Synopsis: Recorded live at Hammersmith Apollo, Russell questions the values of heroes and leaders. ‘Messiah Complex’ is a disorder where sufferers think they might be the messiah. Did Jesus have it? What about Che Guevara, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Hitler? All these men have shaped our lives and influenced the way we think. Their images are used to represent ideas that often do not relate to them at all. Would Gandhi be into Apple? Would Che Guevara endorse Madonna? Would Jesus be into Christianity?
He concludes it’s all a load of rubbish and encourages the audience to stop voting, ignore advertising, look to the transcendent within themselves and others…and kick over some bins on their way home. Plus there’s sex. Obviously.
eyelights: the political content.
eyesores: Brand’s vanity and ego.
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” – author unknown.
I truly became aware of Russell Brand approximately six five years ago, around the time that he co-starred in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘. By that point, the stand-up comedian and celebrity figure had a good buzz going – he was showing up just about everywhere, and his star was on the rise.
He became pretty much unavoidable in 2009 when he hooked up with pop sensation Katy Perry, whose “I Kissed a Girl” had everyone talking. Thanks to her omnipresence, and given that she always kept Brand in tow, there was no way to escape the fast-talking, goofy womanizer even if you wanted to.
Personally, I wasn’t really interested in knowing much more. The few times that I heard him, he failed to impress me (or even make me laugh) and I just couldn’t get beyond his apparent vacuousness. As with many other stars, I acknowledged his existence, but wasn’t inclined to fuel his cult of celebrity.
In recent years, Brand has increasingly shown signs of wanting to discuss matters of significance. Not content with only talking about sex and his substance abuse problems, he has taken on the role of messenger, trying to translate for audiences (or anyone who will listen, really) important sociopolitical notions.
For ‘Messiah Complex’, which captured the November 25th date of his 2013 stand-up tour, he decided to take on a few choice political figures: aside from Adolf Hitler, who gets a mention or two, Brand chose to focus on Gandhi, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and Jesus – whom he discusses in turn.
The show began with a pretty awesome visual intro backed by classical music showing a progressing series of shots of nature all the way to human civilization then to war and destruction. The message about humanity’s impact is clear and made accessible; it’s like an ADD-addled, pop-culture version of ‘Baraka‘ crammed into 90 seconds.
Then came Brand, who looked like an eager teenager lapping up the attention. Within very little time, he climbed down onto the theatre floor, scanned the audience, then poked fun at some of them, flirted with others (as could be expected) and bantered for as long as his improv skills made it possible.
That’s when the real show began, when he started to explain his main theme for the night.
Flanked by tall banners of the afore-mentioned political and religious leaders, and backed by a central screen, Brand talked about our obsession with celebrity: how we deify some of our leaders, and how some of the people we worship actually do suffer from a sort of messiah complex – including himself.
Personally, I really appreciated that Brand brought up the questions of how our leaders are being misappropriated by corporations to sell their wares, in complete conflict with the values and notions for which we regard them. It makes me think of when right-wing leaders use John Lennon’s music to soften their image. Ick.
But through it all, I only got the impression that he was spewing out other people’s ideas out of vanity, to prove that he could do it. He clearly mastered the language, but he kept going over the fact that these were clever notions and that the show would have clever bits in it, …etc., all the while not acknowledging that they were not his own.
This only served to stroke his own ego, to further this messianic image that, on the one hand, he pokes fun at, but on the other, appears to relish. In telling people that his show has clever bits, he was essentially telling people “Look at me! I can be clever! Bow down and be impressed!”. That didn’t sit well with me.
The show continually revolved around him. God… he talked about himself a lot. He would go on and on about what he’s been up to and show us pictures of himself. Granted, he made fun of himself in the process, but it stank of self-obsession, as though there was nothing more important in the world than Russell Brand.
And his vanity… oh boy. I won’t take away from the fact that (despite his questionable fashion sense and icky tattoos) he is a very pretty man. But he frequently flipped his hair, talked about his looks. As far as I’m concerned, if there had been a mirror on stage, he might even have performed in front of it.
Still, for all his insurmountable egotism and cockiness, I appreciated that Brand attempted to enlighten the masses in some capacity. Even if he should be using his already potent celebrity to fuel his messiah complex, it is commendable that he would make such issues accessible to people who wouldn’t even consider them.
By virtue of this, I have to recommend the show – even if I don’t agree with all his positions (especially on voting). I will check out his previous shows as well and I look forward to seeing where he will go from here. Will he continue in his role as messenger? Or will this just be a phase, just like so many other celebrities before him?
Either way, I hope that he reaches enough people that it helps create a shift in thinking. We may not need messiahs, but we need leadership. And if it takes a stand-up comedian to provide guidance then so be it: in our celebrity-hungry culture, the Gandhis, Che Guevaras, Malcolm Xs and Jesuses of the world wouldn’t stand a chance anyway.*
*Nota bene: I’m paraphrasing Brand.**
**He himself might have been paraphrasing or even quoting someone else. But we’ll never know, will we?
Date of viewing; February 12, 2014