Russell Brand: Shame

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

If you want a perfect example of celebrity culture gone bonkers, look at Russell Brand. He’s a hugely famous comedians, but not because of his comedy. His randy exploits fill tabloids read by millions, but fewer than 100,000 watch his TV show.

Although the column inches he gets for his sexual exploits can be measured in miles, ask his publicist to officially review his stand-up and the request repeatedly falls on deaf ears. But then coverage of what you are actually supposed to do for a living is hardly crucial when you’re already as theatre-fillingly famous as Brand is.

He might have slept his way to the top, but Brand is a real rock and roll comedian, a stylish, big-haired, drainpipe-trousered wildman who although clinically forced to put his days of narcotic-fuelled excess behind him, still manages to feed another addiction, to women.

He’s so rock and roll that, like all the best bands, he keeps his audience at the Shepherds Bush Empire waiting an age before he takes the stage, with only the meagre pickings of a 20-minute set from his 6 Music radio sidekick Trevor Lock to pass the time. Lock’s cold delivery, tedious misunderstandings and stilted non-sequiteurs whip the audience up in to a state of listless, embarrassed silence. He’d be the perfect warm-up for the National Pin-Dropping Championships, but is so useless here that Brand is pretty much reduced to doing his own warm-up.

Taking to the stage to an invigorating and apt blast of Morrissey’s Last Of The Famous International Playboys, Brand engages in a bit of mild banter with a lairier member of the audience before embarking on an ill-thought-through perusal of the local paper, untroubled by any thoughts of preparation. He’s very much in his ‘presenter’ mode here, hoping to wing it on his considerable charm rather than sharp material.

He just about gets away with it, too, thanks to a sharp self-awareness, and a willingness to always mock himself even when things are flagging. Well, it keeps the focus on him, and like many a comic, Brand is nothing if not self-absorbed. As he rings one of the prostitute’s numbers from the newspaper, I note down that there’s something very exploitative about a louche entertainer playing such a studenty prank on some poor immigrant sex worker. But before I finish writing the sentence, he draws attention to that very fact himself.

But this was all a preamble to the show itself, which he makes a deliberate point of starting afresh, possibly for the benefit of the director who’ll be cutting a live DVD from the night’s footage.

Shame is the topic, but barely touched upon. Most the things of which Brand might rightly be ashamed, thanks to his previous penchant for a dab of heroin or two, have been covered in earlier, less well-attended shows. When he talks about the ‘shame’ of falling out with his childhood hero Bob Geldof over his much-reported gag ‘He should know a thing or two about famine, he’s been dining out on I Don’t Like Mondays for 30 years’ you know he’s just enjoying the retelling of such a good line.

Aside from his near-generic opener about Neanderthal lad culture, Brand pretty much talks about what he knows: sex and being in the tabloids. Well, fair play for him for not pretending there’s a great deal more to him behind the image.

On the former, he’s unashamedly frank and remarkably original. You might have thought there was almost nothing new to be said about masturbation or talking dirty, but Brand finds something – and illustrates it wonderfully.

His diatribe against made-up gossip column mentions and bizarre kiss-and-tells is enlivened by his genuine outrage at the nonsense they print about him. However this is not just an angry rant against an impervious enemy, as Brand manages to surgically rip apart tabloidese writing with a winning mixture of smart-arse pedantry, righteous indignation and digs at both the writer, and himself.

The effect of all his material is enhanced by his uniquely elaborate delivery. It’s an affectation, for sure, but his exaggerated combination of Victorian street-urchin accent and the arcane high-falutin vocabulary of a well-read dandy is charmingly endearing.

He employs such ornate language expertly to create distinctive rhythms of speech; then uses repetition of phrases and ideas to build up a head of steam. We’re back to rock and roll, using the stand-up equivalents of bassline hooks and recurring choruses to reel in an audience and crescendo the energy towards a climactic punchline. It’s artful, even if he overdoes the repetition.

Brand may appear a prancing fop, but there is a keen intelligence behind it, and a finely-tuned instinct for comedy pace and timing. And he lives the sort of life that’s likely to provide a rich source of material. He might have found an unlikely shortcut to the top, but Brand could just have the aptitude to stay there for a while yet.

Steve Bennett
London, October 200

Review date: 10 Oct 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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