The NS Interview: Russell Brand

“The BBC is beautiful, but now we are watching it fall apart”

New Statesman
Russell Brand, comedian. Credit: Joss McKinley/New Statesman

“The BBC is beautiful, but now we are watching it fall apart”

You write books, do stand-up comedy and act in films. Which do you prefer?
Stand-up. I love writing, but I'm not very disciplined and I find it difficult to do something where the gratification is so obviously delayed. No one's clapping and laughing at a book.

What's going on in your mind onstage?
There is this staccato series of interconnected voices - sometimes it feels like I'm in a seizure of ideas, a collision of voices.

Are there limits to what you will joke about?
I think as long as you remain funny, you can say anything.

You've said you find film-making dull. Why?
The thing with film is that it's disciplined, collaborative and democratic (up to a point) - so it's not really in alignment with the template of pleasure that I've lived in life.

What have you lost in your quest for fame?
The idea that every time you are photographed it's like [losing] a sliver of your soul is a valid metaphysical argument. But, for me, it's meant I've focused on protecting what's truthful to me.

But you expose parts of your life that many people would consider private.
I don't know what they're doing with their time. Stuff about an orgy ten years ago doesn't mean anything to me.

You resigned from the BBC after making phone calls to Andrew Sachs about his granddaughter. Do you regret that now?
I will always have to be careful to acknowledge my part in the mistake that occurred, in terms of conduct and impoliteness. But the subsequent phenomenon was an exercise conducted by the print media, which - no disrespect - are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

In what way?
Look at the Daily Mail the other day - on one page, it had a picture of a cloud that looked like a dog. Admittedly, the cloud did look like a dog. But I thought: "What the hell's going on?" How can you possibly take its opinion on pages one and two seriously when, on page 12, there's this cloud that looks like a dog?

Are you worried about the future of the BBC?
It's a peculiarly beautiful organisation and I recognise that more, working abroad. It's incomparable. But I think we're watching it fall apart now; we're watching it dismantle itself because - I don't want to be critical, especially of the BBC - it seems to lack strong leadership.

Do you vote?
I have become, like a lot of people of our generation, utterly disengaged, utterly disenfranchised. I've never voted in my life.

Why not?
I have no relationship to what they are saying. It's a charade and there is no point identifying with it; it doesn't mean anything. I think what we need is a genuine alternative.

You talk about the need for revolution. What would yours look like?
Legitimate change would have to have a spiritual element. I don't think that you can have socialism without spirituality, so the atheistic tenets of Marxism are a significant reason why it didn't work - not that I'm an economist.

What do you mean by "spirituality"?
An ideological shift to accepting that we are all one. It's present in Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism - love one another and try to politicise these ideas. But as long as people who are at the top of hierarchical structures pursue self-interest, we don't have many options.

You have said you dread being alone. Why?
In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is said: "An addict alone is in bad company." When I was a kid, I was on my own a lot. I quickly retreat into my imagination. That's all well and good if I'm in the right frame of mind and, broadly speaking these days, I am. But before, I could filter myself off into some avenue of madness.

Did you always think you would get married?
No, because it is conventional to be married. I have had all sorts of different solipsistic musings. I sometimes think I should end my dotage with concubines and hundreds of grandchildren. But part of me is quite traditional, really.

It's not the first word that springs to mind.
You stick a few rings and bangles about your person and it makes you incredibly bohemian, but really I'm a guy from Grays in Essex who was brought up by a single mum. I like going to West Ham, going to the cinema and playing with the cat.

Is there anything you'd like to forget?
I don't think so. I wish I could forget the theme tune to the Coco Pops advert . . . But sometimes I'm glad I know it.

Are we all doomed?
No, I don't think so - I think we have hope. But perhaps that's why we are doomed.

Defining Moments

1975 Born in Grays, Essex
1991 Enters the Italia Conti Academy. Is expelled in his first year for drug use
2000 Presents first notable stand-up show at the Hackney Empire, London
2001 Fired from MTV for dressing up as Bin Laden the day after 11 September attacks
2008 Resigns from BBC Radio 2
2008 Wins Best Live Stand-Up at British Comedy Awards
2010 Marries the singer Katy Perry