7 Most Cerebral Russell Brand Interviews


Context: Russell Brand popped back into the viral media cycle yesterday with an interview on BBC’s Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman.

1. Interviewing Timothy Phelps and Steve Drain of Westboro Baptist Church


Two representatives of Westboro Baptist Church enter stage left with a sign that says “FAG PIMP BRAND.” The tone is immediately awkward. Phelps’ and Drain’s confrontational posture (and intimidatingly large bodies) establish a sense of hostility before they even sit down, and a quick pan shows members of the audience mirroring their vitriol. The group rapidly turns sort of goofy, throwing out intentionally offensive claims (to the audience) like “You all probably hate eachother,” and “Russell Brand hates you.” Worth watching for the uneasy spectacle.

2. With Chelsea Handler


The comedic timing on both sides of this interview is masterful. Handler is clearly on the offensive, and — as in most interviews — Brand is tasked with continually disarming her by illustrating the unsavory aspects of the message of her rhetoric. A great moment occurs when Brand pauses for a beat and says, “Sometimes I can’t tell when you’re being acerbic… What happens when you’re in a situation where sincerity is paramount?” Handler has no meaningful response, and chooses to divert attention to a caricature of a rapey Brand by saying, “The way you’re looking at me makes me want to cover up my vagina.” Brand also shares his story of being fired from MTV for “dressing in an inappropriate way” the day after 9/11.

3. Skewering an idiotic group of newspeople on Morning Joe


The clip opens with Morning Joe ‘anchor’ Mika Brzezinski introducing Brand, who apparently — according to her — she knows nothing about, because she’s “not very pop-cultured.” Aside from the insidiousness of opening up an interview with a rhetorical, defensive introduction that frames Brand as an outsider, there’s also something about her tone, something hidden and agenda-driven. After the Morning Joe team dives head first into ‘playfully’ mocking/ calling into question Brand’s appearance, the interview proceeds into spectacular failure. It maybe climaxes when Brzezinski’s only way to save face is to literally play victim (making an ‘afraid face’) to Brand’s insistent refusal to accept her own shitty rhetorical strategies. I love this interview because Brand refuses to let the three get away with what is essentially a programmatic attempt at discrediting his authority by endless diversionary mocking. Just look at the body language in this still.

4. On fame, cultural narratives, addiction, with Jeremy Paxman


Promo’ing My Booky Wook, this interview is one of the clearest illustrations of Brand’s mania; a rehabilitated drug and sex addict, the comedian lives with both bipolar and attention deficit disorder. Bipolar people in their manic phases are difficult to be around, but they also tend to burn extremely bright. The case with Brand seems to be that his mania fuels an intensely logical, dense, DFW-ian clarity that’s so on-point that just watching and listening to him becomes an immersive learning experience. Here, among other issues, Brand addresses deep cultural narratives surrounding fame and its implications.

5. Deconstructing an interview with the New York Times, during the interview


Aside from introducing several super-insightful maxims (“Enlightenment is contingent upon the ability to simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas;” “Some people say that you’ve crossed the line, but I don’t think that there is a line, I think people draw the line in just after you have traversed it,”), Brand spends the better part of the first half of this clip redirecting awareness to the premises of the interviewer’s questions. This is classic, cerebral, in-the-moment, meta Brand, who manages both comedy and thoughtfulness in an enlightening impromptu performance.

6. On Ellen about addiction, unhappiness


Weirdly, Brand seems to enter stage in slow motion to greet a visibly nervous Ellen Degeneres. Throughout the interview, it seems like she really doesn’t know what to do with him. Early on, Ellen sums up what probably a lot of people believe about Brand — she says, “I can’t imagine knowing you when you were on different types of drugs… Look at you, you don’t need anything, you’re very entertaining.”

7. Fomenting revolution on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman


In his most recent viral interview, Brand continually disarms Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman, ducking cliches and hierarchical narratives in favor of focusing on a few issues the current political system seems to fail to address: ecological destruction, massive economic disparity, and a social class driven to political apathy by an exclusionary political structure. Here Brand argues, with his characteristic clarity, for a systematic redistribution of wealth and overhaul of the entire political paradigm. One of the best moments comes at the very beginning of the clip; when asked why he doesn’t vote, Brand responds that he doesn’t refrain because of apathy, but from “absolute indifference, and weariness, and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now, and which has now reached fever pitch, where we have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent under-class that are not being represented by that political system, so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system.”