I first saw Russell Brand as Aldous Snow in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall and then as the host of the 2009 MTV’s VMA, weirdly charming and eloquent, making a clear pass at Katy Perry. I also thought it is one of his celebrity antics to come and get married in India. The next time I saw him was on YouTube when he met H.H the XIV Dalai Lama in June 2012.
After watching more suggested videos of the activist that Russell Brand has become, I strangely couldn’t get enough of him. First of all, I was impressed by his volubility, his charming tenacity and unguarded nature. Yes, he is still human, skittish, risque and narcissistic, like he claims.
My perception of him changed a little from a verbose British hippie comedian to a much evolved and evolving activist and human being. I may be credulous here but how demonic can a comedian be.
As I learned more about him, I understood that he is a survivor in many respects. Raised by a single mum, he suffered sexual abuse at the age of 8, was heavily addicted to Heroin, crack cocaine and other comparable intoxicants. This is compounded by his uncanny propensity for licentious behaviour, and suffered multiple public showdowns in his career. He is also said to have ADHD and Bipolar disorder.
Growing up in Grays, Essex, he said, was the perfect catalyst for a kid like him to look for the answer elsewhere. He recalls feeling very nondescript and sad as a child and thinking getting famous would solve it all.
It is funny how feeling sad catapulted him to pursue comedy. He kickstarted with his observational comedy and did many stand-ups early on. He started at 19 and was on drugs most of the time in his 20’s; he said heroine does a massive job at killing the pain from the void inside.
He says he was able to recover because of love and support of the near ones. 2013 marked the 10th year of him being drug and alcohol-free, “bringing irreversible changes to his life and outlook”. His was an abstinence-based recovery and says its one day at a time.
He works closely with drug addicts and it is one of his recovery codes never to say no to an addict seeking help. He is one of the patrons of Focus 12, the drug charity program that provides support system and facilities for addicts to recover. Russell also testified as a former drug addict in front of House of Commons at a hearing on Britain’s drug policy. He advocates for decriminalisation of drug use and looking at the addicts with compassion “as no disease renders its victim more helpless and grotesque.” He promotes the legalisation of drugs like in Portugal where decriminalisation of the possession and use of drugs in 2001 has seen a considerable drop in usage, crimes and health consequences of illicit drug use. He championed the abstinence-based recovery and asserted the need for funding such method, quite emphatically. I think his argument is made compelling with his personal experience of overcoming addiction, being the impersonation of all that is bad with the pop culture.
His belief that fame would be the cure was quite strong evidently as he sought and got famous. He pursued it with diligence. He found a spot in the celebrity world, only to be under a constant spotlight as a wayward celebrity inflicted by addictions and promiscuity. He was the epitome of all the vices, shunned and booed and vilified. He didn’t yield and stuck to being himself, taking the entire backlash in his stride. It’s not unfair to say that his obdurate tenacity fueled more diatribes but the man cannot be stopped. Many of his work as a radio host, presenter, stand-up comedian, author and activist drew acerbic review and criticism that seem to have made him gro inured to it.
But he admits that he realised becoming famous wasn’t the cure. He says it is like being at the buffet but sensing that something is wrong and remaining hungry. The lack of privacy, he said is a pain in the arse but more upsetting is to see how the mainstream media thrives on celebrity gossip and promotion of consumerist culture through product promotion and advertisement. He said celebrity stuck culture is a huge wool pulled over people’s eyes, meant to distract common people from real global agendas that deserve robust discourse. He is one of the only few and probably the most conspicuous one to denounce the celebrity culture, casting aspersions on how individuals are often painted to be something absolute when we are all relative as human beings with many aspects.
When neither drug, nor being famous helped fill the void, and the solution remained elusive, he turned to spirituality. Russell found himself the Hare Krishna movement to explore, a part of Hindu religion. Hare refers to the pleasure potency of lord Krishna, similar to the Christian idea of man’s highest goal being to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Hare Krishna gained popularity with George Harrison of the Beatles espousing it. ISKCON is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness that preaches tuning one’s soul with the consciousness and chanting Hare Krishna. As a part of looking inside, Russell practices yoga every day and transcendental meditation twice a day.
Russell also seems to be able to realise and sustained the spiritual realisation of our mortality, importance of being kind and how small we are in the space of the universe. I thought I do see a glimmer or compassion in his eyes when he addresses audiences. The reason Dalai Lama asked him to help get the youngster in was because Russell himself is an example of how spirituality can play a role in self-change. I also find similarities in Russell’s belief with Dalai Lama’s teaching of looking inside, being compassionate and to remain in touch with the bigger perspective.
Apart from playing major roles and voicing for movies, he is a presenter, radio host, producer, comedian, activist and author. Booky Wook and Booky Wook 2 are his memoirs, each more telling than other.
