When I first saw Russell Brand on telly I thought he was an annoying twat.
There he was: all hair, eyeliner and belts, delivering a steady stream of innuendo-laden inanities.
My housemate at the time, Dan, put it succinctly:
‘I can’t stand that cunt,’ he said.
Dan didn’t just turn the channel over, he switched the tv off, as if to ward against Brand sneaking onto a different channel. I heartily agreed with this affirmative action. From there I cast aspersions against him at any opportunity without ever bothering to check if the fella was actually funny.
It was about this time that Russell Brand became ominpresent, what with his tv and radio shows, and daily appearances in the tabloid press. He even had a column in the sport section of the Guardian on a Saturday, and I went to great lengths to fold the newspaper in a way in which meant I could safely avoid looking at his odious fizzog.
However, there comes a time when a celebrity reaches a threshold of visibility when they simply cannot be avoided. Russell Brand, of course, achieved that point when he insulted Manuel on his radio show.
I hadn’t heard the broadcast but got the basics from the blanket media coverage seeping into my skull. I was coming home on the tube from a solid night’s boozing when my friend Alex asked me what I thought about the Brand controversy. I’m from Rainham, just a few miles away from Grays, where he’s from, so I was being consulted as a fellow Estuary Essexman.
‘I think he’s a disgrace to his county,’ I said vehemently, my views unbesmirched by any factual knowledge of the incident.
‘You can’t really think that, can you?’ said a bloke sitting opposite. ‘It’s all a storm being whipped up by the Daily Mail. It was just a joke that went wrong.’
‘I bloody well can think that. He’s a disgrace, going around abusing short men like that.’ (NB: I’m 5ft 4ins). ‘I’ve met people from Grays and he’s typical of the low-grade people you get there. He should be sent to Australia, I reckon.’
The bloke, a lily-livered liberal type, looked shaken. We glared at each other a bit, and then I got off at Victoria, and the matter was not further commented upon.
After that incident, I was intrigued enough to actually watch some footage of Brand doing stand-up on YouTube. He was okay. Not really laugh out loud funny, but intelligent, eloquent, and addictive to watch.
I was impressed by the fact that he had created a complete comic persona which allowed him to be confessional, surreal and a storyteller. And to pull vast hordes of women. He reminded me of my friend from school, Rob Howard, who could turn absolutely anything into innuendo, and had a sensational record with the ladies, too.
I loved the way that he cared about his audience. He managed to involve them, and allow them to share his pain and joy. That takes great skill and courage. To me, it was only moderately funny; but as a comedic journey towards truth it was brilliant. This is a man who truly knows himself and, like any great artist, can provide insights into our own lives.
A few months ago, I finally stumped up the money to buy Brand’s first autobiography, My Booky Wook. This was one of the best autobiographies I have ever read, and certainly the best modern memoir. He doesn’t allow himself to be anything less than totally honest, or totally funny.
This second book is clearly less well-written than the first installment. He’s run this off while he’s busy doing films and getting hitched to Katy Perry. So, he’s busy. Much of the text is cobbled together from his stand-up performances over the last few years, detailing appearances at various music award shows where like Ricky Gervais this week, he became notorious for telling mildly offensive jokes about famous people. Yet it says a lot for the quality of his lives shows that they stand up remarkably well when read off the page.
The original sections are mostly to the front of the book and this paragraph talking about how his pratfalls caused Kate Moss to dump him is typically briliant:
What no one realised, not Kate nor the red-top tabloid press, was that far from viewing her as a conquest, I was absolutely smitten. When I clumsily ballsed it up by flatly telling journalists who I’d not yet learned to ignore that I was ‘just larking around’, she wisely withdrew and I had enough sense to stop calling her. I didn’t delete her number from the phone though. I left it stored under ‘Grimy Tyke’, which is what I’d call her in an attempt to punctuate the endless flattery and awe.
And even when he’s got his hero, Morrissey, round at his house for filming, his mind is on other things:
Morrissey perused the house. I perused his make-up lady’s boobs; that is the miracle of big boobs, they remain interesting above all else.
This next sentence should go on his headstone:
I have stared over the shoulder of enlightenment to get a butcher’s at a cleavage.
His awareness of his own ludicrousness is what makes him so engaging. This second Booky Wook is the story of his escape from British TV and comedy, to superstardom. He’s made it. He’s got the pop star wife, the film career, and no doubt marvellous homes in LA and London. And even if he eventually loses touch with ordinary life in this country, it probably won’t matter, because as long as understands himself as acutely in the future as he does now, he’ll always be entertaining.
My mate Dan wouldn’t agree with me, though.