Russell Brand's Better Now

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

It's instantly obvious why MTV employed Russell Brand ­ a quirkily good looking comedian with a passionate delivery and a certain edgy, eccentric style.

And when you hear of his heroin-fuelled exploits ­ including showing up to work on September 12, 2001, in Muslim fancy dress with his terrifying dealer in tow - it's easy to see why they fired him, too.

Brand's solo Edinburgh debut, promises to be a redemptive tale of how he conquered his addiction to smack and crack and got his life back together.

But he's never quite so obvious as that. Indeed, plenty of the laughs come from the fearless jinks his altered mental state gave him the misplaced courage to attempt - which sometimes feels as if we are celebrating the appalling behaviour of a sick man.

This is never more obvious that when we are shown TV footage of him at the May Day protests in London, repeatedly stripping naked, waving his genitals around, tumbling over railings and feigning an epileptic fit. It reduces the audience to hysterics, but to my sensibilities, it's uncomfortable.

Elsewhere we hear how he gave Hand Relief to a man in the cubicle of a public toilet ­ a shameful episode mined for plenty of easy laughs ­ but this was actually for work, encouraged by the TV company who stumped up the cash for an edgy series.

Eventually, his agent decided enough was enough, and packed him off to a drying-out retreat, and he kicked the habit. But if his experience in rehab were bleak, he never lets on ­ sharing instead only jolly, self-deprecating stories of trips to the go-kart circuit or the pretentious daily diary he kept on the orders of his counsellors.

For whatever the serious undercurrent to his story, the irrepressible Brand always keeps things bright and bouncy. His unflagging energy is a marvel, and his skilful use of language and metaphor vividly memorable.

Some of his finest material doesn't rely on his dependency one jot ­ suggesting he'll be able to pick up his aborted stand-up career exactly where he left off, or probably even higher, without being saddled with the label of just being the 'ex-junkie' comic.

Best of the lot is his portrayal of The Sun newspaper, as a toxic, cockney mate; sharing the laddish joys of women and sport but always tagging an offensive comment against minorities on the end. He really does become the newspaper, with an animated, effective delivery.

The hour was a blast, whatever my concerns about mocking the afflicted, even when it's the formerly afflicted themselves leading the way. The majority don't share those hangs ups and enjoyed it even more. For them, it would no doubt be thought miserly not to award that fourth star for a show that has plenty of ­ legal - highs.

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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