Russell Brand’s career path has been an uncertain one as of late. Seemingly disillusioned with the Hollywood lifestyle after his very public divorce from Katy Perry and a string of box office failures, Brand’s focus has shifted toward something more intellectual.
Having recently made appearances on Newsnight and Question Time and hyped up Messiah Complex, his first set of UK dates since 2009, as a much more challenging show than most audiences are used to, there is slight worry that tonight on spiritual ramblings and low on actual laughs.
Thankfully, his destroys any of the audience’s doubts about which version of Russell Brand would turn up tonight within the opening few seconds. Taking to the stage to the very apt soundtrack of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ and looking like a gothic version of Willy Wonka, he quickly bounds into the crowd and proceeds to conduct the first part of the show within it. It’s a thrillingly chaotic way of starting a show that you can’t imagine any other comedian of his size attempting. It’s also a refreshing reminder of his strengths as a stand up. The various controversies that have kept him in the public eye since the beginning of his career have often distracted people from just good he is at making a room of people hang on his every word and tonight’s performance is him at his most engaging.
After some stellar crowd interaction, Brand returns to the stage for the main part of his set. Unlike his previous stand up efforts, Messiah Complex is a much less self-obsessed show, with Brand now taking aim at the ‘powers that be’, as well as the hollow celebrity culture that he’s been fixture of for nearly a decade. Along the way he uses past cultural, such as icons Ghandi, Malcolm X, Che Guevara and Jesus, to get his moral points across. In the hands of nearly any other British comedian working today, this premise would feel unbearably preachy, but Brand successfully gets the balance right between the philosophy and the humour. Occasionally, he does veer too far into abstract ideas that slow the pace of the show, but it’s a rare example of ambition in a medium filled with performers willing to just play it safe.
Long time fans of Brand’s more self-observant style are also served well. Finding humour from his recent personal issues (getting kicked out of the GQ awards, false rumours about dying in a snowboarding accident, his recent sexual conquests), it’s a relief to know that he hasn’t gone completely ‘inspirational guru’ on us. It’s also, unsurprisingly, ridiculously filthy at points (he’s probably the only comedian this year that spends an equal amount of time talking about Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the joys of oral sex), which serves as a reminder that, despite the title of his tour, he’s still just a very naughty boy.
As he finishes the show as he started, leaping down from the stage into the crowd to pose for pictures, it’s clear that Messiah Complex isn’t your average night of comedy. By bravely refusing to simply make his audience laugh for 90 minutes with easy-to-handle jokes and observing the modern world both in a thoughtful and hysterical way, Russell Brand’s latest stand up can only be viewed as a resounding success. After a long period of certainty in Hollywood, it’s good to have him back doing what he does best.