Review: Give It Up For Comic Relief, Wembley Arena

noel fielding

How do you review a gig that features nearly twenty acts in a few paragraphs? It is not easy, but if you have busy, busy lives here is my short review of Russell Brand's Wembley fundraiser that appeared in the Evening Standard. Below is a slightly longer version. In an ideal world, of course, I would have written a whole newspaper on Russell Brand alone, who is one of the most compelling, fascinating performers around, a total star yet unwilling or unable to edit himself, play safe or play the media game.

As for reviewing the rest of the line-up, a few acts did not make the final cut, a bit like the BBC3 broadcast. But then reviewing a benefit gig can be a no-win situation. A few years ago I reviewed a fundraiser at the Comedy Store and tried to give everyone a mention, but the organiser complained because I had been negative about one of the guests and had compared them to Jim Davidson. He defended his act by saying he had agreed to step in at the last minute and did the show for free and if people are going to get slagged off they may be reluctant to do things for charity in future.

A fair point, I thought, so a short while after when I reviewed another benefit gig space was tight so I didn't mention some of the acts. One of those i missed out was Adam Buxton, even though I love what he does. It later came to my attention that he'd noticed he had been ignored and wrote about me overlooking him on his blog here. Bloody comedians. You can't win.

 

When Russell Brand is hosting the rule book is ripped up. Last night's three-hour, no interval fundraiser to support those fighting drug and alcohol addiction was utterly dominated by the ex-heroin addict. When he was not introducing a rolodex of superstars or skilfully improvising during set changes he went walkabout, hugging and charming men, women and children.

Brand's pulling power clearly extends beyond the opposite sex. He was responsible for booking Kasabian, Jake Bugg, Paloma Faith, Noel Gallagher, Rizzle Kicks, the "irritatingly lesbian" Jessie J, as he called her, and the positively ubiquitous Emeli Sande, as well as his comedy chums.

Almost all the musicians were excellent, delivering polished mini-sets. The stylishly pink-skirted Paloma Faith was particularly playful and charismatic, happy to muck about onstage and go off-script at the drop of a hat like a female Russell Brand (similar gobby East End voice too). In an era of identikit pop stars Faith effortlessly stands out. The comedy, by comparison to the music, was slightly uneven. Eddie Izzard and John Bishop were both as effective as ever but could have done with more time, while a brisk Jason Manford could have done with less. As Manford admitted, after his latest sex scandal it was awkward appearing at an event called Comic Relief.

Even some peers seemed in awe of the former crack-smoking MC. Simon Amstell recalled meeting Brand for the first time many years ago and thinking he was "a cool guy with a pipe." Noel Fielding, in the guise of New York cop Raymond Boombox (pictured) said that when he first encountered Brand, "he was making love to a dolphin."

It was when the black-clad compere went off-piste that the evening fizzed. Harking back to the Sachsgate scandal, he borrowed a female fan's phone and asked "what's your grandfather's number?" When not being mischievous he paid tribute to Amy Winehouse, whose death in 2011 prompted him to become more involved in drugs education.

The only flies in the ointment were Nicole Scherzinger, who shamelessly announced that she was doing her new single and Frankie Boyle, whose unnecessarily nasty joke about the Queen prompted gasps. Brand, by contrast, was naughty but also nice. Maybe a career in politics beckons.

You can make a donation to Comic Relief here.

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