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Russell Brand, Arena, Nottingham

February 20 2009

RUSSELL Brand's five year rise to fame is bookended with irritation: Big Brother's Big Mouth and Sachsgate.
That first significant TV appearance on Big Brother's E4 side show presented an overconfident, manufactured rock'n'roll fop. So annoying was he, that I kept his gradual elevation to comedy star, best-selling writer and Hollywood actor at a distance. But with a date at our Arena selling-out as fast as any Lee Evans or Rick Gervais show, it was time to see what the fuss was all about.
I tried as best I could to go with an open mind, though the reports that Sachsgate formed an integral part of his 90 minute routine lowered expectations somewhat.
Indeed Brand saw fit to proudly boast of the whole episode, footage of the TV news reports on a huge video screen was followed with him singing "I am the news" to the News At Ten theme.
After an encouraging opening wander right into the audience - although the interaction didn't exactly bristle with wit - he spent the next 30 minutes going over the media hysteria that followed his radio gaffe. "It was a statistical inevitability that I'd have sex with the granddaughter of a former sitcom star" he said, swaggering across a bare stage with his trademark black leather jacket and skin-tight "ladies'" leggings.
Brand made it clear that it was Jonathan Ross who had started it and the editor of the pre-recorded radio show was also to blame. But he wasn't back-tracking. "I still think it was funny," he says, replaying the video of his spontaneous song from the phone call to Andrew Sachs' ansaphone.
He recalls the text from Noel Gallagher regarding the news story – a cutting of which is projected on to the screen – of a Brand lookalike rendered jobless by the affair. Gallagher quipped: "Hope you're proud of yourself."
The middle third of the set was taken up by his dismal job at the MTV Video Music Awards last September in the States during which he called George Bush a "retarded cowboy". It prompted death threats, some of which he read out. Then he proceeded to run through all the gags he'd written for the broadcast. Just in case you missed it, one assumes. It's not what one would call new material.
Sex played its part, rather inevitably for the final third, referencing his "fame wand", a maternal fantasy about Helen Mirren and – ooh controversial – the Queen. Shocking if you've been raised on a diet of the Chuckle Brothers.
It's not comedy in the traditional sense. Jokes are few. And Brand doesn't do observational. It's all about "me, me, me". Something he justifies because he is "mentally ill" and "narcissistic".
After 90 minutes – there's no encore – he signs off by inviting girls backstage for a threesome. I don't think he's joking, either.
But was it funny? The 6,000 in the Arena (it wasn't intended to sell to capacity) seemed to think so. For the most part.
I found the narcissism rather dull.
Most amusing was the security staff repeatedly trying to stop people taking photographs. As pointless an exercise as asking Brand to talk about someone else.

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