Russell Brand – star of TV, Movies and Radio – brings his ‘Brand’ new tour to Margate on 26 April.
We caught up with the witty, roguish comedian to find out more about his new show and what we can expect?
Russell Brand on his latest tour – Re:Birth
Q: Why is the tour called Re:Birth?
RB: The tour is called Re:Birth because it is about how I’ve been personally reborn as a result of the birth of my daughter. But it’s also about whether or not there is a thing that you can call your ‘essential self’, how you can get in contact with it, and how you find your way to the truth of who you are.
Q: Do you think that this applies to people in general, the idea of rebirth? Do you think this applies to the people coming to watch this show? Will they care?
RB Yeah, I think they will care. I think that if you’re a parent and you come to see this show the story of the birth of my daughter will be resonant. I didn’t realise until I started talking about the birth how many moments were wrenching apart my consciousness as surely (although perhaps not as graphically as they did other aspects of my female partner’s anatomy) because it changes everything. It changes how I think of the world; the fact that she is my daughter changes the way I think about gender. And being a father is a massive download, it is a massive reboot. It’s the equivalent of when you turn off your computer by pulling the plug out instead of shutting it down the proper way – it’s like you’ve turned it off by tipping water on it. My whole head feels different and unusual – it has inspired loads of different thoughts. It’s also made me look at the last year when I was involved in politics in the UK and beyond that. It has made me look at that time differently – it hasn’t made me change my principles or what I believe in – but it’s made me look back differently. There are some very funny old clips in the show – clips of me on Paxman, funny clips of me outside Downing Street, funny clips of Donald Trump criticising me, of David Cameron – I talk about all that in the context of being a father. I also talk about how it feels to be a reformed womaniser in a monogamous relationship and how that’s changed my feelings about sexuality and sex. So the show has got quite a lot in it.
Q: On the latter, in terms of the womanising – not to focus too heavily on that – it’s interesting that this show has given you a chance to talk about that part of your past in a new light.
RB: Yeah, because ten years ago – and it’s weird because it feels like I’m talking about a century ago – but times were very different then. Or times weren’t very different then and I was just being very insensitive about sexism! But now, when I talk about sex and I talk about the past, and my hedonistic past, it’s different because I’m not living it any more. It’s determinedly a time that is over. I’m talking about that behaviour from a completely different point of view – as a father to a daughter, obviously that looks different. I hope that’s not just an evolution of my own selfishness – now that I am personally affected, now that I have got skin in the game, now I care about sexism. It’s not that – it’s like an epiphany. It’s a massive change – a massive change in the way that I see sex, the world, women, politics, myself, everything. Once you experience a change in the way that you look at yourself then the way that you see everything is going to change.
Q: In terms of the overall material, this feels like the most relatable content that you have done. In your previous shows, people have been watching this celebrity who is living this mad life, and the laughter has come from these mad experiences that you relate to people. But this show feels different – there is an element of that still – but it is much more inclusive. Are you enjoying that part of it?
RB: I really am. I feel like earlier shows might have been about me living in this mad, glittery world. But very early on in the process of writing this show, before I had written or performed any of the stuff about my daughter, I spoke to Jimmy Carr. Jimmy said ‘this is going to be a show about a mad person now having to live a normal life, it’s going to be amazing to hear you talk about normal experiences’. I really wanted to talk about politics, The Trews and all that – and that stuff is in there – but now I am living in a normal monogamous relationship with a woman, with a child, with two cats and a dog. In a way it is a bit like the end of Goodfellas when he says ‘now I get to live like a schmo,’ – except of course I don’t feel that – I have never been so blissfully happy. But it does provide an incredible context when I think about how I used to live and how I used to behave. Now I live an identifiable life. Nothing is more normal and spectacular than seeing a child being born and nothing is likely to have a more profound effect on you. In this show I am commentating from a ringside seat on the process of childbirth – of being in the room and watching it happen, and watching how it made me feel. But I’m also looking back at my past and thinking ‘oh my god, I’ve done all these things’ and looking towards my future and what I am going to be like as a parent, what I am going to be like as a father, and what that means for the world that I live in, and the world I want to live in.
