Here’s an unpopular opinion for you: I like Russell Brand. It’s the sort of statement that may well make you stop reading this blog now and I wouldn’t blame you. This opinion would probably have me shunned amongst the literati online at the moment. Brand appears to have been the general punching bag for many this week. I’d be a hypocrite to be irritated by this. I’ve jumped on many a social media bandwagon myself and regularly enjoy the challenge of trying to write a gag about whatever seems to be trending at the time. I had an odd moment of realisation the other day as I watched my timeline fill with people complaining about the media coverage of a certain political party. At the same time the hashtags within these tweets gave them more free publicity than that party could’ve hoped for as they trended for three days straight. I was fully aware that I was one of the many contributors to this circle of hypocrisy. It is this sort of self perpetuated hype that social media thrives on and if it stopped I can only imagine it’d be a far less popular and far more boring place. As a stand-up I embrace this exact sentiment on stage. My set would be empty without me spending most of it complaining about why I hate overly opinionated people as I explain it with overly opinionated jokes.
This week Russell Brand seems to have been the internet’s punching bag and I can’t quite get why. Oh sure I can see why after years of ridiculous hair, tight jeans, dubious television choices and certain book titles it’d be easy to mock anyone. Russell has made a career of being outlandish and eccentric and if he hadn’t then I doubt he’d have stood out how he has and ultimately been far less successful. It it how celebrity works now. Having a talent isn’t enough, you must stand out with it, and by standing out turn many against you for doing so. Again, it’s how we thrive as a society in modern times. I have personal reasons for liking Russell. He was extremely nice to me back in 2003 when I was starting out on the circuit. He headlined my little comedy club for free and would go out of his way to say hello to my parents for many years after if he knew they were at a show. They were so charmed by him they still call and text me to let me know ‘Russell’s on the telly!’ I still know many comedians that loathe him due to things he did or didn’t do when still an addict, but my personal experience is all I can go by and even when seeing him recently at the Fire Brigade Union gig, he gave me a big hug and said hello, and seemed like the same person he always has been.
I know many people that hate his humour too, but that’s how comedy works. It’s subjective and always will be. When I first met him his material was political and as a new stand-up I was hugely impressed by it. Russell would stand on stage in a beanie hat dissecting the ludicrousness of the press that day and talking of ideas of social change. Then cry quickly his appearance changed, his material changed and before you knew it, he was hosting the Brits, on TV and then Hollywood. It seemed like an incredibly shrewd move by his management and one I couldn’t begrudge anyone for. But now he’s speaking out again and this has upset people. How dare someone with hair and fame tell us what to do? How dare they have a political viewpoint when they’ve always just been a dancing monkey?
Recently I hosted a panel about climate change and one of the panel members was a 17 year old called Esha Marwaha. A truly inspirational woman, who will still at school has managed to start a petition that forced Michael Gove to put climate change back into the curriculum and has spoken infront of 500,000 people at the big Climate march alongside people like Emma Thompson. I found her to be honest, eloquent and very inspiring and wondered if I’d gone to school with someone like that how much earlier I’d have been motivated into political change. However Esha told me that no matter what she’s done, the thing that’s finally got her classmates interested in saving the environment was when Leonardo Di Caprio spoke about it for 5 minutes at the UN Climate Summit*. That’s the power of celebrity now.
One of the many outrages about Brand was his performance on Newsnight last week. He was being interviewed by Evan Davies who’s less an presenter and more of a glorified teen groupie in a suit. On speaking to Boris Johnson a few weeks back, I was almost certain Evan was just going to close his eyes and pucker up for a kiss, or get the Mayor of London to sign his boobs. While Paxman has since admitted to being a new age Tory, at least he pretended to be critical of those he questioned. On speaking to Brand, Davies asked some hugely demeaning questions. ‘Do you wish to overthrow John Lewis?’ and pushing Russell on why he doesn’t want to be an MP. Brand said over and over again ‘I just want to amplify the voices of those that are fighting against the system.’ Like Di Caprio, he has an audience that will listen to him and very few that do use that to convey any sort of message other than which eyeliner to buy or film to see.
Yes Brand said ‘don’t vote’ but he also said because he doesn’t think there’s anything worth voting for. Yes he would like a revolution but he has released a book called ‘My Booky Wook’ which isn’t quite the prequel title to a manifesto for change. Yes he’s been outlandish with his appearances but that’s because it’s what makes people talk about them because it’s what we thrive on. Yes you might not like any of things he saying, but he’s saying them to a large audience without fear of being lambasted for disrupting the dull status quo and that doesn’t happen enough. It’s been proven that we don’t listen or trust politicians anymore, so we’re now reliant on celebrities to express a need for change. I’m not saying that’s a good thing but it’s where we are and perhaps rather than blame that one person we should blame it on the culture we have created worldwide to elevate celebrities and make politics about apathy and PR. Someone I follow complained how awful things are right now and how we need to speak out against it. That same person then criticised Brand for daring to have a political viewpoint. We need to decide which we really want.
* I’m still certain Leo had a very good personal reason for speaking up about Climate change. If the Titanic happened now that iceberg would be tons smaller and a far more boring piece of history.
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