Review: Russell Brand, Messiah Complex

He’s known for his hair, his sex life and more recently, his encounter with Jeremy Paxman, but as Nicola Slawson finds during Russell Brand’s standup comedy show, there’s more to Britain’s famed lovable rogue than meets the eye

The lights go down at the Hammersmith Apollo and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus blares out of the speakers. Russell Brand saunters on stage with his trademark long hair and skintight leather trousers, and cries of adoration rise from the audience. For a moment it feels like a rock concert.

Then he opens his mouth and we remember it’s a standup comedy show. But what exactly Brand will deliver tonight is uncertain; we might also be in line for another Brand staple: anti-establishment rants.

For the uninitiated, Brand has been making the headlines for more than his complicated love life or controversial off-the-cuff remarks. After a recent slot as guest editor of the New Statesman, he was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, where his eloquent dressing down of the current political system seemed to resonate with a generation. However, Messiah Complex, his first ever standup world tour, was written before this furore. How much of the show would be comedy and how much would be a call to arms? It turns out it was an impressive blend of both.

Brand is his usual cocky, assured self as he begins the night descending into the audience to meet his ‘followers’. But there is humility too. Central to the show is Brand’s tongue-in-cheek argument about why he likens himself to his heroes: Gandhi, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and Jesus. He pokes fun at himself for his reputation as sexist – a claim he evidently disagrees with – as well as his acting abilities, and he shares humiliating stories of things he’s done that he’d rather forget.

Somehow, and hilariously, he also manages to weave sex into almost every anecdote and joke. Brand of course is no shrinking violet in this regard, so there are moments that are a little too graphic. It’s doubtful, for example, that anyone in the audience will ever be able to look at David Cameron and George Osborne in the same way again.

But through anecdotes about his heroes, Brand also launches into sharp dissections of celebrity culture, corporate responsibility and the shortcomings of the media. Behind the hair and the crude jokes, there is no doubt that Brand has an uncanny ability to put his finger on the pulse. And in Messiah Complex, he brings these issues home in side-splitting form.

Tying all his apparent tangents together, he concludes that the virtues and flaws of the people we idealise are within us all. He ends the show by urging us to choose our heroes before they are chosen for us. And after tonight, I might have chosen one of mine.

Messiah Complex returns to the UK in February 2014