infect the rest of the cast.

      • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

        Agreed Prairie_W. The girl who played the lead, Leelee Sobieski was spectacular but might not have done as well had she not had Brooks to play off of.

  • Michael

    Dude was funny on the daily show a few weeks ago. 

  • twenty-niner

    You’re not allowed to say “nest” or “egg”.

  • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston Aki Stamatelaky

    never heard of this man. 

  • Anonymous

  • Kurt

    Should be good. With the Apocalypse/Rapture rescheduled for 2060 (phew!–Isaac Newton was right all along?), we have more time to contemplate.  

  • Boston mom

     Are “The Olds” also facing increasing longevity with senility and Altzheimer’s? It seems we can keep our bodies going for a long time but at some point, our brains just refuse to play along.

  • Cabmanjohnny

    Brooks is just picking up on a subject on the web by predictive linguistics. Boomer dislike, if not hatred, is already alive and well. Just read the San Fransisco craigslist rants and raves( search “boomers” ) and I remember threads on AOL ten years ago about that. Generational differences fueled by present economic disparity, here, worldwide. Which looks to get worse.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Oh, I read this, finished it last week. I thought he was dead-on right. The seeds we are sown right now with incredible amounts of student loans, inability to get health insurance, and more….Families are limping along now, but that can’t last forever.

    It’s all brewing right now, and some day something will set it off.

    Great book, really enjoyed it.

  • Kradschutzen2

     Tom is in high – speed – yuk mode trying to make this interview interesting.  1/2 into program and he is so far, failing.

  • William

     Thank you, Albert Brooks. Lost In America contains as funny a scene as has ever been put on film. And Defending Your Life hit the nail on the head in a great way, at least for me, from beginning to end. 

  • Dan

    Those of us who are under 30 are fully aware that we’re going to have to pay for the baby boomers’ profligacy.  All we ask is that we get to decide what will change, since we’ll be the ones paying for it anyway.

    Boston, MA

    • Anonymous

      I’m sympathetic, Dan, even though I’m one of group you’re paying for.  Just a comment and a tip: 

      First, we paid for you for about 21 years, so we hope you’ll be kind about paying us back for our final 21.

      Second, when I was your age healthcare was much less costly and — get this — way better in terms of its person-to-person care.  The insurance companies and pharmaceuticals turned it into a wildly costly nightmare — they’re marketing health to you, not guaranteeing it.  So this is the tip:  Do something about that before you start to ache and limp and get confused, okay?

      • Dan

        Hi Prairie_W,

        We’re well aware that our parents saw us through our early years. We’re happy to “pay you back” for your final 21 years (or 18, or 30, or whatever) if you’re willing to admit that you had children with the intention that those children would subsidize your retirement after you’d properly guilt-tripped them.  Fair?

        I’d love to move to a single-payer system.  My generation is not the one screaming that we can’t make any modification to the way we run healthcare.  “Death panels” didn’t really resonate with us.  Again, if you’re going to ask us to pay for this, we’d kindly ask that you invest us with decision-making power commensurate with that responsibility.

        Boston, MA

    • JohnInSC

       Re: “Baby boomers’ profligacy” – Not all of us, Dan.  Many of us fought against the insane tax cuts for the wealthy & unwarranted war that have pushed the country to the brink.  Just because we weren’t successful in stopping the rush to the poor house, please don’t lump all of us into the same hell-bound basket. We did what we could, but when your voice is drowned out by bought media and politicians, it’s hard to stop the tide.

  • Eduardo

     Remember the 76 film Logan’s Run. I believe they “eliminated” individuals to preserve resources and society??

    • Larry

      I DO remember that movie. Everyone was allowed to live until their 30th birthday, then you had to check out. 

  • Dan

    Did he just say he wants a flat tax?

    Ok, done here.

    Boston, MA

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Oh come on, he’s not setting policy, he’s just talking. Lighten up Francis.

      • Dan

        Right, and Donald Trump wasn’t actually saying Obama wasn’t from Hawaii, he was just talking…

        Because when you’re just talking, the content of what you’re actually talking about is always innocuous and meaningless.  Right?

        Boston, MA

        • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

          Do you really think the current tax system is fair–with Wall Streeter getting every possible break while families struggle? That oil companies make billions in profits and yet get all kinds of breaks and subsidies?

          I don’t think it’s working very well. 

    • Steve

      I’m with you, Dan. 15% to a person making $1,000,000 (or $100,000,000) is nothing. 15% to a person making $30,000 can be a real hardship. It’s not fair and it doesn’t make any sense.

