Russell Brand: Scandalous

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Given his phenomenal fame, it’s hard to believe that Russell Brand hasn’t played the O2 before. He’s certainly had no problem finding 16,000 adoring fans to fill the venue for the biggest gig of his career.

A little too adoring, perhaps. It’s not many a comedian who has to contest with his audience flashing their breasts, handing over their bras or brandishing placards suggesting a threesome. Every pause in his set is interrupted by wolf whistles and hollers of: ‘We love you, Russell’ echoing around the hideously vast space. It could play havoc with a chap’s comic timing.

But he’s always admitted: ‘My personality doesn’t work without fame’ and he, more than most, is well aware of all the side-effects that tabloid celebrity entails. Indeed, Scandalous is a show dedicated to those very side-effects.

First off, there’s those phone calls to be addressed. The show opens with a dramatic fast-cut montage of news footage of the event, set to a stirring soundtrack of imposing classical music. It’s been put together like it’s a History Channel documentary on the first day of Passchendaele, not a couple of idiots making a childish misdemeanour.

Brand apologises to Sachs, but is hardly contrite – showing a YouTube clip of one of the calls and complaining that he never got the credit for his improvisational skills. Yet the fallout intrigues him. He’s not so much angry at being hounded by the Press or used as a whipping boy for those who would destroy the BBC, than fascinated by it. After all, for a self-confessed narcissist like himself, the blanket coverage was simply fodder for his already well-stoked ego. He jokes that he even began to consider the News At Ten his own show, complete with theme tune: ‘I Am The News. Dah-dah dah dah…’

This is, indeed, a very vain show, but to complain that all Brand does is talk about himself would be like going to an Eric Clapton concert and complaining there’s too much guitar. Narcissism is simply what Brand does, and in the brief moments he does talk about something else, the material is much more pedestrian.

The only problem with talking about events in his life that have been played out so publicly – Sachsgate, his disastrous hosting of the MTV VMA awards that was supposed to propel him to US stardom, his inappropriate thoughts when meeting the Queen and his oedipal crush on Dame Helen Mirren – is that all the tales, and many of the self-deprecating quips, are very familiar to anyone who’s followed his career. And you can bet this crowd falls into that bracket. Another question, for another time, is how topical this material will be when this performance is released on DVD in six or seven months’ time.

Very often Brand just lets the reality speak for itself. Just a little too frequently he’ll read out the hate mail he’s been sent or the coverage he’s received with an incredulous tone of voice, letting the idiocy speak for itself. Given that internet message boards are hardly the home of serious debate, using the stage as a platform to respond so often can seem easy, petty and – surprise, surprise, self-indulgent.

But Brand’s charm is undimmed by the hullabaloo that surrounds him – and it almost overcomes the severe limitations in playing one of Britain’s worst venues for stand-up. Even as a speck on stage, he manages to bring some level of intimacy to the impersonal cavern, thanks to his mischievous persona and lithe physicality. All that yoga seems to have paid off as he prances around the stage with the flexibility and overt posturing that you need if you’re to have any impact on those sitting in level 4, row ZZZ.

This puckish sprite certainly plays up to his well-deserved lothario image. Encouraging his more stalkery fans, he assures the audience he’s not exactly picky when it comes to sexual partners and encourages girls to have a go on his ‘wand of fame… turning sluts into celebrities’. But his incorrigible come-ons are half-neutered by the comedy. As he’s reminiscent of the Fast Show’s 13th Duke Of Wyborne, lasciviously asking of every situation: ‘Me? Here? With my reputation?’

This is Brand’s shtick: that he can’t possibly be taken seriously as a sexual prowler or corrupter of the nation’s morals because he cuts such a ridiculous figure. Which means he has to get more and more ridiculous to get away with it.

With ever increasing fame, Brand may be on the verge of such monumental self-parody that he’ll be unable to keep a vital humanity in his act. But for now, he has the grip on reality – albeit a slender one – that allows him to succeed in the one medium that gives him the true freedom to indulge his extravagant personality: stand-up.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
London, April 2009

Review date: 18 Apr 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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