Russell Brand is an extremely large personality, both in his style of performance and the level of disruption he tries to engage in as an aggressively anti-establishment figure. Reasonable people may disagree as to how anti-establishment he is or possibly can be. Early on in Re:Birth, his newest special for Netflix, he notes that it’s hard to make a living in media when you spend all your time criticizing the media. The idea that it’s “hard to make a living” for Brand, who is worth $15 million dollars (per Celebrity Net Worth), is obviously a joke, but still one that attempts to position him as outside the influence of corporate media, despite this special being distributed by a company with a net worth of about $150 billion dollars.
This is the side of Brand that people can be suspicious of, and can often—fairly—obscure his better instincts and worthwhile points. Much of this special is devoted to managing and reclaiming the media’s perception of Brand—he often throws to clips of incendiary interviews and explains or annotates them with footnotes and jokes. Brand can sometimes get slammed with that Ricky Gervais thing of being contrarian just to be a li’l stinker.
But Brand is far more deliberate than Gervais, basically less pleased with himself, and way more charismatic. You do have to get onboard with the college-senior-to-freshman ‘no big deal but you do know the media is _____’ vibe of his stand-up (or, to quote the special directly: “I don’t know if you understand the world ‘simulacrum’”), but if you can, you’ll appreciate Brand’s lithe stage presence. He is a truly theatrical performer—verbose and articulated in a way that few of his contemporaries can match. Re:Birth highlights his dizzying facility with rapid-fire speech and thought, which is impressive but can often drown out the actual content in the midst of his rambling. If I was being lofty about it, I’d say it kind of reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s Not I, but since I’m not, I’ll just say that I sometimes had no idea what Brand was talking about.
In the sweet spot between these two problem areas, Brand really weaponizes his foppish swagger to great effect. It’s just that when he calls himself a “cocaine communist” when people accusing him of being a “champagne socialist,” it might just be a matter of semantics.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.