Building a Brand
One of Britain's brightest comics storms New York by way of Hollywood.
Fri Jul 11 2008
Manhattan is in the midst of a British comedy invasion. Eddie Izzard sold out three shows last month. Ricky Gervais filled the WaMu Theater three times last week. And now comes Russell Brand. The 2006 comedian of the year, according to London’s Time Out, debuts in New York this week at the Blender Theatre in Gramercy.
“Better a comedy invasion than a military one,” Brand says on the phone from London after taping an episode of his TV series, Russell Brand’s Ponderland. “If it doesn’t go well, all you have to do is roll your eyes.”
The 33-year-old caught eyes stateside with his breakthrough performance as rocker Aldous Snow in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, effectively stealing scenes from Jason Segal and his naughty bits. Brand is equally as charming behind the microphone. In his act, he delves into stories from his formerly wild life, discusses topics of the day and reads from the newspaper, for which he once wrote a weekly football column.
The comic displays a sincere love of wordplay and a wickedly varied vocabulary. “It comes from an innate need to communicate complicated ideas,” he says. “One of the greatest things about being British is the language. I love English comedy: Peter Cook, Blackadder…very verbal, but also physical.”
His act needs little translation. “There’s nothing to worry about, except don’t say cunt or mention Scientology,” he explains. “And I’ve hardly any cunt- or Scientology-based stand-up, regardless of where I am.”
Getting here is troublesome, though, due to his previous criminal record or “youthful folly,” as he told David Letterman this past spring. A former heroin and crack addict, Brand has been arrested 11 times. And even after his big movie splash, Customs still stops him every trip. “I missed a flight out of Miami because I was being interrogated,” he said. “It’s a price to pay for past indiscretions.”
Some of his best material was born of the humbling experience of sobering up. Although the subject is slowly disappearing from his act, Brand does mention the Hare Krishnas, whom he credits for helping him stay straight, during his onstage farewell.
“Krishna consciousness aligns with my beliefs on materialism and death,” he tells us. But don’t think he’s the movement’s new celebrity mouthpiece: “I’d say I’m more devoted to West Ham United football club.”
Look for even more of Brand in the coming year. He’ll reprise his Aldous Snow role in a new Judd Apatow project and costar in a Christmas flick with Adam Sandler. Sandler will also produce a film cowritten by Brand and his BBC radio partner, Matt Morgan, about a con man posing as a priest.
Consider all of this to be less of an invasion than an occupation.
Russell Brand performs Sun 20 and Mon 21.