Comedians are a strange breed. The best, when not in front of a microphone or camera, are reclusive and self-loathing. What’s so funny about a happy comedian?

This week I had the pleasure of spending time with two of the most miserable — and consequently celebrated — comic minds, Albert Brooks and Howard Stern.

Brooks’ new movie, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” which opens Jan. 20, is a laugh-out-loud plunge into post-9/11 un-PC waters. It’s a fictional story about Brooks being
offered a Medal of Freedom for traveling to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslim people laugh.

Written and directed by Brooks, who also plays himself, the film was shot on-location in India over the course of two months. There’s nothing about Brooks — an American Jew from
L.A. — that suggests to me he would even be remotely comfortable in Virginia for two months, much less India.

“I’m a person who doesn’t like to leave his house,” he confirmed, “so I don’t know how I roped myself into this."

Nevertheless, he did seem to think it was pretty cool to shoot at historic mosques and the Taj Mahal. Brooks explained that in India, film permits do not include crowd control or closing off streets. So logistics were dicey.

“We had to come up with ways to prevent people from stopping and looking into the camera,” he said. “Sometimes the crew would just create these huge daisy chains to keep people out of the shot.”

Brooks said the film was originally supposed to be distributed by Sony, with an October 2005 release date (the current distributor is Warner Independent Pictures). But Sony was uncomfortable about pairing the words “comedy” and “Muslim” in the title, particularly after the erroneous Newsweek report about Guantanamo Bay guards flushing a Koran down the toilet.

According to Brooks, Sony simply wanted the title to be “Looking for Comedy.”

“From the very first meeting I had, somebody made a joke like, ‘Well, we’re gonna have to put in a lot of extra phone lines with this title.’ You know, when studios make jokes like that it's never a good sign — because they always mean it."

“My answer is, ‘Why even make the movie?’ I mean, the whole point is to break this down a little bit. I said, ‘If you can’t put ‘comedy’ and ‘Muslim’ in the same sentence, is the world that bad? Are we really that scared? Because then let’s just all wait in our house 'til the bomb drops. There’s no point in doing anything.'”

Brooks isn’t afraid to poke fun at both American and Arab organizations, such as TV network Al Jazeera. In one scene, executives from Al Jazeera try to recruit Brooks for a new sitcom titled “That Darn Jew.”

“Mark my words,” Brooks told me, “Two years from now they will have an entertainment network.”

So has he received feedback about the film from Al Jazeera execs?

"We had our world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival, and they had people there,” said Brooks, “and that was one of the best screenings I've ever had for any movie. And I'm still here talking to you."

Counting His Pennies

Howard Stern made his Sirius debut on Monday, and the media circus included a press conference that aired live as part of his first show.

Every outlet was there, including Stern’s own Howard 100, a 24/7 Sirius news network that airs breaking news strictly about the shock jock.

Howard 100 correspondents stood around the studio in mustard-yellow blazers with network logos. In New York (where Howard’s show is based), the most famous of these correspondents is Penny Crone, who was recently fired as a correspondent from the local FOX TV affiliate. Stern picked her right up and gave her a job.

I told Crone that I assumed she’d be making up phony news about Howard, since it’d be tough to constantly come up with real news about a guy who doesn’t do much outside his radio show, hang out with girlfriend Beth Ostrosky and visit a shrink four days a week.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Will you always be live, or will you have taped bits?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“So what will you be doing for Howard 100?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Have you talked to Howard yet about the job?”

“No.”

“But you are getting paid, yes?”

“Ha — that’s funny!” she said. “Yes, I am.”

OK, well that’s good, especially since Penny’s new boss is making a pretty penny with a reported $500 million contract.

All that cash should make Stern’s girlfriend Beth happy — though none of it has gone toward a diamond engagement ring.

After denying reports the two had wed, I asked Howard what he would say if Beth proposed to him tomorrow.

The man who’s never at a loss for words … froze.

Ten seconds of silence, then Stern finally spoke.

“What was the question again?” The room erupted with laughter.

Beth, our thoughts are with you.