His latest book is called Revolution, published in Oct 2014, where he points out how the current political system is designed to serve the 10 percent of elites and not the common people and urges people to in usher in a revolutionary change in the world political system at large. He said the turnover from the book will be used to open a café that will employ drug addicts looking for njob and it opened in March 2015.
Some of the key issues he addresses are Wealth inequality, Addiction, Corporate Capitalism, Climate Change, and Media bias. Russell joined the protest rallies of Unions like the Fire Brigade Union in 2014 and same year; he took part in the march of People’s Assembly against Austerity, that had an estimated 50,000 people join the march from the BBC office to Westminster. Brand addressed the crowd, saying, “The people of this building the House of Commons generally speaking do not represent us, they represent their friends in big business. It’s time for us to take back our power. Power isn’t there; it is here, within us. The revolution that’s required isn’t a revolution of radical ideas, but the implementation of ideas we already have.”
He was the fodder for most of the British media coverage during that time, who labelled his arguments discursive. Since 2013, he appears on shows mainly as a social commentator and political activist. The major one was one with Jeremy Paxman of BBC, Britain’s toughest journalist, who invited Russell to explain what he meant by the 4500 words long essay about revolution he published as the guest editor of The New Statements. Throughout the interview, Russell survived Jeremy’s charges and stood his ground. He is now famous for saying ‘I don’t get my authority from this preexisting paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.”
His relationship with News media is a love -hate, frenemy zoned place, consisting of journalists who wants to get to the bottom of it or a supportive talk show host who wants to get branded or those who believes his view is worth discussing.
Another of his more famous rendezvous with an established mainstream media program is ‘Morning Joe’ on MSNBC which resulted in Russell putting the condescending anchors in place for their lack of professionalism and basic courtesy.
He launched his YouTube series The Trews: True News with Russell Brand on Feb 27, 2014, where he interprets the popular news items that are published in mainstream media with his take on it. Trews he said represent News if it is true. He did 366 episodes over the period of a year addressing varied subjects. He is said to have faced lots of political pressure for his outspokenness and the Trews was discontinued in August 2015 with a promise of Trew be Continued in the last episode.
His stand-up tour titled ‘The Messiah Complex’ is a phenomenon on its own. I find his choice of famous people to talk about very relatable. The common binding thread he said is that they are all famous but misrepresented by the media in varying degree.
For example, Gandhi, who is the Father of Nation for India and nonviolent freedom fighter, has his own group of dissidents who disagrees with his nobleness. One of the observations is that he is a racist. Russell is also constantly blamed for being sexist, misogynist and racist. He said, growing up, his grandmother would make comments which were clearly racist, but she didn’t know at the time. He claims if he is in anyway racist, he didn’t know. Gandhi’s oft-quoted maxim ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, resonates with Russell as a recovered drug addict.
Che Guevera, other than being a revolutionary is the quintessential figure of Revolution around the world. The narrative that he hardly takes bath and is dirty is similar to Russell being deemed dirty for his frilly, carefully constructed messy look, although he is definitely taking bath.
Talking about Jesus is natural as it is a spiritual reference point that transcends spirituality. His uncanny resemblance to Jesus stems from his distinct hairdo and his quest for change and resurrection, and his lack of resistance to people pointing out similarities and propagating it further by making a documentary called Brand- A second coming.
Russell’s affinity to spirituality is akin to how Malcolm X was introduced and was drawn to Islam in jail, coming from the hard knock life of Harlem. Russell’s effrontery and rhetoric can also be compared with Malcolm X and subsequent public antipathy.
I could relate with him best as the activist that he is right now. He is refreshing for his outspokenness, not worried about giving away his lack of accuracy and depth in the process, but the problems that he is trying to address is still real and warrants attention.He is the revolution himself, his recovery, his spirituality, his immunity from programmed cultural and social behaviour. His lack of concern about what other thinks is refreshing.He is today more inured to people’s opinion as anyone could be, partly because of his spirituality which teaches self-denial and partly because of the unwarranted outcry at his outspokenness that he is used to now. He says redemption is a great part of his narrative right now. People still seem wary of him. The reason for people’s antipathy towards him could be attributed to his implacable nature, for despite coming clean and working for greater good, he still does what he does with the same alacrity for witticism and unconventional ways, instead of playing a pensive reformed man, readily falling in line of conventions.
I do admit that Russell doesn’t have a blueprint for revolution, but who does.
For those who think Russell Brand is a freemason, he is one, openly sharing the secret with a brotherhood of humanity. If he is getting it all wrong, which should not be the result of de-addiction, meditation and yoga, he is still innocuous compared to what people in power do.
For those like me who support and appreciate Russell’s course of road and efforts, I don’t think there is a freemason at all behind all the evils we see. If there is, we are nursing them in the same space that we live in and we can change that. To quote Russell Brand
“I think many of the boundaries that convention has placed upon us are arbitrary, so we can fiddle with them if we fancy. Gravity’s hard to dispute and breathing, but a lot of things we instinctively obey are a lot of old tosh.”