Russell Brand much more than a pretty face at the River Rock
At the River Rock Show Theatre on Saturday, August 6
Having only seen comedian Russell Brand on talk shows and acting in movies, I sensed his popularity had something to do with his rock star looks. That may be true, but I was completely wrong about his standup chops. Turns out the guy is genuinely funny, as well as totally charming and intelligent.
Brand strolled on stage looking like punk Jesus with long hair and a beard, torn jeans, boots, down-to-his-waist neck bling and a ratty T-shirt. But at no time did his look get in the way of his solid act.
Almost immediately, he walked up the aisle at the River Rock Show Theatre and through the crowd, sitting on people, shaking hands, taking pictures and riffing. This can be a gimmicky time-waster in lesser hands, but it was one of the most-fun opening bits I’ve seen thanks to Brand’s non-stop patter.
Back on stage, he warned us that the show would consist of mostly extemporaneous chat rather than real jokes due to the fact he doesn’t like writing. “It’s boring,” he said. “It’s too hard. Too much like school.” And then he proceeded to perform 90 minutes of solidly penned standup, with some improvisatory asides. At least I refuse to believe he made up his fanciful verbal runs in the spur of the moment. They were too well-crafted. But his delivery at least gave that impression.
Sure, the bulk of his act was variations on dick jokes, but they were the most artful dick jokes I’ve heard. In a long bit about masturbation, he says he “eschews this onanistic conduct”. Anal sex was described as “the corridor to the brown Narnia.” Along the way he referenced Saint Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Gandhi, and Buddha. He spoke of Dadaism, metaphysics, modal verbs, and ontology.
Usually a comic at Brand’s place atop the pop cultural ladder (to top it all off, he’s married to bubblegum-pop star Katy Perry) will allude to only mainstream showbiz topics. There was some of that, to be sure, but in a long tangent-filled bit about his controversial turn hosting the MTV Video Music Awards (which garnered him death threats) he ridiculed the Twilight phenomenon, explaining he had to make jokes about it without having the cultural reference points: he prefers more resonant cultural experiences to mere eye candy. He says he’s never seen the films and never will.
When he went off-book and attempted a Robert Pickton joke to the groans of the otherwise enthralled audience, he charmingly escaped, saying, “It’s all right, don’t worry. I took a risk.”
After the show, Brand met with the audience and was immediately engulfed by adoring women, looking like Christ among the faithful. He swam through the crowd, hugging, shaking hands, posing for pictures, reaching out and autographing breasts. You know, like Jesus did. If Vince McMahon were there, he’d have dubbed it “RussellMania”. It was an unnecessary service given the solid show he just performed—fans would have gone home happy regardless—but much appreciated.