  • Randyrinaldo

    Why has not this issue been discussed?
    “Who Stole Your Social Security and Why”

    snip>In addition, the Bush Administration’s lax and incompetent management of
    the financial community added another $750 billion in a late 2008
    bailout to keep the financial community from completely dissolving. To
    keep the recession that came as a result of the partial collapse of the
    financial and housing markets from becoming a huge depression, has added
    $1.2 trillion more. So the funds from personal tax deductions paid by
    workers–the amount of money we call Social Security–has been completely
    looted.  And, by the way, we currently have additional debt from the
    last 8 years of $5.3 trillion dollars.>end snip

    The point being that “the party” has become the focus of welfare and not the life and or the welfare of the people and they THEY lie about it?

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/onanov Donald Baxter

    Disappointed in Albert Brooks.  Government bloated?  Government is getting effectively to that size where Grover Norquist could drown it in the bathtub.  Why is such an unobservant, ill-informed person being interviewed on “On Point?”

    • Anonymous

      You are right about that.  Read  “The Wrecking Crew” by Thomas Frank.  The Ryan budget is just another step in the same direction- the neo-con dream.

    • Steve

      You cut to the point perfectly, sir. Ask Mr Brooks about filmmaking, comedy, or life as a celebrity. But please don’t ask him about tax policy, or fiction writing. He fails terribly at both.

  • Randyrinaldo

    What I’m saying is that the “Who stole you social security and why” http://www.populistdaily.com/economics/who-stole-your-social-security-and-why.html  Is this not a “contrived” issue and or could it be the powers that be are actually implementing a so-called financial Armageddon to save us from ourselves and or to change the global landscape and what is the “cause and effect” hidden by those powers?

  • Dan

     Hi James, the current caller…what on earth are you talking about?

  • JohnInSC

    Re: “They couldn’t invent the picture phone.”  They could have, but telecom companies have sat on installing the truly high-speed Internet that would enable 2-way visual communication.  See: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/net/index.html  Worth watching, even if it’s 4 years old.  (The net neutrality issue is still with us.)

  • Anonymous

    I am a baby boomer who recently retired.  Let’s not always be blaming out generation.  My parents had a high standard of living in retirement ( not wealthy) and I don’t blame them.  I have been watching retirees for years having a wonderful time without all of us making them feel guilty.  Things really started to go downhill with the Bush administration with give aways to the super wealthy.  Corporations own the House and Senate by in large.  This has to change as well as the tax structure.  Let’s start with oil companies and the super rich and we will have more money to play with. 

  • Rob in Seattle

     The great Al Brooks?   Never heard of him, though in retrospect I did see his Weeds walk-on.  Maybe someone confused him with Mel? 

    Anyways, not funny and not much of a policy guy either. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s a basic tenet of ecology that all monocultures collapse. We be there.

  • Judy Gosnell

    The projected scenarios of Brooks…let’s remember that we’ve needed to work on slowing the worldwide population boom for a long time, but we don’t seem to really GET that…plenty of “old” people would like to work, too, and many do. His thesis seems like a 1984 type idea…if young people get “fed up” with the “old”, that will be the most shortsighted generation that ever lived..seeing as how they will get old too. NO, this is a very dark, bad idea. Not gonna happen. Let’s make sure we provide women with the opportunity to choose the size of their families, and that birth control is READILY available.

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    I like Albert Brooks’s approach, but he’s a bit shortsighted in his scenario.  For one thing, there will never be a “cure” for cancer. It’s a silly idea, very Western – the notion that there is this “thing,” and we can eradicate this “thing” with the “right” treatment or medicine. Cancer is a disease condition that can be mitigated and in some cases reduced to nothing, but it is a condition of cell division, which does not get “cured.” 

    Another weakness of his scenario is that it rests on extensions of perceived present trends into the future. There is one trend, or given, that only heretics challenge, and that is the need for the economy to grow infinitely into the future. 

    According to the “Rule of 72,” mathematicians have figured that any rate of growth can be divided into 72 to derive the number of years it would take for the principle to double. For example, with a minimal growth rate of GNP of 2%, total output would double in 36 years. This means that we would have twice as many cars, twice as much pollution, twice as much waste, twice as much increment to climate change, twice as much erosion of soil into the Mississippi River, twice as much annual depletion of the oceans, twice as much development of rural and wild places, twice the prison population, and twice as many unemployed.