Q: What is really interesting is the reaction of the audience when you are talking in quite a lot of detail about the lead up to the birth, about the night itself, about the experience in the hospital, and of the birth itself (and you actually got pretty involved yourself, it wasn’t like you were stood in another room drinking tea). It’s really interesting to hear some of the audience reactions from the people who have gone through childbirth – the women who have actually given birth, or the husbands and the part that they have had to play.
RB: I think there are 15 or 20 really surprising things that happen over the course of childbirth. I am also very proud and glad to say that it took place in a NHS hospital and the NHS midwives were fierce warriors of the labour ward – it was incredible to be around those women, and to be a man in a maternity ward is to know your place. It was a very, very humbling experience – the birth of a new life, and the imposition of quite clear boundaries of who’s got the power.
Q: How does Laura feel about you discussing all of this in intimate detail?
RB: I do rigorous joke-checks with my girlfriend and I really try and make a pitch for them. So far she has only banned one joke and charmingly and typically of her, that was in order to protect the midwife rather than her! She’s been incredibly, may I say, open about the information that she’s allowed to be revealed about her most private, personal, bodily details and experiences.
Q: I don’t think that people have heard talk about birth in the way that you do – so explicitly, and in the detail with which you do. It sparks memories for them – ‘of course, of course they do give you that!’ or ‘they do talk to you like that!’
RB: I think prompting those memories is an important thing about comedy. When you think of great observational comedians like Jerry Seinfeld or Michael McIntyre, they make you say ‘yeah!’ – they say things that you recognise. I am, I would say, a different type of comedian to that, but nonetheless there is that sense in which you find things that people are aware of and you just bring that awareness to the forefront – that’s part of telling a story. For most people present at a birth, at the time, you are so caught up in the emotion and the intensity that you don’t always recall the details. But for me it had the opposite effect, it was so emotional and transcendent that it was all landing. Quite soon afterwards I was telling one of my friends, David Baddiel, about my experiences at the birth. His children were with him at the time and he said to them, ‘that’s not how everybody sees the world, children’. And he was actually saying that what we were seeing was quite beautiful, in this instance. That made me feel encouraged in the material, I realised this is what the show needs to be about.
Q: What is it about your experiences that make you want to go out and tell those stories to people? I don’t think all comedians have that. You tell stories that are very personal to you. Why do you do that? Why is that important to you and why is that part of your performance?
RB: I think it’s because I am a show-off. And I want to be understood. I really feel connected when I am showing off. The reason I am doing it from that place of truth is because for me that is the most important thing. When I am on the stage telling a story of how I felt when I was having a particular experience, if I can feel that there is a direct connection with the audience then I don’t feel like I am so alone in the world. It makes me feel personally hopeful when people are laughing at that stuff. My belief is that whilst we are all different, there is something very profound that connects us.
If I speaking of things that are very, very truthful and couldn’t be more personal – like my personal observations of watching the birth of my child – it’s obviously a very deeply, deeply private thing, but that’s why it becomes the material of the show – because for me (and I know this sounds slightly grand) it is where the magic is coming from.
Because what is the point of performance, or art? There are a lot of comedians that would say that comedy is more like a craft but I really want connection, I really want connection to a higher thing. I don’t necessarily mean transcendence, but I want inter-connectedness. When I am performing this show I hear people laughing at the very intimate and particular details of the way that a baby is born, and what happens immediately after a birth, and how you get a baby dumped on you straight away, and suddenly you’re just left with the baby and you’re having to deal with it, and the immediate consequences of that in a relationship – when I’m talking about those things I feel like there is a laughter of real recognition. There is still the laughter of shock, which is a laugh that I have endured throughout my career as a stand-up comedian, but the laughter of recognition is a new thing. It feels very, very new to me – it feels very human, relatable and connected. Just before Mabel was born was perhaps one of the madder times of my life – it was the time of having Ed Miliband at my house, British democracy, Fox News arguments and revolution. All of those things felt, in a way, very untethered. They were truthful and real to me, but untethered. But to be talking about those times in this show interposed with talking about the most normal, ordinary, accessible things: I like it.
