Dr Who isn’t the only national icon capable of regeneration. Russell Brand has flitted between drug addict and campaigner, MTV cult, Daily Mail bette noir, widely praised journalist, Hollywood actor, best-selling author, Mr. Katy Perry, and now, political rabble-rouser. Not forgetting of course, stand up comedian – which is what he was doing when Pop Lifer caught up with the funny bunny Booky Wooky fella.
And then he arrives.
The libido driven free-wheeling, recovering heroin addict and spokesperson for the Zammo generation of the disaffected and disappointed – Russell Brand. He strides on to stage for his Messiah Complex set, bound as much by his tight leather trousers as he is by the reputation that precedes him as the loin king with the way and the sway. At once incisive and rambling, egotistical and giving, he is a self-made paradox who dances unapologetically on the hypocrisy of what he says, how he lives and what he represents. He makes you think a little and laugh a lot and stirs up jealousy and admiration as much as he attracts and repels.
His set switches at sharp right angles from audience cuddles to political polemic, each description of his four iconic heroes concluding with a description and/or celebration of debauchery. His slant is as much a critique of modern capitalism as it is a confession to his own susceptibility to its allure.
The set works very well but whether Russell Brand is a good thing or not is a tired, well-worn path which has become particularly overcrowded since he broke the surface as a non-voting, revolution inducing, Paxman baiting, establishment wrecking ball. Why is Russell Brand so liked and listened to is another question and maybe the more interesting one. It may not be of course, but Pop Lifer has a theory anyway.
As a comedian, he is not that much different to what is on offer from the stand up DVDs that occupy many Amazon pages and the few shop shelves still stacked. Yes, he looks and sounds different and he regales his audiences with tales of unparalleled excess but they are grounded by a universal and unexpected vulnerability. You are never near to empathy nor ever far from sympathy. It is a finely tuned character he has cultivated but the ingredients are also used, albeit to different measures, by many comedians such as Stewart Lee and Sarah Silverman.
As a political thinker, he is hardly revolutionary either. His dismantling of modern consumerism and democracy can be found on campuses and message boards the world-wide web over. His chutzpah is admirable (Hugo Boss springs to mind) but he is hardly original and to be fair has never claimed to be. His comedy and persona has built a soap box. His charisma and eloquence ensures we listen and his experience of addiction ensure we strain a little harder to hear when he talks compassionately about not punishing addiction but treating it.
And we listen alright. His Newsnight interview has had in excess of a gazillion hits. His Booky Wook kept a handful of Waterstones open for a few more months. His writing can be stunning – most notably for Pop Lifer when he rose above the grave dancing and trumpet blasting that surrounded Margaret Thatcher‘s death to write a beautiful and human appraisal of her decline and impact. Read that and think back to the infantile Andrew Sachs incident and it is difficult to imagine the same mind is at work.
Russell Brand is very www. He is a porn site, a Guardian message board and Wikipedia all in one. A walking, talking philosophising gurning selfie of an evening lost to a youtube spiral. He is as scattergun as our heads. He feeds our reduced status updating, twittering attention spans with a perfectly matched sushi diet of loosely connected snippets which feels like it could be a narrative but never actually becomes one. He caters for our libido, our vanity and our intellect. He hasn’t nailed a grand political point necessarily but he has nailed a specific time and that time is now.