Russell Brand struts onto the stage with his trademark skinny leather pants, massive hair and long hippy wooden beads. A real presence. He doesn’t take himself too seriously – his whole performance is built on self irony – and he is not afraid to mock himself, expose his own failings and belittle celebrity.
He tells hilarious accounts of his experiences, accompanying them with film and projections; in all of his stories, he succeeds in sending himself up. It is all quite narcissistic, but it works because Brand is not afraid to poke fun at himself and expose his flaws – this is his appeal. Brand takes on a convincing Mancunian accent frequently during the show and straddling it with irony, he refers to himself as a “southern ponce”. The northern crowd love it.
His stand-up is sharp and he is compelling, articulate and slick. Lowering himself into the audience so that he can “examine” us all, he is confident with interacting and engaging with the crowd. He picks a few willing participants to banter with – “I’m like a vampire – I’ll only come in if you invite me”. The crowd are hysterical, many trying to grab Brand’s attention, one woman even hanging right over the circle balcony. Brand is not the Messiah, but he is the centre of adulation on this particular night at the Apollo.
Demanding a muscular fellow in the audience to “elevate” him to the stage, he begins his main show. He addresses themes of celebrity and explores the flaws in his four chosen heroes – Jesus Christ, Che Guevara, Ghandi, Malcolm X – and seeks to prove that he is a little bit like them. He is uncensored and unapologetic about his own excesses, saying of celebrity: “Why would I attack a lifestyle that plucked me from poverty and dropped me into a tumble-dryer filled with tits and money?”
Through all of the 90 minutes of Brand’s self deprecating frivolity, it is clear that he is also using his position to influence and spread a message: “Choose your heroes carefully before culture chooses them for you.”
Russell Brand is a bit like marmite – you either love him or hate him. On this particular night in rainy Manchester, he goes down a storm.
This gifted comedian and wordsmith continues his Messiah Complex world tour in Glasgow tonight.
First published by What’s on Stage in February 2014