Having been a fan of Russell Brand for years I was naturally thrilled to be offered the opportunity to review his latest show. Known for his cheeky and unapologetic behaviour I assumed I was set for a night of risqué jokes, comic voices and the occasional reference to his ‘four heroes’. Sadly this was not to be and, as I left the show, I actually felt rather uneasy. I thought I knew what the ‘Russell Brand experience’ was but left feeling as though I just witnessed an entertaining and very intense but mildly depressing lecture.

After a short video of various historical events a swaggering Brand appeared. Full of energy and an abundance of confidence he was immediately captivating.  All eyes were on him. Quickly descending into the audience he joked and flirted with members. A stark contrast to the video that had just played, he immediately lifted the mood. Playful and full of sex appeal, this was the Russell Brand I expected to see.  However, as he began to introduce his heroes, Gandhi, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and Jesus, and explain why he was in some ways similar to them the mood began to waver somewhat.  Forewarning us ‘this might make your tummies feel a bit weird’ in relation to Gandhi’s difficult relationship with his wife, he made me, and I suspect others, feel uncomfortable and unsure as to whether we were meant to laugh

Taking idealized characters from history, often viewed through rose tinted glasses, he drew attention to their flaws and drew parallels with his own. This message was woven throughout: ‘our heroes are flawed,’ he stated.  Again and again Brand was really focusing on the human trait of imperfection. It became clear that Gandhi had his issues and even the iconic Che Guevara, political revolutionist, didn’t wash his shirts.

Although he would continue to educate, Brand was never far away from turning the focus back onto himself; connecting the social power of Malcolm X to a particular drug fuelled naked act of rebellion of his own.  This, I felt, created an awkwardness as it sought to draw some sort of equivalence between the acts. The stated ability of Malcolm X to disperse a crowd with a single hand was quickly eclipsed by the image of Brand jumping onto a police van seeking public attention. Many of the anecdotes were admittedly closely observed but I found it uncomfortable to find myself simply laughing at some of the most courageous people who had laid down their lives for their beliefs. It wasn’t that Brand belittled Malcolm X or Jesus, indeed he was keen to remind us he was a big fan but I could not help wondering what these men would think of this flamboyant display of affection. Would Malcolm X have understood that hilarity of Brand’s small connection? Possibly not.

I’m sure some will say that these men were and will remain big enough characters to allow Brand scope for an hour and a half show. But, perhaps, for me there was something fundamentally uneasy about the experience. Maybe this is exactly what Brand set out to achieve. Possibly, he wants to show that he’s no longer just up for quick laughs but now interested in addressing serious political agendas. Brand is known for his challenging and deliberately controversial approach to comedy and perhaps this show could be seen as drawing comedy and culture together. For me, I felt confused. And wondered whether my confusion merely reflected Brand’s own as he sought to understand his own political awakening.

Alice Markham

Russell Brand is performing for one more night at the Theatre Royal Concert Hall before continuing his world tour.

Image: Eva Rinaldi via Flikr

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