Part-comedian, part-activist, part-political commentator, Russell Brand is not afraid of attempting to answer some of life’s biggest questions.
In his ‘Re:Birth’ show, the 42-year-old takes on a series humongous topics each night, using audience participation as a vehicle for conversations on everything from – in no particular order – modern media, politics and addiction, to sex, fatherhood and death.
And while this might initially seem like a lot for one man to take on in one evening, during our interview, Russell quickly points out that we all deal with these things daily anyway.
“Modern media? Who’s not looking at their phone all night?” he says astutely. “Sex? That’s always on your mind, whether you want it or think you’ve done it too much, or whatever. And then death, well everything is about death.”
What most people don’t do though, is discuss them all at once and it’s when he’s discussing the times when these issues intersect that Russell speaks with the most conviction, drawing on his own experiences and using what he describes as a “critical thinking-based” approach to logically dissect society.
On the – admittedly pretty big – question of how real change can actually be affected, the theory part comes first, with the personal following shortly after: “Challenges, real challenges, to the way things are won’t come from different ways of understanding economy.
“Economics seems to me, whether it’s the distribution of wealth – wealth is continually being redistributed but usually in a particular direction, upwards – but economics will never change the world.”
“Spirituality is key,” he says. “I think people being connected to what they are feeling, which is a synonym to spirituality.
“If you live in a city you’ll see that moment to moment, what are you actually doing? What are we doing in this moment? Why are we in that office or why did we get on that train? Whose idea was it really?
“When you go past a renovated hotel in Russell Square, you know it’s going to be renovated into another nice hotel or nice flats.
“If you hear, ‘oh no, no it’s being turned into social housing’, people would say, ‘My god, that’s amazing!’.”
On modern media and addiction, Russell quickly answers the question of what’s missing from newspaper articles about the latter, declaring: “Compassion, altruism and solution-based thinking.
“Addiction is about cycles and patterns. Most people who are involved in addictive behaviour want to change it and they want to solve a problem. Most people that are taking drugs are doing it because they need to feel better. It should be covered from the perspective of looking for a solution.”
When it comes to addiction, Russell counts himself as having dealt with many, including drugs, sex and fame, and his commentary on them is firmly bedded in his own experiences.
“In the end, the objects become irrelevant,” he says. “It’s the subject that’s important, the sense of attachment we have to external things. It’s the feeling in your belly, it’s the same.
“They’re all hard [to deal with]… In a way the substances are easier because it’s so bloody severe and obvious that it demands you to take action.
“I think most people will hobble along with the stone of manageable misery in their shoe for most of their lives.”
It’s not just potentially life-changing areas that Russell’s approach aids with either as he also credits it with helping to abate pre-show jitters – “I don’t look at it as nerves anymore, I look at it is as prefatory feeling” – but one drawback is that he runs the risk of being unable to connect with the audience in front of him.
“That’s the challenge of all communicators,” he admits. “How do you, firstly, avoid cliches? And how do you tap into the universal?
“The avoidance of cliche is very important. If you write something and you think, ‘oh god, I’ve just written that thing that other people have written’, or if you’re doing something. I’ve just been in a room where I noticed that all the men who are about my age who work in media-type stuff wear basically the clothes that I was wearing. I don’t remember consciously making the decision to do that.”
Referencing his recently-released self-help book, ‘Recovery’, Russell continues: “So much of what we do is unexamined, so I suppose what I’m saying is, the reason I believe in this book, this programme, this way, is because if I’m tuned in to what I truly am, I’m an ok guy. I’m an ok part of a group. We can expand the size of those groups and the quality of the goodness.”
‘Recovery’ is something Russell understandably returns to multiple times, explaining how the spiritual, step-based approach he writes about can help people “undergo a process of analysis on what really motivates them”, working towards goals which centre on communities and connections.
But what about anyone who think they’ve already cracked it? While his stand-up is there for everyone to enjoy, should you still read the book if you see yourself as happy and addiction-free? His short answer is this: “If they are happy and content, they don’t need it.”
The longer answer, however, is far more interesting. “How could you not feel challenged and anxious if you looked out of the window, or looked at a newspaper?” he asks. “What the programme – which I didn’t invent, I’m just interpreting – gives you is a different way of connecting with the self and other people.
“Addiction really, is you are drawn to a behaviour and you think it’s going to make you feel better, but it doesn’t. We’re all doing that sort of thing in some way.”
‘Re:Birth’ comes to the Eventim Apollo on 31 October and 1 November.