Based on his character Aldous Snow in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek"—not to mention his years of highly publicized, drug and alcohol addiction-related controversies and much-discussed marriage to/divorce from Katy Perry—it would be easy to erroneously label Russell Brand as a loose cannon. He does celebrate stand-up comedy's potential for mayhem and chaos, claiming, "mundanity and structure is against our nature."
Still, 10 years sober and without any regrets, the English comedian (appearing June 12 at the Chicago Theatre as part of the TBS "Just For Laughs" festival) also says "it's a very powerful position to be a comedian" and notes that he wants to do more with comedy than just make people laugh. When I ask what he wants to do in town, he doesn't talk about staying out all night, Aldous Snow-style; he wants to go to The Second City and "visit the significant sites" of Prohibition-era Chicago.
By phone from L.A., the 38-year-old funnyman talked about the results of his on-stage spontaneity, his unexpectedly heavy comic material and how his acclaimed sexual history may influence his hypothetical political career.
What's something you'll do on stage during "Just for Laughs" that none of the other comedians will do?
Well, my material for a start. Unless there is a terrible legislative slip-up. I don't know what they're going to be doing, but I do know that the show will begin and end with a real opportunity for spontaneity and [will] really incorporate and include the audience. I get into the audience, get involved in the audiences' lives, deal with their personal problems and, on some occasions, follow them home.
What's something memorable that came out of that recently?
I did a gig at Twitter recently because someone at Twitter sent a tweet saying, "Come and do a gig at where we work," which is Twitter. And I went there; two days later I was in their offices performing in front of 800 people. Other occasions I've had to talk to the police because I got involved with various cases [by] phoning in, giving clues … like [if a case is] reported in the local paper, I'll get the collective consciousness of the audience to try and solve the case. My success rate is at 100 percent failure so far.
It's good to be perfect at something.
Yeah, even if it's imperfection.
With you focusing on that spontaneous vibe, how much preparation is involved? Or can you just get up and vamp?
No, the core material I'm working very hard on. I'm talking about icons: I'm talking about the figures of Malcolm X, Gandhi, Che Guevara and Jesus Christ and how they've influenced culture. How their images are used and appropriated to advance different causes and what the function of heroes in our culture is.
Those are some big figures. Do you feel like that's sensitive material to joke about? How do you feel people receive that stuff?
Well, I don't know yet. The show that we're doing has been very, very well-received. It's going incredibly well because it's not like I'm interested in ridiculing Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Gandhi and Jesus. [They're] very important icons. What I'm interested in is who are the real men behind those figures, and how are those images used? Whose agenda is being advanced in the way these figures are used?
You've been doing comedy for a long time, and a lot has changed in your life. How has comedy's function changed for you over the years? It must feel different in some way now.
I suppose now there's a different kind of obligation because it's more visible what I do. The function doesn't change actually; that's one of the things that's interesting is it's very pure and consistent. When you're doing it in a small venue in front of 20 people, it's the same as doing it in front of 10,000 people in an arena. You've got to be truthful to yourself, and you've gotta make sure those people have a fantastic evening. It's the consistency of comedy in my life that makes it very important.
You're not just interested in comedy, having posted some political statements recently. How concerned are you that a label like "Shagger of the Year" will prevent you from running for office?
[Laughs.] If anything, "Shagger of the Year" will advance my entitlement to hold high office in a variety of nations. Who wouldn't want an accredited shagger running their country?
How many times has that happened before?
In history? I don't think it has happened, but until very recently there has never been a [black] president, and now there very much is one. So I think the next natural step is a four-time "Shagger of the Year" to be made leader of--I don't know who, I'm not sure which nation yet. Or it could be local office.
How interested are you in doing a nationwide tour as a musician? Would you ever want to do an album and big tour?
No, I wouldn't be interested in doing that. I just don't feel like I have any real facility in that area.