Can you take a political figure seriously when their penis has generated almost as many column inches as their actual work? Convention says nuh-uh. But then Russell Brand doesn’t do conventional. His next move after outraging Middle England by leaving lewd voice messages on the home answering machine of Manuel from ‘Fawlty Towers’ was Hollywood stardom. Then, the consequence of a ‘Newsnight’ interview in which Jeremy Paxman repeatedly highlighted the impracticability of Brand’s revolution via not voting: more than 560,000 subscribers to his daily news analysis show, ‘The Trews’, on YouTube.
So, when we knew we were due to meet him at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch to discuss his new book, ‘Revolution’, we considered how best to quiz him on social injustice and public disobedience. The answer was simple – let the people do the talking. I leave aside the typical interview format, therefore, and instead subject Brand to a selection of the finest questions from the finest Time Out readers – plus one person who accuses him of belonging to the Illuminati.
Looks like you’ve got at least one reader ready to join you. Tom King asks, ‘How do you suggest people get involved in the revolution?’
‘Disobey anything you disagree with. Whether that’s paying your mortgage or paying your tax or going to work. Just disobey, but in a jolly and loving way. It’s not needless recalcitrance I’m supporting.’
But isn’t stopping working and paying bills going to make peoples’ lives worse? Surely they’ll end up on the street?
‘Okay, good. Thank you for pressing me on that. Organised disobedience is the way to go about things. If you think, My council tax is outrageous, I’m not going to pay it, then think to yourself: I wonder if anyone else down my street or in my flat feels the same? Knock on some doors and say, “I don’t think we should pay this much council tax when they’re trying to cut back on social housing. Why don’t we all not pay?” As the great Eminem said: “If you feel like I feel, I’ve got the antidote.” Although he does then go on to say, “Women wave your pantyhose,” and that’s the point where the Eminem lyric breaks down as a piece of instructional revolutionary advice.’
One of our readers, Sarah S, has been thinking about your groin a lot. ‘Do you have a nickname for your penis?’ she asks.
‘That guy, he’s been through so many changes. He’s different from one moment to the next. He’s like Ruby Tuesday – who could put a name on him? He used to be called The Emperor in more grandiose days, but those imperial times are somewhat over.’
Another reader is worried that revolutions aren’t very funny. Raazia asks, ‘Are you worried about alienating fans of your comedy?’
‘I do have concerns, because I’m a comedian and I don’t want this to start being some dry, bureaucratic fist pump – unless it’s an anal one. But I want to participate in people feeling connected to each other. I also think this’ll be a laugh. Ultimately, I just have to hope that there are a significant number of people who feel like I feel. If they do, then this thing will take care of itself. If they don’t, then what I’m saying doesn’t matter anyway.’
Your reasoning fascinates some of the Time Out faithful. ‘What made you decide we need a revolution?’ wonders Ali Cooke.
‘It’s based on personal experience. It’s not at all academic. When I did that Jeremy Paxman interview it resonated with people because the things I was expressing were inside them too. Now everywhere I go, people are like, “All right Russ! How’s it going?” The feeling I have of being around people is better than it’s ever been. That’s why I’m willing to take that risk of alienating people who are fans of “Big Brother’s Big Mouth” or “Get Him to the Greek”. When I’m dying, I don’t want to look back on my life and say: “And then I made Ponderland 7!” I’ve reached this tipping point now. I’ve started to think: What if I have to go to prison for what I believe? And I’m like: Well, I’d hate that but I’d do it. What if I had to die? Well, I’m going to die anyway.’
So you’re willing to die for the revolution?
‘There’s no point doing it if you’re not. If they say, “We’ll kill you if you keep saying this,” and then you go, “Oh, all right, I’ll do a podcast about ballbags,” then don’t bother. It’s not like you need to die for the revolution. You’re gonna die with it or without it. We’re all in the death seat. We’re all waiting. It’s coming.’
Before you die, there are palaeontological issues to address. Lorna K wants to know: ‘What’s your favourite dinosaur?’
‘Maybe the diplodocus because of its onomatopoeic name. It sounds like a big, long dopey thing. Also, I like the idea of sliding down it when I finish work, à la Fred Flintstone.’
Far and away the most common question among readers was a variation on this one from Mairead: ‘When will you next be working with Matt Morgan?’
[Bursts out laughing] ‘Honestly, there was a lot of that? Matt is alive and he is well and I’m doing a podcast with him. He’s married and is writing things. We’re still friends. Is he supportive of the revolution? No. He’s sarcastic and rude and disruptive.’
From revolution to devolution – John Brown, presumably no relation to Gordon, wants to know: ‘Were you saddened by the Scotland “No” vote?’
‘No. Ultimately I do think devolution of power is a good thing, but I’m not sad, because ultimately I think it’ll lead to a more positive outcome. I was campaigning for a “Yes” vote, but I didn’t do much research to make my mind up. I didn’t really need to. If I see David Cameron on my TV telling me to do something, I listen to what that cunt says, and go: “Fucking hell! The opposite!”’
Via Twitter – @moonsoneohseven was intrigued as to why you don’t become The Man: ‘In all seriousness, why don’t you form your own political party?’
‘Because a big problem is the way the political system works. It primarily utilises the energies of egotism and selfishness and lust. I’m not inherently better than David Cameron or anyone else. If I become a cog in that machine, it’s likely that I’ll become that kind of person. Or, alternatively, become irrelevant. You see people like Caroline Lucas on telly and think: Ooh, she seems nice – how come she can’t do anything? Then you see David Cameron and think: Ooh, he’s a bit of a cunt – how come he’s doing so well? It’s because he’s adapted to that system. I want to break away and create new systems that encourage the better parts of our nature.’
