Russell Brand admits he thrives on fame. Without it, the stand-up comedian concedes, “This haircut comes across as mental illness.”
Brand, whose popularity is greater in his home country of England, says he wants desperately to become a star among Americans. Comedy Central has shoved him in the right direction by giving him his own special, “Russell Brand in New York City.” As soon as he steps through the golden beads shrouding the backstage entrance, it’s clear Brand knows how to turn heads. With his poodle hair, half-shirt, tight jeans and heavy mascara, Brand looks more like an ’80s cock rocker than a comedian.
He mentions he recently hosted the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards. During the shoot for one of the show’s promo commercials, Brand got to meet Britney Spears and, much more importantly, an elephant. “I’ve met loads of pop stars in my life,” Brand explains. “I ain’t ever met an elephant.”
Brand’s giddiness quickly turns to disgust when he catches a glimpse of the elephant’s feminine undercarriage. “Can anybody in this room be discrete about showing their vagina?” Brand wonders.
The foulmouthed Englishman’s stint as the VMA host did not go well. His performance was so poor, Brand says, he even received death threats. The fact that viewers felt compelled to send e-mails calling for his untimely demise thoroughly bemuses Brand. “How do you go from, I’m not enjoying this … to I’m really not enjoying this … to I’m going to kill him?” Brand asks. “Where’s the tipping point?”
Brand comes across as a sex-obsessed, somewhat foppish heterosexual. He notes that some people believe he’s gay, which he insists is not true; he simply dresses well and has a wonderful haircut. Brand declines to mention that his preferred mode of locomotion is prancing, which adds fodder to the misconception.
To his discredit, Brand falls on a couple of comic crutches during his special. He makes the oft-heard, fairly obvious criticism of celebrities at awards shows who thank God. “I don’t reckon he cares what happens,” Brand asserts. Later on, he makes the ten-millionth “Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch” joke that the crowd inexplicably eats up.
Brand is also determined to prove his intellect. His references to Michel Foucault, Charles Baudelaire and Sigmund Freud serve no purpose other than to underline Brand’s intellectual chops.
But the magnetic and self-deprecating performer is almost always charming because, like any successful comedian, he has a keen sense of absurdity. This comes across most effectively when Brand tells the story of meeting the boyfriend of “That 70’s Show” star Mila Kunis. Kunis tells Brand that her partner’s name is Mac. But when he finally meets him, Brand realizes her love interest is none other than Macaulay Culkin. “Don’t re-brand him as ‘Mac!’ ” Brand imagines telling Kunis. “That’s Macaulay Culkin! You’re fucking Macaulay Culkin!”
“Russell Brand in New York City” airs Sunday, March 8, at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central.