I would like to write about Russell Brand. As a character – or as has been his want since he was in short trousers – a ‘celebrity’, he intrigues me, and the more I see, read and hear him, I can’t help but admire him rather enormously. I will start by making a confession. I used to watch Big Brother. Whole series of the stuff. Now to some, perhaps quite presumably to Russell Brand himself this really is no big deal. He embraces celebrity, lives it and loves it. He also loves people and personalities, so Big Brother was a perfect platform to showcase his talents following his chaotic, drug-fuelled stint on MTV. After a few series of BB (and similar ‘reality TV’ shows) I began to detest the pseudo-celebrity spawned by the dropouts from the BB house, and despite (at the time) enjoying the pathetic voyeurism of the main programme, I had no fondness at all for the BB aftershow gossip-fest hosted by Russell Brand. I’ve not watched it now for a healthy seven or eight years. I’ve been clean nearly as long as Russell himself.
I didn’t enjoy that particular programme, Big Brother’s Big Mouth I think it was called, mainly because of Russell himself, though even then he intrigued me. More than anything though he annoyed me, his overblown ego and rampant male posturing, mixed with the bitchy gossip from the public & celebrity guest combo was all too much. I thought he was a fake. All big mouth and no trousers. I was wrong. I wasn’t ready for Russell Brand, and whilst I still think he was trying far too hard at the time, thrusting his way into the limelight, embracing fame and lapping up the public’s love and lust, he was clearly a star in the making. I just didn’t think I’d be here eight years later writing about my admiration and veneration of the man.
He started to win me over a few years ago, not through his acting ability (I’ve seen none of the films he’s appeared in), but through his own words. His oral dexterity, intoxicated by the influence of such wordsmiths as Morrissey, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor and Pete & Dud, which originally got my goat, now (to use an oblique Manchester City FC reference) feeds it. Now when I read or hear him, he enthuses me to be more grammatically dexterous, more elaborate and thoughtful in my choice of words. In my choice of font too as I’ve abandoned the bog standard Arial whilst scribing this particular piece, and gone for the rather dandy Papyrus. I think I may stick with it. I admire people who use words well, who celebrate the English language and appear to obtain pleasure from a broad vocabulary. Russell Brand is one such person.
In recent years I’ve watched more of his stand-up, visited more clips on You Tube and the like, and read more of his articles on his own website, some of which appear in the Guardian where his column has stood, erect and proud since 2006. As a cultural observer and social commentator his written pieces are consistently both engaging and enlightening. His wonderful turn of phrase is matched by a beautifully humanistic approach, with a way of telling the truth that ridicules well-placed targets whilst questioning society’s norms, all deliciously laced with the gaiety of Kenneth Williams and acerbic wit of Bill Hicks. Such is the enormity of his spirit and confidence; his potential to come across as overly self-applauding and cocksure is easily countered by his wit, words and humility. To be that big-headed, yet that charming and amiable is testament to his ability as a performer.
Amongst the social fallout following Thatcher’s death, his observations on the occasion were perfectly presented, the best editorial I read on the event, as always his words came from a very personal place, speaking from the heart. More recently his appearance on Question Time placed him amongst a different breed of person. At times he looked slightly awkward sat at the end of the table, leaning away from the rest of the panel, fighting to bite his tongue. But when called upon his personable, humanistic and agenda-free responses drew a consistently positive response from the audience with whom he appeared to be talking, as opposed to the rest of the panel whose answers appeared to be aimed at the cameras. His most up to date performance on the BBC was as a guest of Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. This showed more than ever a more contented and relaxed man, seemingly more at ease, partly due to the nature of the programme, but his answers were more reflective whilst remaining ebullient and highly intelligent. He picked some quality tunes too.
Having recently read his ‘Booky Wook’, my admiration of the man only increased. Not due to his non-stop tales of debauchery, or obtaining fame and success despite being on regular occasions a belligerent asshole, but because of what he has overcome. His parents divorced soon after he was born and as a young child he was sexually abused. His mother battled cancer for many years whilst his own fight was with (amongst many other things) bulimia and manic depression. By 16 his life as a heroin, alcohol and sex addict began. His upbringing was far from privileged. His incredible determination to succeed, despite always having an “impulse to be destructive” is as admirable as his artistic qualities. If Russell Brand can steer sufficiently clear of serious mischief the world of entertainment is his for the taking. At around the same time of life cancer took away a similarly gifted soul, Bill Hicks. Russell Brand can pick up Bill’s baton and run with it, making a positive difference to the world, changing people’s lives for the better. His current world tour titled ‘Messiah Complex’ sees him perform alongside Jesus Christ, Che Guevara, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Hitler. Sounds like a right laugh.