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Russell Brand - really?

February 2009

DO not for one second think that Russell Brand has followed Jonathan Ross's example and put the whole Manuelgate scandal behind him.
Rather the opposite.
On the current tour, which lands at the Trent FM Arena next Friday night, he has the audacity to use the pair's radio gaffe to shore up his show.
It's another reason to resent the success of the omnipotent, foppish, self-confessed sex addict.
Not so much because what he and Ross did was obnoxious, over the line and unfunny – we're sick of hearing about!
That said, I've never understood Russell Brand anyway. Or rather his appeal.
Ever since he appeared on Big Mouth – the unnecessary second side dish to the main Big Brother programme – in 2004, irritation turned to bafflement as his star rose from TV series, Radio 2 show, chart-topping DVDs, best-selling and critically acclaimed book, sell-out tours, even Hollywood movies.
That's why I'll be going along to the Arena next Friday – to see if I get the joke.
But I may have mis-timed it, reckons Darrell Martin, boss of Nottingham's Just The Tonic.
"He may be a bit self-indulgent," warns the man who booked him years ago for shows in London.
"He may be pandering to a self-belief that he has an interesting rock 'n' roll lifestyle in comparison to everyone else's plain lives."
But he was – probably still is – a funny man.
Not that it was always so.
Martin, who has been putting on comedy in the city for 15 years, first saw him pre-fame at the Edinburgh festival.
"It was years ago and he had apparently gone on stage in a drunken (or something) mess and started ranting at the audience.
"He would come on stage with a bag over his head and breath like the elephant man only to pull it off and reveal himself to be a bit of a looker.
"The general impression was that he was a bit of an idiot who loved himself a bit too much.
"He wasn't really that much of a comedian, more like a big show-off. But then he had a bit of a transformation.
"Word got out that he was getting better. When I did a couple of huge gigs in the West End in 2004, a promoter recommended that I give Russell a go. I reluctantly put him on.
"He was the opening act and I think it was the biggest gig he'd done at that point. I was surprised at how funny he was. And it wasn't all about himself."
The dandy goth look, the black skinny jeans, wild hair and eye liner, wasn't evident back then.
"He never used to dress like he does now and didn't talk all Dickensian either. I think he took a few influences from others on the circuit and fused these."
He adds: "I had only seen him a few times at Edinburgh prior to this and it was always a car crash. So I never booked him.
"I tried a few times to get him to play the club after the London shows but he was always waiting to find out about TV schedules so I couldn't get a date.
"It was around the time he started doing Big Brother's Big Mouth."
He would call in a favour from Brand in 2006 – along with Ricky Gervais, Sean Lock, Tim Vine and Stewart Lee – to play two shows, again in London, to raise cash for Just The Tonic. The closure of Cabaret in Fletcher Gate had left the club without a home.
"He was really good," he says.
"I know he's had a few issues that have made him a bit annoying but he'd be the first to admit that."
Then he adds: "I would never leave him alone with a girlfriend..."

Russell Brand, Trent FM Arena, Friday February 20, £24.50, 08444 124624 or 08700 112626.

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