For his first American stand-up special, British shock-comedian Russell Brand hits the stage like a rock star: hair teased up high, black eyeliner caked on, fitted black clothes, jewelry dangling from everywhere, Oasis blasting over the speakers. He isn't taking time to develop his persona; he's a fully-formed, otherworldly thing. His foreignness already makes him somewhat alien to American audiences; Brand just takes it further with his outlandish appearance and swagger. He's not just different than Americans, he's different than the human race.
Fame and Celebrity
Brand kicks off the special by acknowledging that while he is very famous in his native country, he knows he's not yet famous in the United States and that it bothers him. It's a strangely honest way to start the special, and the humility in the observation is totally at odds with Brand's finely developed rock-star persona. In that moment, Brand pretty much won me over.
For the remainder of the special, Brand sticks mostly to the areas where Americans might now him from: his gig hosting the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards and his supporting role in the romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The MTV stuff isn't exactly as relevant now as it was back in November when the special taped (about two months after the awards show aired), but a lot of it is still funny because of how honest and outspoken Brand is about celebrities. It's not catty, Kathy Griffin-style backstage gossip; it's just that Brand really isn't all that impressed by any of it. His "I don't care" attitude isn't just an act.
Funny Being Himself
Elsewhere, Brand covers death threats (received after some non-threatening comments made at the VMAs), horseback riding and his amazing sexual prowess. It's all done with a wink; Brand knows he's a character and doesn't expect to be taken all that seriously. He's the Jack Sparrow of stand-up. And though he has, in the past, relied on shock factor or outrageousness to be funny or score attention, Brand doesn't feel the need to push the envelope on Russell Brand in New York City. He is, for lack of a better word, "himself."
Though lacking the confessional honesty of some of his earlier stand-up specials (where he recounts his past heroin and alcohol addictions), I like that Brand sticks mainly to personal experience for Rusell Brand in New York City. That's probably the right move; Americans aren't likely looking for all the cards to be laid out on the table by someone they don't even recognize.
When it comes to actual joke telling, Brand misses more often than he hits. What makes Russell Brand in New York City isn't the one-liners; it's Brand's overall attitude. He takes nothing seriously. He is at once better than everything and deeply aware of his own flaws. He insists he's already famous but still desperately wants to be liked. There's no one quite like him in stand-up these days, and though I'm not sure he's ever going to be as big in the U.S. as he is in England, his is a voice that deserves to be heard.
- Original Air Date: March 8, 2009