“Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.”
Russell Brand is essentially a mystical comedy magician with impeccable fashion sense. His brain works a million miles a minute, and his articulated thoughts ooze a natural intelligence and an almost spiritual understanding of what in the moment will be simultaneously hilarious and effecting. He’s gone through many transformations in his life: a poor, overweight schoolboy, hopeful actor, drug and sex addict, infamous Lothario, legitimate actor, comedy genius, activist, the list goes on. He’s a complex man with a fascinating perspective on the world. He’s aware of the world around him and its injustices, preaching peace and love like a rock ‘n’ roll disciple of God. He acknowledges his own shortcomings in the hopes of overcoming them to further along his personal evolution – some of which include narcissism, entitlement issues, and a powerful urge to satisfy the Imp of his Perverse, which has been active in almost every instance of his existence. However, he is without a doubt one of the funniest stand ups I’ve ever seen, and his comedic presence will leave you staggering in its wake. You wonder what message he’s really trying to evoke. Is it to love more? Have sex (with him) more? Fight capitalism and work towards universal harmony? Admire his leather pants and ample use of glittery, expensive accessories? Who knows. But it sure is funny, and he never disappoints when he hits the mike.
Russell is one of my favorite comedians of all time, and he brings any space he’s in to life. Talk show hosts are visibly in awe when he inevitably outshines them with his brilliant comedic mind and glamorous aesthetic. It’s like if a Cockney, glam-rock cartoon just spun into the room with the only proof of its presence being the gut-busting laughter and a trail of glitter. The first time I ever heard him speak was in an interview he did with David Letterman in 2008, which was his first appearance on the show. I had heard of him, but at the time I didn’t know his stand-up or what he was like as an individual. The first think of note was definitely his appearance; his hair was at maximum longitudinal heights and the eyeliner was thick in application. David Letterman as a talk show host was the perfect juxtaposing force for Russell, with his straight-laced, sarcastic grandpa persona. You could tell that there was not much Letterman could do but sit back, slightly perturbed but even more entertained, and enjoy the ride. Because Russell takes over a show. He’s too funny, too smart, and too self-involved to let anyone control him or the dialogue. Especially David Letterman, whose objective on the show was to subtly make fun of the guest, unless you’re one of the five people he likes. But Russell took it all in stride, and you can tell that Letterman was eventually charmed by this charismatic and bizarre gentleman. Watch the interview here: (x)
“My personality just does not work without fame. Without fame, this haircut looks like mental illness.”
After that I was instantly hooked. I searched out his comedy on YouTube, and I was very lucky to find the full version of his special “Scandalous,” which from start to finish is absolutely hilarious. It basically chronicles his experiences going through a public scandal that made him hated by most media outlets, and yet here he is performing to the jam-packed O2 arena. It’s magical and silly and dark and some of the best comedy I’ve ever seen to this day. He uses his whole body, utilizes every inch of the stage, and speaks as if the comedy is just flowing through him, like he’s a vessel for the divine gods of humor to express their illustrious, mischievous thoughts. I don’t know if it’s the power of the vast audience, the rockstar quality he has, or simply his unparalleled wit, but I remember how mystified I was watching that special for the first time. I remember falling in love with comedy itself. Now, in hindsight, I know that most comedy is not what I witnessed on that special. This was definitely a heightened version of it. But something about it was metaphorical, it represented to me what comedy was about. It was about someone funny and talented, yes, but most of all different, expressing to people their side of the story. Telling people the way they experienced the world. And even though at this point he was a mainstream celebrity, he was still an anomaly, a weirdo, revealing his innermost self in order to entertain others. It was absolutely gorgeous. And so fucking funny.
Here’s a clip from the special of him reflecting on the incident that caused the resulting mayhem (Warning: it’s even more ridiculous than you think).
On top of being a comedic genius he’s also quite a philosophical, existential, spiritual being. He’s not afraid to make radical, contrary political statements and appears to truly want to change the world in a progressive, peaceful way. It’s very common to hear him go into a sincere speech about loving one another and how important it is to respect our fellow man, even on something as trite as a talk show. He’s pretty much the modern-day Jesus, but not quite as celibate, and much more into black as a color scheme. To balance out his vices and flaws he goes about life with a general outlook of trying to help humanity in some way, and is shockingly earnest about his hope that people will realize that everything but love is an illusion. Countries, states, political parties, money, fame, all are distractions to deter us from the truth, which is that we’re all the same, and that we could make our world beautiful. Now, try giving that a good punch line.
“You’re all beautiful, both inside and out. You mustn’t worry about anything; nothing is important except finding love within yourself and being all honorable and glorious and beautiful. Take things dead slowly ’cause nothing you can attain externally has value, only that which is within yourself already is valuable.”
I’ve watched many videos of him online and it’s difficult to pick only some of them to include, because he’s hysterical in literally everything he’s in. However, some of my favorite interviews are with Conan O’Brien, because he too is a smart and silly fellow, and enthusiastically plays along with Russell’s childlike, wondrous antics. Conan really gets him, and is funny enough to riff and keep up with Russell, so it’s a genuinely fun experience watching the two play off each other. You can watch two of my favorite Conan clips here: (x)(x) One of my favorite interviews of all time though, and not only because of Russell, was for a show called Rove LA where they got the most random, eclectic group of people to interview together for about an hour. It’s Russell, Adam Lambert, the gorgeous and talented pop star, and Kristen Schaal, who’s an incredibly funny stand up and voice actor, but is definitely not as well-known as the other two, so the grouping seemed a bit arbitrary. However, the whole show was so delightful and hilarious that I didn’t even care, in fact I never wanted it to end! Plus Rove, who I’d never heard of, was a spectacular host so the whole group dynamic worked out seamlessly. You can watch the episode here! (x)
However, one of the most representative video clips I’ve ever seen of Russell is when he interviewed two anti-gay leaders in the Westboro Baptist Church for his show ‘Brand-X.’ The show is no longer running, but this interview is fascinating and essential to watch in order to not only understand who Russell is, but to see how to compassionately communicate with people who may hate you. The whole time Russell assures them that he loves them, even telling the audience to appreciate them for coming in front of a group that they know will most likely disagree with them. He makes fun of them for their blatant ignorance and hatefulness, yes, but he also respects their humanity in a way that I’ve never quite seen before. It’s honestly inspiring to watch. If you’re extremely uncomfortable with homophobic sentiments this will be a difficult watch, but it’s mostly a beautiful example of true human decency. Here it is (x). It shows Russell as he really is: understanding, quick, insightful, hilarious, irreverent, and strangely enough, closer to being Jesus-like than I’ve ever seen anyone achieve. Just with more jokes and jewelry.
Check out Russell Brand!