Five years ago, up and coming stand up comedian Russell Brand was a heroin addict who’d recently been sacked from his job at MTV when he turned up to interview Kylie Minogue dressed as Osama Bin Laden. Controversial enough you’d imagine, but when you learn that the date of the interview was September 12, 2001 you’d be right in thinking that Brand was hell-bent on destroying himself.
In 2006 though, Brand is living proof of how you can turn things around. Now the face of digital TV channel E4 thanks to his effervescent performances on Big Brother’s Big Mouth and the host of a Sunday morning radio show on BBC 6 Music, Brand’s stock has risen and risen this year. His profile has also been helped by a seemingly endless parade of stories about him in the tabloids, focusing on his alleged womanising and an image seemingly inspired more by Keith Richards and Johnny Depp than Peter Kay. If, as was predicted over a decade ago, comedy is the new rock’n’ roll, then Russell Brand is its figurehead.
His stand-up tour has been sold out for months and there were literally queues around the block hours before the Octagon had even opened in order for adoring fans to grab a seat near the front. Like all good rock acts, Brand had brought a support act along in the form of his friend and colleague on the radio show, Trevor Lock.
Sadly, Lock was a bit of a disappointment. So witty and dry on Brand’s radio show, he mugged horrendously and appeared to have watched far too many Harry Hill routines, going by his somewhat surreal delivery. There’s only so many times you can deliver a long, rambling anecdote and then finish it by saying “No, that didn’t happen….it did really”. The fact that he performed nearly all of his routine with a white boot on his hand taken from a woman in the front row just added to the somewhat bizarre atmosphere during his set.
You get the impression that in front of a less partisan crowd Lock would have died badly, but in front of an audience who felt like they knew him from the radio show, he succeeded in warming everyone up. It probably did rather sum up his act though that the biggest laughs were gained when he pointed out the amount of people walking out to the bar while he was on.
After a seemingly endless wait for the main attraction, Lock was back on the microphone to introduce the darling of the hour. In contrast to his manic, pirouetting performance on Big Mouth, Russell Brand rather meandered onto stage, looking slightly taken aback at his reception. Then he proceeded to wander through the crowd, jumping on chairs and chatting to people before eventually finding his way back to stage.
The next 20 minutes were apparently off the cuff, as he perched on the edge of the stage with a copy of the Sheffield Star and discussed the inherent absurdities of local journalism, giving him the opportunity to riff on blind gardeners, schoolboys with big feet and the sheer ridiculousness of describing someone as having feline qualities simply because they’re named Cat (“you wouldn’t go up to someone called Ronald MacDonald and say – ah, Ronald, fill me with lies and cholesterol”)
That turned out to be just a warm up for the main chunk of the show which was all about shame – those embarrassing social faux-pas which keep you awake at night. In Brand’s case, these included camply chastising a group of yobs on holiday, putting on an American accent during sex and the now famous incident where Bob Geldof called him a cunt during the NME Awards Ceremony.
It was all performed so articulately and with a love of language that was quite spell-binding to watch. It came to a hilarious head when he deconstructed an false article from the Daily Star about a made-up encounter with Tamara Beckwith (“it says here that I have a thing for ‘posh blondes’ – well, that’s not true, that’s 80% of your audience lost already”). It could have come perilously close to being too self-referential for comfort, but Brand’s sheer charisma and force of personality pulled it off.
The show also came a bit close to falling apart when Brand invited fans up onto stage to take photographs with him (it all became rather chaotic at that point), but the unpredictable nature just added to the excitement of the evening. Those people expecting retreads of ‘ballbags’, ‘dinkles’ and ‘swines’ from Brand’s TV show would have left disappointed, but for everyone else this was a towering performance from one of this generation’s foremost comic talents.