At his show in Auckland earlier this year, Noel Fielding teasingly despaired that his mate Russell Brand had “gone political” before cheekily quipping “actually, it’s the funniest he’s ever been.”
Although cutting, this observation is not without its truth. The last few years have not been kind to Brand as he has made the shift from comedian to social activist. There have been awkward run-ins with the world’s media as well as criticisms of his politicised web series The Trews, his book Revolution and his documentary The Emperor’s New Clothes. Brand’s latest show Trew World Order is halfway between a political rally and stand-up comedy and he delivered it to 3,965 enraptured people at Vector Arena.
For an hour and a half he relentlessly regaled the audience with his unique blend of humour that can plunge from the highest ivory tower to the deepest depths of blue in only a few words, always delivered with a smile and a swagger. Only Russell Brand can hypothesise a conversation between a gay Adolf Hitler and a macho US Marine complete with simulated masturbation and get away with it. But it wasn’t all bawdy eloquence and distractingly tight pants. Much of this show was about Brand’s desire to tear the world away from the clutches of the rich and powerful (Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and John Key for some local flavour) and to rid the world of social inequality. Community, rather than individualism is the future he tells us. In the past, the media and politicians have made a meal out of the fact that these are not revolutionary ideas, and that Brand himself is wealthy and so surely part of the problem. But Brand is both self-aware and self-deprecating, and spent a good chunk of Trew World Order not only focusing on his detractors, but also focusing on his failings. Replaying cringe-worthy interviews and outtakes he reflected on and analysed himself with incisive humour.
Self- deprecation aside, Brand is also a self-described narcissist, a trait that he “wants to harness for social justice.” A cynic would suggest that the inverse is perhaps more truthful. But then, a cynic would not have stayed after the show and watched as fans clambered to meet Brand, their copies of Revolution aloft, their faces stained with tears as they told him how their lives had irrevocably altered upon reading it. Brand himself appeared equally moved. Whatever you may think about the man his message is admirable, and he delivers it with such charisma, wit and vivacity that you cannot help but take notice.
This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine on October 15th 2015.