…to counteract all these man-crushes I’m experiencing. Latest object of my oh-so-hetero-and-platonic affections? This guy:
It may be several days late and several bucks short, but here’s a chat I had with Russell Brand a few months ago. In a pleasant coincidence, Mr Brand happens to have a cousin named…Guy Davis. It’s not me.
My theory about you, Russell, is that people connect with you because you seem genuinely curious about the world and everything in it rather than bemused or blindly angry at the state of things.
Mostly, yes. This is your theory: people connect with me because of a lack of fury and because I seem approachable and nice.
Well, you seem approachable and nice…so far. But primarily it’s because you seem to want to understand what’s going on in the world rather than just rail against stuff.
Yes, I think I am a quizzical gent, and I think your theory holds water. It will go down as one of the great theories, it’ll rank alongside the works of Pythagoras.
Thanks for that. Hey, when you did you realise you were funny?
There are key moments. I remember doing an impression of Frank Spencer when I was seven and everyone in the room laughed and said ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ And I did it again and my Nan said ‘Nah, wasn’t as good that time’. I was only little! But that was quite funny the first time, not so good the second. I wanted to be a serious actor. I don’t like to resist showing off, I found it hard to resist saying things I thought were deadly funny. When I was at school at 11, this woman goes [Joyce Grenfell voice] ‘Russell…’ – that was the teacher! Actually, that’s why I now fancy women who are teachers. If I’m with a woman who’s a teacher, it’s all ‘My God, I’ve managed to turn this situation around! There’s been a dramatic paradigm shift and now I will teach you! I will be the didact.’
Better that than an auto-didact, I guess.
Yes, too much of that goes on in my life. But what happened was I was late and the teacher asked why I was late. ‘Well, there was this…spaceship.’ And everyone really, really laughed. That was a good response. Then when I was at drama school, I remember talking about some embarrassing situation with a jacket and some bloke goes [thick regional accent] ‘You should do that as your fookin’ job! You should have a spot on the television where you go on and say stuff like that!’ He was from Newcastle, by the way. He wasn’t ill or anything. While I was at that drama school and I was tackling things like Moliere and Shakespeare and Brecht and learning about the origins of tragedy in Greek theatre , and it was dense and academic and beautiful, the stuff I really enjoyed was when we were improvising and muckin’ about. And I also knew I was funny when I did a school play at 15 – Bugsy Malone. So there are loads of little incidents. But stand-up happened when there was nowhere else left to go, really.
You seem to be wearing many different hats these days. How would you describe yourself?
Comedian, definitely, and I’ll tell you why: the autonomy of it. I could do it right here if I needed to. I don’t need a producer or director or nobody. I could just turn up someplace and make people laugh. Noel Gallagher is my friend, and he says mental things but when I say stuff I get in much more trouble. I’d be hanged if I said some of the things he says. But he can get away with it because Oasis has an unimpeachable place in culture which they’ve earned through their brilliant music. And he’s got enough in the bank but he also said ‘As long as I’ve got a guitar, I know I can put on a show someplace and people will turn up and I’ll be able to make a bit of money. So the media and all those can fuck off’. My equivalent of that is staying true and faithful to stand-up comedy, working hard and not turning into a wanker. If I stay true to it, I’ll always be able to tell people what I think and make them laugh.
Is turning into a wanker something you fear?
Not too much. I’m a wanker for about an hour a day anyway. It’s an episodic wank throughout the day. There’ll be a bit of every day where I’ll think ‘Oh, that was a silly thing to do or say’. But I’m constantly monitoring my conduct as part of my program of recovery from drugs and alcohol. I am obliged to watch myself.
Let’s talk about your internal editor. Is it is a full-time position? Is there danger pay involved?
I’ve sacked him. There is no internal editor. I’ve outsourced that job.
We’re here today to talk about a TV show called Ponderland. Why should I forego the cricket to watch it?
Do you like cricket a lot?
Not really, no.
This is better. It’s me talking about a subject I find interesting. My mates, who have produced the program, watch loads and loads of old TV shows – mostly documentaries but generally loads and loads of stuff. Sometimes they’ll see something that’ll make them go ‘That’s fucking ridiculous’. And it might not even be a major part of the show – it’ll be someone in the background or someone making a bizarre throwaway comment. When television is made, it’s about narrative, innit? It’s about information being delivered in a certain fashion – ‘We’re trying to take you to this place’ – but when it’s outside this normal linear journey, that’s when it gets funny. One of my favourite bits is on the ‘Pets’ episode: it’s this woman who has sex with animals. One of the things I like about the clip is that this married woman has had sex with a dog, wants to have sex with a horse, and all the culpability lies with her husband, the dog and the horse! All of them are to blame, not the one consistent factor…which is you! It’s a severe test of my liberalism. Let’s open our minds real wide!
You have a very distinctive look, Russell. Does it reflect the inner you?
Yes, and that’s why it works. Like Morrissey said: Black on the outside because black is how I feel inside. The way I dress, the way I talk, the things I say – they’re all in alignment with one another. I think my external condition is a fair representation of the way I feel inside: spindly, confused and a bit sexy.
When my mum calls to check up on me and asks who I’ve spoken with today, and I tell her Russell Brand, she may well ask who that is. What should I tell her?
Say he’s a spiritual gent. Emphasis on gent. ‘God, he’s misunderstood. I could have followed him to the ends of the earth. I could have kissed him.’ And please indicate that in spite of my superficial renegade status, I’m a deeply spiritual and moral man. My moral codes are authentic, not based on arbitrary conformist mechanisms. She’ll probably be quite into me, your mum. If you ask me what you should tell your wife or your 20-year-old lover, then the answers would have been different.
I will require answers for both of those.
I’ll give them to you off the record.
Props to the ace Kelly Black from Seven and the badass Daniel Weiner for setting up this chat. And to Mr Brand, of course.