Russell Brand is the only person who has suggested to me that the material world is an illusion. Given that he did so between service at Peter Gordon’s Dine, I was inclined to agree.Over the road, customers at Sky City Casino were feverishly feeding the contents of their wallets into one armed bandits. Most often the return could be measured solely in the transient gaiety of twinkling lights and an electronic burble. That was the real world. For the millionth time the irrational behaviour of consumers had been successfully harnessed. The bounty could be measured in the objects of our palatial surrounds: alabaster walls, the name of a chef on the door who did not cook there and the government promising an immutable law to keep the magic castle afloat. I had eaten at the restaurant only once. Perhaps fittingly, given the overarching arrangement that made the whole scene just so, I ate a delicately crumbed brain.
On most meetings, normally the farcical nature of existence and what might lie beneath remains “the elephant in the room”. But Russell had not just spotted the invisible pachyderm; he had lassoed the beast and was straddling it, much like the comedian did at his Indian wedding to former wife, Katy Perry. That union was off the menu during the interview. But clues as to why his marriage to the pneumatic Pentecostal pastor’s daughter lasted only a short time abounded, practically in everything Brand said and quite a few things he has done since. While receiving the highest wisdom in the universe from a Hollywood superstar in leather trousers has caused some to doubt the message, it is important to remember that Jesus Christ was a carpenter. Perhaps the fact the Lord of Lords was a tradesman is indeed behind the reason we have all been waiting 2000 years for him to return and finish the job.
The modern celebrity sits atop the global pyramid of our distorted values and diverted attentions. I presume you can see a lot from up there. With religion and the authority of monarchs either gone, waning or irrelevant, the famous have become our navigational tools for everything from trainers to morality. The fact we actually call them stars is a dead giveaway. In the same fashion the ancient Greeks used Zeus, Apollo and Aphrodite to teach lessons and tell stories, now celebrity hands an often prosaic message a Swiss horn to boom across countries. Note how eagerly feminists seized on Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance to construct an all-singing, all-twerking homily on gender double standards.
The Guru of Gray’s spoke: “You and I have entered into a consensus. That’s a light there. There’s a camera there. We are both talking to each other. But we could take our clothes off, we could start kissing, we could smash this restaurant up, we could start screaming crazy religious statements. But we have entered into a consensus and comedy is constantly aware of the invisible reality that supports the reality within which we consensually live.”
Our meeting was 12 months ago; before the Thatcher obit, before his TV appearance on The Morning Joe, before getting ejected from the GQ Awards and the second Newsnight interview. I was dispatched by my producer with the unpromising words: “I don’t really care if this happens. It would be nice to have. But I find him the most annoying person in the world.” It has become a common refrain echoing across social media once a month, indeed the phenomenon may well be lunar. Friends tweet, share or on rare occasions speak the words: “I don’t like him. In fact I think he’s a bit of a twit. But I agree with what he has to say.” To blame may well be the time lag in reputation everyone suffers. The first time we were introduced to him, Russell Brand was a kohl-eyed jackdaw with laser beam-intent trained on indulging a prodigious appetite for a single vice. The rest were dead to him, as he almost was to them. With drink and drugs out, the smorgasbord of sin groaned with a heaped helping of the original one.
In the public eye, you are the adjectives which precede your name. In 2008, Sachsgate put the “former junkie, ex-sex addict” on the tabloid propriety seesaw with “much loved” Manuel from Faulty Towers. Bravado from the perpetrator ensued, however behind it a whole lot of searching was going on. What is a career in entertainment born of childhood feelings of inadequacy and pain for? Is it simply finding dazzling ways of redistributing that anguish to select targets for the delight of the many? Or could the vast attention allied to a fumbling for enlightenment bring about such a moment of which Boris Pasternak wrote: “… when the heart dictates the line / it sends a slave onto the stage / and there’s an end of art and there’s/ a breath of earth and destiny.”
Since we met, the vegetarian is now most well-known for slaughtering sacred cows. Thatcher was a pushover – she was already dead. The denizens of morning infotainment shows offered only slightly more resistance. Yet the manner in which he nailed mass media as a means of creating consensus rather than challenging the status quo was masterful. The way authority is now vested in stiff jaws, hair helmets and cavernous sets full of minions beavering away back-of-shot needed to be lanced. Chiefly, I imagine this work to be more fulfilling than his roles in Rock of Ages and Arthur combined.
The foe of democracy as it is currently practiced though remains. It was in a first Newsnight interview that a wide eyed Russell proclaimed his desire to do more with fame than merely fly first class and shag his way through the phone book. Just how far he had come from that querulous appearance was revealed in his second joust with Jeremy Paxman, when Brand called for a revolution. The current historical end point of liberal democracy was disempowering millions while raping the ecology, he mused. Paxman’s main disappointment seemed to rest in the comedian not turning up to the shoot with a scale model of what Chiswick would look like under his yolk. But in fact a quiet revolution had already taken place. A few years ago such a call would have been laughed off as an elaborate joke. But instead the commentariat considered the clarion cry with enough seriousness to deem it worth a kicking.
So it is when we are confronted by naked idealism, we look about the yard for things to feed the dog from which cynicism gets its name. That’s how I confronted the Kony 2012 video on the plight of Ugandan child soldiers. I prayed for something to explain away their imploring eyes. Thankfully the man who made it was discovered a short time later raving and masturbating in the street. Our real world was safe once more.