Brand more than a joker
"My favourite was Billy Connolly."TRACEY COOPER
For someone who makes people laugh, it's odd to learn comedian Russell Brand is a fan of a man generally considered more likely to leave you crying.
Brand even has a cat named Morrissey. And no, it's not a permanently depressed and contrary cat.
"He's exciting and electrifying, just like the real Morrissey," Brand says.
"Morrisey is my friend and I'm in communication with him and trying to organise with him so that at some point I can collide with him."
That's most likely to take place in Wellington in December, where Morrissey - who fronted English band The Smiths in the 1980s before embarking on a successful solo career - plays on December 14, the day after Brand performs in the same city.
Morrissey - whose third album with The Smiths was called Meat is Murder - also gets the credit for Brand becoming a vegetarian.
"I thought I didn't need the bad karma, it was an easy thing to give up on the old animals," he says. "It's nice to know you're not rampaging around the world knocking off cows and sheep left right and centre."
Brand's I Am A Walrus tour of New Zealand, which opens in Hamilton on November 26, is the British comedian's first visit to New Zealand.
Now living in Los Angeles, Brand, 37, is one of the few British comedians to have gained a high profile in the United States in the past decade and heads to New Zealand after filming the Eric Idle musical What About Dick? with fellow comedians Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard.
Los Angeles has something England simply can't compete with as a place to live, he says.
"It's very difficult to diminish the potency of just being warm. It's nice to be somewhere it's warm, especially if you're English." Brand says Connolly and Izzard were among his favourite comedians when he was growing up in Grays, Essex.
"My favourite was Billy Connolly, who I've just had the pleasure of working with, I loved Monty Python, loved Eddie Izzard," he says.
"There was lots of BBC stuff on television like Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers, loved that stuff."
To be a good comedian, he says, is hard work. "It's really important to be truthful, really important to be spontaneous - to be in the moment - and not be afraid of admitting things that make you look stupid." And despite an increasingly successful career, which also includes radio shows, acting, writing and singing alongside his stand-up comedy, Brand says he was never one of those kids who was good at everything. "I was rubbish at school, I was in a lot of trouble at school all the time, I had to leave four or five different schools with different problems."
Sport, he says, is not his forte.
"I was rubbish at football, which was the only thing that mattered where I grew up. I play golf but it goes skiing off at a low angle, the club breaks, people kick me off the green. The only things I'm good at are comedy and one other thing that it's crude to talk about. Apart from that I'm just adrift in a sea of mediocrity."
The other thing that would be crude to talk about would be sex, with Brand's exploits between the sheets and his short-lived marriage to pop star Katy Perry more publicised even than his history of drug taking.
He was named The Sun's Shagger Of The Year in 2006, 2007 and 2008, with the award since renamed The Russell Brand Shagger of the Year Award in his honour.
He's a former junkie, a staunch critic of the methadone programme, has been arrested about a dozen times and is a recovering alcoholic to boot.
For all that, he's heavily into spirituality, which, he says, will be part of his performance in New Zealand.
"More than any show I've done before, I'm very proud of its content in terms of the connection between sexual freedom and spiritual revolution," he says.
"People inhibit our sexuality, make us nervous about our sexuality because it's one of the most powerful, primal energies with which we have the power to change our lives."
It might not sound that funny, but Brand responds: "I'm not at work now - you can get my comedy when I'm on the stage. "But it's going to be a really brilliant show, I'm working really hard on it. It's a very smart, sexy, wild, loopy, chaotic show that covers a lot of topics. Celebrities, the Olympics, obviously there's a lot of sex, a lot of mayhem."
The Olympics, where Brand performed the Beatles track I Am The Walrus at the closing ceremony, was as close as he will ever come to elite sports, he says.
"That (the closing ceremony) was my Olympics. That was my moment, I considered myself an athlete during that time," he says.
He ended up enjoying the whole Olympic experience far more than he ever thought he would.
"It was amazing. I've never seen anything like it. I'm cynical and British and thought it was all propaganda, but the atmosphere over there was incredible. The atmosphere in that stadium that night, I was singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life in the crowd and there was Eric Idle singing it in front of a load of Indian dancers, it was unbelievable, really bizarre."
Brand's other sporting love is West Ham United, the football club his largely absent father Ron first took him to see play at Upton Park when he was 5.
"Yeah that was a great result," he says of the Hammers' 4-1 win over Southampton last weekend. He's not aware the club's defender Winston Reid is a Kiwi. "Oh wow, he's from New Zealand is he? Good player." And while he's only the second Kiwi, after Ryan Nelsen, to really make a name in the English premier league, "that's quite a triumph in itself", he says.
Of course, Brand watched his club play last weekend, during a marathon football watching session. "That's what I did all day. Watched Chelsea, and Spurs, and West Ham beating Southampton. Watched a bit of United and Stoke."
A day ensconced in front of the telly watching footy is not a bad way to spend your time when your every move in public is likely to be filmed, photographed or reported on and Brand says that publicity is a double-edged sword.
"You just adjust to it in the end, you kind of get used to it," he says.
"You can zip about some times in certain places at certain times, but there are lots of benefits to it. Sometimes, you're right, it is a bit of a nuisance but it's just something you adjust to. You end up going to some members places and things like that or places where people don't give a s . . . , and there's quite a few of them, like places where people don't speak English and the only reason people look at me is because I've got weird hair."
On that count he should be right at home in New Zealand and Brand says - as all visiting artists do - he's looking forward to it.
"New Zealand's got a good reputation worldwide, it's regarded as a tranquil, peaceful place. Most people like Lord of the Rings and Flight of the Conchords and it's generally regarded as a fairly positive place. Plus I love Flight of the Conchords, I think they're fantastic. And I know there are things like underground caves with glow worms and all that."
Perhaps he and his mate Morrissey might give that a go if they manage to catch up. Morrissey in particular should be comfortable in the dark.
Russell Brand's I Am A Walrus tour opens in Hamilton on November 26. He performs at Auckland's Vector Arena on November 28 and Wellington's TSB Arena on December 13.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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