A true firebrand with infectious energy
This looks like a leader!” gushes Russell Brand to an image of Che Guevara, gyrating his way across the Falconer Salen like a salacious Captain Jack Sparrow along a plank of hot coals. The Marxist revolutionary’s face then fades and is replaced by an unflattering one of Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to the rapture of the crowd. “But this doesn’t!”
Unless you’ve been living in a culturally-castrated communist state of late, you’ll have heard of Russell Brand. He’s the British comedian-cum-commentator famed for his swashbuckling sexual exploits who recently revealed his self-styled revolutionary manifesto to BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman during a television interview whilst lyricising about vapid celebrities, the self-serving governmental elite, and the need for social upheaval. Since then, all hell has broken loose. Hardly Tahrir Square-esque mobilisations, but still a feverish reaction coupled with a pandemic online video.
Brand arrives in a Copenhagen whose retweaking of power following Denmark’s recent local elections is far removed from the cataclysmic politics of his ‘Messiah Complex’ tour. Forget Frank Jensen and Anna Mee Allerslev, tonight is about insight into Malcom X, Mahatma Ghandi and Jesus Christ himself. There is the Gucci Helle name-drop though, one of several socially ad-hoc additions to the set (including “Am I gonna wake up in a ditch in Albertslund with a finger up my bottom?” and “It’s amazing how you can get heroin with just a bit of politeness here.”). This in turn is just one stitch in the political and idolatrous fabric that Brand sets about loquaciously unpicking – to side-splitting effect.
Although the show’s title, self-ironical and a more than a touch monomaniacal, alludes to religion, in reality Brand’s beef is with, as he puts it, “the vacuum of belief and what this vacuum has been filled with”. Enlightenment through the power of the joke is his remit.
“Let me see the people of Copenhagen, you beautiful bastards!” Brand streams onstage in all his gangly grace, hirsute like a ‘Rubber Soul’-era George Harrison, in skin-tight trousers and vest and with neck adornments that make him look like he’s fallen through the rear-view mirror of a Mexican taxi. He enters to a reception that is more gladiatorial arena than upholstered theatre. The audience are Danes and foreigners in equal part (“Any Australians in the ‘ouse? They get everywhere, I’m surprised the country’s not empty.”), with a smattering of local Brandwagon disciples and left-leaning aficionados who later voice agreement with parts of his whirlwind oratory.
Brand starts out by stalking the auditorium floor, building rapport with various audience members – especially the female ones, one of whom presents him with a book on female genitalia. Or maybe he’s just earmarking for later on. Either way, his androgynous style and irrepressible energy strike a chord with the self-perceived illuminati watching on, and it’s not long before the room is eating out of his palm.
But it all tastes good! Brand is a raconteur extraordinaire with a turn of phrase and vocabulary as colourful in its own right as other modern British pop-cultural wordsmiths such as Stephen Fry. Indeed, he may be one of his nation’s only bilingual monolinguals, such is his ability to code-switch between crude Anglo-Saxon rants (“Cunt!”) and ornate Latinism, between guttural street dialect and thespian rhyme. Even if he does use the word ‘narrative’ over-liberally.
As he indefatigably clicks through the gears, covering subjects like McDonald’s (“How can you copyright ‘M’ – it’s a letter!”) and the news (“It should be called ‘some news’ not ‘the news’.”), he punctuates his monologue with spasmodic references – with gesticulation – to freewheeling sex.
But it’s the brazenness and the articulacy along with the coquettishness that make Brand the highest tree-top in the comedy canopy. Sure, at times it’s like he’s been inflated backstage like a balloon and then released in an unbroken outpouring under the lights, but it’s impossible not to get caught in the vocal and ideological slipstream. And it’s impossible not to laugh out very loud in the process.
And what of Brand’s ideology and ideas? Many have argued that he’s a pastiche thinker, cleverly reframing populist ideas, that whilst pointing to vacuous modern icons in comparison to more truthful former ones, he’s ironically positioning himself as the former (something maybe evident in the swathes of fans that stayed behind afterwards for a photo). But, in a manner similar to his contemporary Ricky Gervais, the boundaries blur between art and reality, and onstage criticism up to a certain point becomes invalid.
Besides anything else, none of it really matters, because Brand can display more idiosyncrasy, verse, and comedic angle than the rest of the room put together. Ending with a double-entendre ‘second-coming’ moment at the end, the antichrist-provocateur has delivered a triumphant set and departs to adulation.
Brand, it seems, is cut adrift sailing on a sea of his own whimsical consciousness. And we’d all rather be on board.
Messiah Complex Tour