Review by Dave Howell
Russell Brand has perfected the art of comedian as rock star, with his looks, bad boy lifestyle, and generally hip English persona. With his new tour “Messiah Complex,” he seems to have moved on, imagining himself as both a hero and a savior, comparing himself to four major figures; Gandhi, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Jesus Christ.
But on this tour Brand is purposely challenging his audiences, mixing a lot of philosophy and politics in with his jokes, and making fun of his own image.
It is not often that Friedrich Nietzsche’s name is mentioned in a standup act, but Brand went on to explain the meaning of the philosopher’s often quoted phrase “God is dead.” He pointed out that 147 corporations own half the world’s wealth. And as a former heroin addict, he said that drug dependence should be treated as a health issue, not a legal one.
The fact that the hour and a half show is called “Messiah Complex” implies that Brand is struggling with his own celebrity and wondering about its value. He projected photos of himself on the large video screen at the back of the stage and the two screens on each side of it. The pictures he chose made him look foolish, and he went on to joke about them. To explain a few things he said, “I looked in my brain, which has never been my ally.”
As he skewered advertising, he brought up Gillette’s slogan that it was “the best a man can get.” Brand said that shaving was not the best a man can get, and brought up the example of two women on each side of him who would – well, you get the idea. He showed his acting skills by recreating two people in the office of the U.K.’s “Daily Mail” who were writing gossip.
He recalled the factory overseas where workers who made Apple products were committing suicide by jumping out a window. The facility put up a net in response. Brand commented, “Let’s see. Did they increase wages? Add a pension plan? No – they put up a net. When they dragged people out of the net, they said, ‘That counts as your coffee break’.”
Large posters of each of Brand’s heroes were mounted at the front of the stage. Brand reminded the crowd that all four were victims of assassins. He said Gandhi represented intelligence, Che courage, Malcolm X heart, and Jesus represented divine, creative energy. He also made a pitch for values of paganism, remarking that if rivers, trees, and soil were still sacred, our care of the planet would be much better.
Brand also did many sexual jokes and bragged about his own lovemaking skills. This, of course, contrasted with his spiritual musings, and created a conflict that he never really resolved. Maybe he will do so on his next tour.
It can be supposed that some of Brand’s audiences would have preferred more jokes and less of his serious material. But he has to be admired for taking chances on this tour, and for presenting thought provoking issues at the height of his career.