Classic Interview: Russell Brand

Russell Brand

Update 6/5/13 – Russell Brand has just been added to the line-up of the annual C4 Comedy Gala in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital at the O2 Arena on May 18. Ticket details here.

Another week, another bunch of people realise how brilliant and how unique Russell Brand's brain is. This time it is because of his eloquent essay on Margaret Thatcher in the Guardian that you can read here. I've spent most of the last decade singing Brand's praises and I've noticed that whenever people actually see him do stand-up or, more recently, read something written by him (his piece on drugs was great too) their resistance soon breaks down and they do a dramatic U-turn.

Someone recently wrote on Twitter that I had a crush on Brand. I don't think that is quite the case, but if it is that crush started in the summer of 2006 when I interviewed him for the Evening Standard just as he was on the cusp of, well, everything that he is today. Here is another chance to read about that memorable encounter. Read his Guardian articles, read this, but most of all, please see him live, where he really is something special.

 

"I'm a phenomenon? Am I? Thanks," says Russell Brand. The polite enquiry is a little overdone, coming as it does from the lanky, 31-year-old Essex boy who surely knows that he's the most talked-about TV personality of 2006.

He made tabloid news in May this year as Kate Moss's alleged mystery man. Women everywhere fell for his Byronic looks, sprayed-on jeans and vulnerability, and the public seemed to notice for the first time the stints he'd been doing since 2004 on E4 and late-night C4 as Big Brother's brilliantly anarchic aftershow host. While the contestants have been a bit on the dull side in the current series, Brand has successfully spiced up Big Brother's Big Mouth with his dangerous banter, managing to bring an element of cool to naff TV.

But even before BB makes its final eviction on Bank Holiday weekend, Brand returns to his first love, comedy. He has been performing his electrifying stand-up - autobiographical storytelling with flashes of surrealism - since the late Nineties. Now he returns to the Edinburgh Fringe a conquering hero, with a sell-out show.

The young man from Grays who gave up on education to experiment - heavily - with drugs (more of that later) makes a jaw-droppingly eloquent communicator on stage. He refers to his former interest in internet pornography as "a smutty Lewis Carroll labyrinth following a white rabbit of filth". His splenetic heckler putdowns, such as "What a genetic mishmash you are", mix Oscar Wilde with Johnny Rotten.

Five years ago he appeared at the Fringe's Late 'n' Live Club, stripped to the waist, hurled abuse at the audience and was thrown out of the building. This year his is one of the fastest selling festival shows. It's a long way from the dark heroin-addicted days, when he sent his burgeoning television career down the pan - most definitively, on 12 September, 2001, when he arrived at an MTV studio dressed as Osama bin Laden to interview Kylie Minogue. Brand lost his job, his way and in December 2002 ended up in rehab.

He has now given up drugs, alcohol and caffeine, doesn't eat meat and practises Ashtanga yoga. "When I was first on Big Brother's Big Mouth there was a real fear that I'd walk on and go, 'Fuck off you c****, Ian Huntley is brilliant' - I just thought I'd Tourettically shout something that you just can't take back. I always wanted to be successful and the first time I had it I fucked it up and I still have it in me to do something like that."

Leaning back on his chair in his publicist's plush St John's Wood office, he warms to his theme. "I think I'm excited by extremity. I don't think of myself as sleazy - I like to think of myself as intrepid. Whether sex, food or going on holiday, whenever I'm confronted with a decision I always do the thing that'll be the best anecdote."

Pushing boundaries almost to the point of transgression is his stock in trade, and sex a major topic.

"I'm just trying to bludgeon ennui," he says, "trying not to be bored. I'm sure there is a degree of compulsive behaviour, but if you are in a room with a woman what is the most interesting thing you can do? There aren't many things as diverting as an orgasm. You can be on a mountaintop and appreciate beauty and nature, but those things take a lot of effort and there's the immediacy of sex and orgasm, and previously drugs, which make me cling on to them."

He is not in a relationship at the moment, preferring to live alone in Hampstead with his cat, Morrissey.

"I've tried long-term relationships, but I've got a fast-moving internal mechanism -I meet someone and think, 'Ooh, I love her, I want to marry her, she's fantastic.' Then I think she's getting boring; I love another one over there. There's a tyranny of choice, endless options. You buy loads of washing machines, cars, jeans, why not consume people the same way? It seems the natural conclusion."

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