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Russell Brand talks stand-up comedy and Aldous Snow

by Nick Zaino, posted Mar 6th 2009 10:02AM
Russell Brand on Comedy CentralRussell Brand made his mark in England as a comedian before climbing up the ladder and landing roles in films. American audiences first got to know him as the aloof rock star Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and as the host of the 2008 MTV Music Awards. Sunday, America gets its first real glimpse of Brand as a stand-up comedian, when his first one-hour special, Russell Brand In New York City, premieres at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Brand is going to be everywhere in 2009. His autobiography, My Booky Wook, hits shelves next week, and he's working on Get Him To the Greek, a new Judd Apatow-produced vehicle for the Aldous Snow character and a remake of Arthur. He's already got the Julie Taymor-directed film of The Tempest, with Helen Mirren as "Prospera," waiting for release. I caught up with him by phone as he was at the airport on his way to Los Angeles.

TVS: Do you feel you have to introduce yourself to America as a comedian because most people know you from movies or perhaps as a host?
Russell: Yes, I do. Stand-up comedy is very important to me, and that's the one that I feel I'll always have. As long as there's room above pubs with stackable chairs and microphones, I can always find work. So I think it's an important thing to keep up stand-up comedy. It's been good to me. It's the first thing I did, it's the first thing I made money from. So I think that enabled me to stop living on welfare. So I want to keep it up.

TVS: It seems like in America you're going in reverse. You started out in England as a stand-up comedian and worked your way up to acting roles and movies, and here people know you from that first.

Russell: Yeah, Nick, I think you're right, and if we take that to its natural conclusion, I'm going to end up a penniless drug addict living in Los Angeles. So I hope the pattern is broken.
Surprise! Russell Brand.
TVS: How careful are you about how you're perceived here?

Russell: Quite careful. I can only be myself, but I suppose that perception is based on the same way I'd care about being perceived on an individual basis, I just try and be nice, you know. It's not like I'm thinking, "Oh my god, I'm going to America! They must never know that secretly I'm a socialist!" As long as I'm quite a nice person, then I'll have nothing to fear. It's only if I become an asshole then I won't even be able to go to a Laundromat or a cafeteria without feeling, oh god, everyone's about to see that I'm selfish.

TVS: And going to the Laundromat is an important part of the American experience.

Russell: It's defined my trips to America.

TVS: First place you go, right off the plane...

Russell: Immediately I arrive at LAX, leap into a Lincoln, and say, "Sir, I've gotta wash me smalls."

TVS: Is your autobiography tongue-in-cheek or are you trying to tell your actual story?

Russell: No, it's completely true. There's documentation inside it. It's not like I go back in time and become a medieval knight. It's all things that I actually did. Sometimes if I talk about evading fares on underground trains in the United Kingdom - I used to travel on trains without paying for tickets and I used to use various methods, and one of the methods was that I had an "Out of Order" sign that I used to stick on the toilet door so I could hide in the toilet, and there'd be a sign on the toilet door that said "Out of Order." I kept that sign. So there's a copy of that in the book next to the story. So everything in there is tragically true.

TVS: That's why you wanted to wait until the book came out in America until you pursued a film version of it?

Russell: I thought it would be pertinent. I was going to work with Michael Winterbottom who is an amazing Russell BRand's Toy Chestfilmmaker who has worked with people like Angelina Jolie and all kinds of amazing English performers. But I thought, bloody hell, I've been being me for decades, and frankly, it's tiring. Perhaps someone else should be me in the film of my life. It might be weird.

Because I think, if you read my book, there's terrible things that happened and awful things that I do, embarrassing and ridiculous, but the mitigation is offered alongside the information. Sort of, "This is a terrible thing. I should never have kicked that dog downstairs or taken all those drugs, but please forgive me, I was having a terrible time." If you just cut through the highlights, you might get the impression that I'm an unbearable, drug-addicted yabbo.

TVS: When you signed this deal with Comedy Central, were there any discussions with them about what you could and couldn't do with this special?

Russell: They were incredibly lenient. I mean, there were issues with language and there were jokes of a sexual nature. But the censorship was not draconian. I think if they can accommodate South Park and Sarah Silverman and The Daily Show, I feel they can accommodate me.

TVS: What was it like to tape that special in New York?

Russell: It was amazing, actually, Nick. It was a real laugh. The audience was really into it, and enthusiastic, sexy little audience. The whole thing was a roller coaster ride of emotions and erections.

TVS: Have you toured America much?

Russell: I've played gigs in San Francisco, gigs in Los Angeles, and gigs in New York. And that's it. But I plan over the next sort of twelve to eighteen months to do an extensive tour. I want to play Kentucky and Mississippi and Chicago, all places that don't even seem real to me. They just seem like words from my childhood. I want to go to those places.

TVS: How do you think your humor will translate?

Russell: It was translate well. Because it's universal and based on love. Although a lot of things are unusual, ultimately, we're just the same people, really. I don't think our differences should define us. We're all born, we're all going to die. We're all going to fall in love, get hurt, get excited, be disappointed. We're really just experiencing fragments of the same reality.

Russell BrandTVS: Do you look forward to reprising Aldous Snow?

Russell: Yeah. I'm so excited. I can't wait to do that. I'm going to L.A. right now to do the table read for it and some extensive chats with Nick Stoller to have some input in the script. I've done one table read already. I love working with Jonah Hill. He's funny and he's fast. I love working with him. And there are some other people in the cast, which I imagine will be announced - not by me. I've got to stop doing that, because I'm used to being in charge of everything I do. So I think, well, I'll just tell people who's in the cast. Wait 'til you find out, Nick. There's some amazing people.

TVS: Do you think people think you are Aldous Snow? When they meet you, do they identify you with the character?

Russell: Some people think I'm Aldous Snow, and I don't mind. I'm very similar to him. I'm in recovery from drug addiction and I'm a performer for a living and I'm interested in sort of mysticism and philosophy, rather in a realist way. And I'm famous and I love women. There are a lot of similarities because the character's been written around me. That's why. It's not a coincidence. But really, I think, if I were playing a lawyer from Detroit, it would still just be me with a bit of an accent. Instead of saying, "Oh, I like girls," I'd be going, "This case is really a drag." It's not that different. It's just saying stuff.

TVS: Are you afraid of getting typecast in a certain role?

Russell: No, if people keep casting me as me, then I'm going to have a lot of fun, because I know how to play me. And if they keep giving money for doing stuff that I would do anyway, I'm not going to complain. I've been in a Disney movie, I've been in a Shakespeare adaptation, and I've worked with Judd Apatow. Jesus Christ, I've only been doing this eighteen months. That's pretty diverse, really.

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I got "My Booky Wook" off of ebay last year because I couldn't wait until it came to the States to read it. It's fantastic! I hope the rest of America feels the same way, Russell is a true talent and I can't wait to see more of him.

March 08 2009 at 12:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Liz Newcomb

"...evading fairs on underground trains...." I think he evaded paying fares on the trains. I don't recall too many fun fairs in the Tube system!

March 06 2009 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So....he isn't actually the fictional character he played in a comedy movie? How disappointing.

March 06 2009 at 2:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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