Q: You had been working on political material before, why was it so important to discuss the birth for you, rather than just do a show that you already had ready?
RB: Writing stuff about the birth made me think about the future, and moving forward. Also I felt like a different person. I did a show the day after she was born – the show was booked and I didn’t feel I could cancel it – but when I was talking about politics and all of the other different stuff I did, it felt like I was performing the show with a crash helmet on my head! It felt like I couldn’t talk about truth anymore because I was so bewildered and overwhelmed by what had happened. It’s such a massive transition: everything that you felt before a baby doesn’t matter anymore – everything just feels like theory. After a baby is born everything has to become practical, you have to question everything. You think ‘hang on! Let’s just kick some tires a bit more before we go out and bring down any more governments!’
Q: In all the political events that you went through, including the press coverage, and writing your book at that time, you were basically talking about revolution, about a revolution within society, and it was getting to a peak. It’s interesting that what has happened to you immediately following that time, is a personal revolution. It’s a total personal revolution. When you called for a social revolution it seems like you were searching for something – and not that those things were not important to you – but the realisation has been rendered in a very personal way.
RB: You’re right about that. I thought that I needed a total revolution and to me that seemed to do with equality, to do with social change, to do with distribution of power, bringing spirituality to the forefront of everybody’s lives, and recognising that the world isn’t a commodity for us to use. But, basically, what the revolution meant for me is that I am now a father and everything has changed. Everything is different. Earlier today I was in a field with some sheep and a dog – it was my dog – and I had a baby strapped round me and I thought ‘what is this? how did I get here? what has happened?’ You’re right, it is a personal revolution. I sometimes think that some of the grand cultural narratives are actually our way of dealing with quite personal ideas. For example, when people are talking about Armageddon, and the Apocalypse, and the end of the world – well the world is going to end! Does it matter if we all die simultaneously or one at a time? Death is coming, death is coming. Rebirth is coming – to a town near you!
Q: What are you most enjoying about being back on tour? And visiting different places?
RB: I love seeing a different side of Britain, a Britain that feels united and connected. The thing with my show is that there is a lot of audience interaction, and I get right out there with audience members. Before the show I ask the audience to fill in a survey online – and I encourage you to do this if you are coming to the show – it means I can talk to people about their most intimate and personal details. It shows you that behind the veneer, behind the veil, under the skin, the people of Britain are insane and interesting.
Q: You have always loved talking to audience members, and now there’s actually a big chunk of the show where you do more of that. How have you noticed the audiences over the years have changed and what are they like now, are you surprised by the people that come to see you?
RB: I am surprised. I am surprised by how elderly they are! No, the audience is encouragingly diverse – there are people drawn from all manner of sex and society, there are young people and older people. And mostly what I am surprised by is their willingness to share the most intimate details about their personal and private lives on a form – which surely, clearly and obviously to anybody, was going to be read out loud, to other members of the audience. There’s nothing like performing live. You can’t be misunderstood when you’re in the room with everyone – they can see your face, they can hear the laughter. It’s the most exciting thing that I do, I think it’s the best tour that I’ve ever done.
Q: I suppose from your point of view, for the last couple of years a lot of your work has been taken out of context by a certain section of the press. It must have been very difficult to actually judge how it was being taken. In fact, perhaps the best way to gauge reaction would be to meet people on the street, and see how their reactions differed to how you were being portrayed in the newspapers.
RB: Yeah, it was really mad. If you read British tabloid papers at that time you’d have thought I was going to be hung from a lamppost. But in actuality when I would go out and about people would say ‘well done mate, well done.’ People couldn’t swing their vans over quickly enough to shout encouraging slogans into my face!
Q: And now that you’re in front of an audience again, that must be so enjoyable for you. It must be the best part of your job. That you get to meet people and see how they really react towards you.
RB: There is a warmth and connection that is very difficult to describe. It’s not the same connection after the show that there always used to be! But during the show we’re all in the same bed together. These days, I would have to say that if anyone did invite me back to their bed after the show, I am so tired from being a father I would probably just go to sleep!
GRAB THE FINAL FEW TICKETS TO SEE RUSSELL BRAND LIVE IN MARGATE ON 26 APRIL HERE