The Re-Branding of Russell

A couple of weeks ago deliberately douchey comedian Russell Brand appeared on American cable news show Morning Joe in a segment so excruciating, it had no option other than to go viral.

You know an interview can’t turn out well when the host, Mika Brzezinski, introduces the guest by admitting she has no idea who he is. From there, it descended into chaos as Brezezinski and two other panellists all but ignored Brand and began chatting amongst themselves, occasionally referring to him in the third person.

Brand bristled at their “casual objectification”, before giving up on the interview format altogether and, taking control of the session, used it to plug his stand-up show The Messiah Complex, before launching into an impromptu rant about the media’s tendency to “forget about what’s important and allow the agenda to be decided by superficial information.”

The 10-minute clip showcases the best and worst of Brand. Quick thinking and formidably intelligent, Brand nonetheless stooped to cheap shots, calling attention to Brezezinski’s cleavage as she leaned forward before labelling her a “shaft grasper” because of the way she was clutching her water bottle.

Brand is no stranger to casual sexism. My first recollection of him was his ill-fated prank call to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs back in 2008, in which he joked about having sex with Sach’s granddaughter.

But, as the Morning Joe clip shows, Brand is no himbo. Yes, his frustration at the lack of respect afforded him brought out his eye-roll inducing sexism, but it also showcased his talent for profound insights that has seen him become a regular columnist for The Guardian.

As difficult as it is to believe, it seems that pop culture’s ultimate hedonistic caterpillar is transforming into a colourful social commentary butterfly.

The first hint was given two years ago with his reflection on the death of Amy Winehouse. While much of the internet revelled in her entry into the infamous 27 club, Brand, drawing on his own drug addicted past, took the media to task for choosing sensationalism over substance:

“Amy increasingly became defined by her addiction. Our media is more interested in tragedy than talent, so the ink began to defect from praising her gift to chronicling her downfall…In the public perception this ephemeral tittle-tattle replaced her timeless talent.”

The issue of addiction is obviously a cause dear to Brand’s heart. Last year he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee looking into drugs policy, and then turned his increasingly caustic eye to the British parliament itself, poetically reminding readers that politicians only have as much power as we, the people, are willing to grant them: