Opinion: The Global Joke Shortage – Please Give Generously

Russell brand

I went to Russell Brand's work-in-progress show at the Soho Theatre last night. Really enjoyed it. Say what you like about Brand, he is always different. His use of language, his use of the space – poncing and pacing about – and even his interactions with the audience, frequently sexual, single him out as someone special.

However…what struck me last night was the fact that even Brand cannot avoid subjects that tend to be dismissed as "hack" by critics. Although the meat of the show, Messiah Complex, was about icons such as Gandhi, Che Guevara, Jesus and Malcolm X, the preamble also included a riff on that old stand-up trope, airport security.

I guess comedians talk about what they do in their lives and Brand clearly does a lot of flying. The striking thing about his patter last night was his much it resembled the patter on the same subject by that other Russell, Russell Kane. I haven't flown in a while but it appears that airport security is now more fruit-obsessed than terrorism terrified. When I saw Kane a couple of weeks ago he had a line about New Zealand customs being obsessed by fruit: "Move that nail bomb, I think I've seen a guava."

Brand echoed it at the Soho Theatre with a line about being banged up with murderers and gangsters for having a banana in a his luggage. It is one of those niggly quirks of comedy that the two Russells already get compared because they are both highly intelligent products of working class families in the South-East who love their mums and dress flamboyantly. They both already talk about celebrity. Now they also already talk about fruit.

Coincidentally Brand  was involved in a similar overlap a couple of years ago when Michael McIntyre started doing a routines about meeting the Queen which was similar to a regal riff Brand had done (both talked about being advised how to pronounce the word "Mam", though only Brand talked about thinking about grabbing the regal boob). I guess, as I said earlier, you write about your life and both Brand and McIntyre are comedy royalty who have reached the stage where they find themselves shaking hands with real monarchs.

Sometimes it feels as if there are not enough gags to go round. I'm on my way to the Edinburgh Fringe and was thinking about subjects that may come up in shows over the next month. Fringe shows are – hopefully – already written by now, so there may not be that much topical material, but I should imagine there will be references to the Royal Baby, Andy Murray, self-service checkouts ("unexpected item in the ball bag area") and, among men over forty, prostate examinations. In the last year I've heard about prostate routines from Micky Flanagan, Sean Hughes and Louis CK among others. Not surprising really. I guess there is simply something inherently funny about a stranger sticking their finger up your bottom.

The issue of course, is not originality of subject, it is originality of approach. Brand's distinctive vocabulary means that he can turn even mundane material into something memorable. Kane can do that too. When Eddie Izzard did the umpteenth routine about the dressage in his latest show he brought a uniquely Izzardesque sensibility to the familiar observation that this is a frankly absurd sporting event.

So here's to the Edinburgh Fringe 2013. Let's hope there are some new subjects, or failing that, some new takes on old subjects. As for Russell Brand, he is only a few years away from hitting 40 himself. I keenly await his no doubt individual take on having a digit inserted in his rectum.

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