Laura Holly wonders: ‘You’re a supporter of the No More Page 3 campaign, and you’ve taken a stance against sexism. In retrospect, were the messages you left on Andrew Sachs’s answering machine a bit sexist?’
‘Yes. They were sexist messages. I was showing off and it was very silly. Sexist is just the beginning. There were a lot of problems with that and it’s not a good thing to have done. I hope I’ve come a long way since then. I really hope so.’
Is the following a compliment or an insult? We’re not sure, but Christa Mannion (@watchingtrees) tweeted: ‘Are you planning to be in movies ever again? I know not many others like your movies, but I do.’
‘God, I’m not sure. When I’ve made them in the past I’ve met some really wonderful people and had some really positive things come from them, but I’ve felt a bit like I was wasting my time. Sometimes it’s good because you’ve got Alec Baldwin in the next caravan so you can go and chat to him. But I wanna feel engaged by something. I mean, if it was the right film I would. That film “Pride” – I’d have been in that!’
Hollie, aka @holliebarberx, tweeted: ‘What do you think about the gentrification of places like Hoxton, Shoreditch and Stratford?’
‘I just want everyone to be able to live together. It’s nice when areas get superficially more pleasant and/or funky. But it’s sad when people on the New Era housing estate in Hoxton are being priced out because the property has been purchased by private investors, including a company managed by the brother of Tory MP Richard Benyon [estimated richest MP], and their rents are going up. London is being socially cleansed. It’s one of the biggest problems of our time.’
You really think that London is being socially cleansed?
‘I’m in no doubt about it and that’s a result of the education I’ve received from the people on the New Era Estate and the women on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. These women are working. They’re not the scourge of the right – not “immigrants”, not “benefit scroungers”. Lindsey, one of the mums, has an eight-year-old kid and works as an NHS carer helping mentally ill people. She’s getting turfed out of her property and could be moved out of London in a matter of months. That’s disgusting.’
Tania was concerned that you might be a closet capitalist. Specifically: ‘Do you think that selling a book about revolution is revolutionary? Might not it be best just to do stuff rather than turning it into capitalism?’
‘That is a very valid point and I’m mindful that the primary consequence of this book should not be a rich person getting richer. That’s why I’m committed to using the profits to create a café/meeting space that serves food, and which is gonna be run entirely by recovering addicts. I’m not gonna do this and then get a house in Provence. I’ve been on private jets and I swear to you it’s no good. Have you ever been in a really posh hotel room? You go: “Fucking hell! Fucking hell!” And then you realise that there’s actually nothing in there for you to do.’
Sam Janes wants to know: ‘If someone hacked your iCloud, would they get naked photos?’
‘I don’t think so. I try not to do things I wouldn’t want other people to see. The iCloud hacking thing’s weird. It’s presented as this incredibly appealing and attractive world of glistening skin and perfect boobs, so people will go, “I’ll have a look at that, I’m really fucking bored.” One of the things I’m sort of pseudo-proud of is that I’ve not watched any videos of beheadings and I’ve not looked at any of those photos. Not because I think I’m better than other people, but because it’s a slippery slope for me with that sort of stuff.’
G Bush – we’re assuming it’s not a real name – asks: ‘While you’re going on about banking cartels, you do realise that your girlfriend comes from a powerful banking dynasty? Of course you do! My mate thinks you’re a stooge because of it. An Illuminati stooge!’
[Uproarious laughter] ‘I’m not in that relationship any more, but while I was, I looked really closely for any Illuminati clues. I didn’t see any evidence of any Rothschild-y skulduggery, but I wouldn’t rule it out. For someone to call me Illuminati is like, “Oi! Don’t you call me Illuminati! I’m the guy that believes that shit!” Julian Assange, who I once visited, was very interesting about it. You’d think that surely if anyone believed in conspiracies, it’d be him. But he says he doesn’t think there’s anything going on other than a load of powerful people all charging towards money like a Mongol horde. Ultimately, it’s irrelevant because there are loads of relationships between powerful people protecting their interests. They won’t ever give that up unless it becomes impossible to keep hold of it.’
Geeky journo question alert! ‘Could you address the rumours that Johann Hari is a producer for “The Trews” and the ghostwriter of “Revolution?”’ Emily asks.
‘I do work with Johann and I’m very proud of it. I think he’s a brilliant and very bright young man who I’m aware has gone through some challenges and difficulties – haven’t we all? He did some research for the book – you can see it because it goes, “My mate Johann told me this.” But other than food – and the other obvious things – no one puts anything into my mouth. Especially words. Unless that word is “boob”.’
Have you ever thought about crippling the entertainment industry? Kane Dorey wants to know: ‘Would you organise a worldwide celebrity strike in exchange for global reform focusing solely on transparency in government and media?’
‘Haha! Who’d notice? “And that’s why there are no more celebrity perfumes!” The reader who wrote in should organise it really, but I’ll do the striking if it gets off the ground.’
It seems that one of our readers would like to see you in Downing Street. Ellie wants to know: ‘If you became prime minister, what would be the first thing you’d do?’
‘I wouldn’t be prime minister. No one should be prime minister. I’d make people directly responsible for their own communities, and I’d open everything to referendums so we could vote on everything. Fuck those 400 pricks in parliament. Let’s not pretend the last 20 years of technological revolution haven’t happened. We could be voting on Twitter instead of trying to peer up Jennifer Lawrence’s frock.’
‘Revolution’ by Russell Brand is published on Thu Oct 23 by Century at £20.
Latest comedy interviews
You might also like
- Five reasons to see Michael Che
- Five reasons you need to book right now for ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ starring Christian Slater
- Stewart Lee interview: ‘Whether you think they’re right or wrong, UKIP is the funniest party at the moment’
- Six things you didn’t know about Billy Bragg
- Terry Jones interview: ‘John Cleese underestimated me’