    We would also have twice as many wars, if not more. Needless to say, this is a more unthinkable scenario than that of Albert Brooks. We do not have the institutional infrastructure to make the needed changes, so the system will keep plugging along until it goes bust. There should be odds in Las Vegas for the date it all comes crashing down. My prediction is September 28, 2012 (yes, it will be very soon). It’s sort of an intuitional I Ching guess, but since we don’t know, one guess is as good as another.

    If you take a look at historical disappearances like the Anasazi, the ancient Egyptians and the Mayans, human civilization survived. It likely will survive again. It just will be more drastic this time. The mass system has gotten so huge that it is incapable of stopping itself. So it won’t even try. I feel bad for the younger generation. They won’t have the opportunities I had. Young relatives seem so innocent, so full of life, I wish they could have a better deal. It’s just the way it is. We’ve created a machine that can’t stop until it burns out.

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Do you really not grasp the meaning of the word “novel”?

      • Steve

        Clearly, he does.

  • FC

    As a 27-year-old, I’ve read
    2030 and about the inevitabilities coming my generations way. Simply put, boomers
    have been atrocious stewards of everything from the economy to the environment
    to politics. The generations following you boomers will be worse off than the
    ones before – a first in US history. We will be fatter, less educated, have
    higher taxes and bear the burden of the huge messes you all left behind. Native
    Americans tried to prepare a good future for seven generations ahead of themselves.
    Boomers, however, couldn’t even prepare a solid future for their own retirement.
    So you all have your hand at the wheel right now, but eventually, when my
    generation has to face down your failures, a boiling pot of vindictiveness will
    be better then you deserve.

    • Randyrinaldo

      It isn’t the boomers unless you are including our IMMUNIZED congressman and ot three branches of government and the the “PARTY’s (both democrat & republican)
      ” that are in a competative bid for their control which is in reality another farce. If you can understand the indoctrination of our society by a select few through the public school system you will understand that “we” have all been lead to the dysfunctional era. If “we” were not taught to be dysfunctional and at each others throats playing this giant “blame game” then there wouldn’t be ant necessity for government because “we” would have arrived and or assended into the realsm of “self-governance: what would inevitabely reduce the need for government and laws and or the carrot and sticks that either the corperations work us or the provisional governments welfare provides. Social Security is not welfare but your government officials would have you believe it and wall street would love to have the money that was supposed to be secure by our government what our government STOLE from all of us and then claime ity is not sustainable; all lies and CONTRIVED BS.

      again “Who stole you social security and why” Please make sure you youtube “Aaron Russo womens liberation” and this will lead you to the answers what are in the context of “Norman Dodd Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations” what will open you eyes into a new understanding of the realities of the dysfunctional appendages that keep us all divided and dependent on the powers that be. There is a reason why “we” have become such victoms to the system; because we were basically taught to be dysfunctional and never grow up. We were NEVER taught to NOT pick sides so “we” could become united in our psyche to be self-governing.. “we” are not because we have been convinced to NOT be functional so THEY can play parents who yield a carrot or stick and lead us all by our noses.

  • stop the wars

    Billions and billions for senseless wars and aid to corrupt foreign governments and limited money for student financial aid and health care. We’ve been had folks. I’m fifty and as long as I can remember our country has always had an “enemy”. You’ll see. Once this latest terrorist threat is over there will be a new enemy to confront and more billions to spend. We’ll be bankrupt. PS: We have a convoluted foreign policy which sets us up for these confrontations.

  • stop the wars

    Billions and billions for senseless wars and aid to corrupt foreign governments and limited money for student financial aid and health care. We’ve been had folks. I’m fifty and as long as I can remember our country has always had an “enemy”. You’ll see. Once this latest terrorist threat is over there will be a new enemy to confront and more billions to spend. We’ll be bankrupt. PS: We have a convoluted foreign policy which sets us up for these confrontations.

  • boller

    Gee. I wonder if Albert Brooks’s novel includes the cure he has found in his own life for being considered an old coot who takes up all the resources of the young: marry somebody a whole lot younger than you and have babies when you’re in your 50′s. Then all the Resentment Gangs (is that supposed to be an example of his creative genius??) will think you’re still young and worthy to be alive. 

    Great job, Albert. I hope you rest on your laurels, if this novel is an example of what you’re capable of doing. Proof that the wealthy can get anything published and get on-air marketing.

  • Posdkeoblorr

    This means when you’re in action you get warm. So you should dress yourself appropriately in your ‘action suit’ mannix on dvd. An action suit is usually a thermal baselayer matt houston dvd, a fleece type midlayer and a shell on top. Thin and not too bulky to climb in becker dvd set, but not all that warm either.

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