To the beard and the abstinence, Russell Brand is now adding helping the sick. Tom Ellen talks to him about his Comic Relief gig (and sex, and drugs, and divorce, and sex)
Russell Brand is kneeling on the floor, thrusting his groin at an empty chair, when the CEO of Comic Relief walks in.
“Hello Russell,” says the CEO of Comic Relief.
“Hello Kevin,” says Russell, mid-thrust. “I’m just demonstrating how to stimulate the G-spot during penetrative sex. But before this, I was completely ‘on-message’, I promise.”
This anecdote clearly requires some context. It’s a wet Wednesday afternoon and ShortList is at Comic Relief HQ in south London. We’re here to speak to Brand about the ‘message’ he was firmly ‘on’ prior to this unplanned bout of sex education: namely, a concert he is curating next month to raise money and awareness around drug addiction.
However, it’s not just social activism we want to quiz the comedian about; there’s also his return to stand-up, his friendship with David Lynch and his divorce from Katy Perry. And that’s without factoring in G-spot stimulation advice. There’s a lot to get through.
Who do you have lined up for the concert?
Jack Whitehall and Simon Amstell are performing. We’ve also got Kylie, Noel Gallagher, loads of sexy uber-megastars.
Last time ShortList spoke to Noel, he’d just acquired a cat called Boots. Has Boots met your cat, Morrissey?
I would not let my cat near Noel’s cat or any member of his grimy brood. Not his children, not his wife, no one. My cat is a gentle, meditative creature, whereas Noel’s cat is almost certainly semi-conscious and pilled-up.
Fair enough. Going back to the concert, is social activism something you want to get more involved in?
I suppose so. I’ve always been obsessed with the truculent aspect of activism. The argy-bargy. I used to go to ‘Reclaim The Streets’ protests, even when I was taking drugs. There was a lot of silliness and pushing against them [police] shields. So, I’m interested in activism, but showbusiness is so seductive you tend to get jazzed up on your own agenda. Even if your agenda is socially aware, you end up focusing on new waistcoats [laughs].
Do you think that’s why cynics target ‘celebrity philanthropists’ such as Bono and Sting?
There’s an agenda to undermine people for doing charitable things. With Bono, it’s better he does that stuff than he doesn’t. So, what do you think is the source of all this cynicism? It’s the fact he can have an impact. What would people prefer – that he just sat in a great big mansion, w*nking into his own mouth? And Sting – I know less about what he does but, again, he doesn’t have to do it. I don’t think he’s thinking, “This will make me look fantastic, standing next to a guy with a plate in his lip. This will get me so many blow jobs.” Not from the guy with the plate, obviously. That would be agony.
You had a lively debate about drug addiction with Peter Hitchens on Newsnight last year. Have you spoken to Hitchens since?
No. I sort of like him, though. If he was a TV programme, like I’m Alan Partridge, I’d f*cking love it. I’m Peter Hitchens. It would be him wandering about, having big, blustery Victorian views [laughs]. I like doing things like that – Newsnight and the Westboro Baptist Church thing [Brand interviewed members of the homophobic US church on Brand X]. I watched it recently and thought, “Yeah, that was funny.”
Do you not usually watch your stuff?
Not any more. I can’t be f*cking arsed [laughs]. I used to watch everything I did. I was like Garry Shandling in The Larry Sanders Show. I’d go home with a bird after filming Big Brother and say, “Come on, let’s f*cking watch me now!” Stick on a video of the show, saying: “This is a good bit… fast-forward, here I am again… Now let’s go to bed and you can get more of me.”
So, watching yourself on TV was the foreplay?
I like to think of it like that, yes. That’s the great benefit of being a performer, you can [watch yourself on TV and] tell the person you’re with, “That was all for you!” But now I’m at the other end, where I don’t watch anything I do.
Is that a reaction to a particular film or show you’ve appeared in?
No, it’s just because I watched so much of myself. It’s like the apocryphal adage of forcing a teenage boy to smoke a pack of cigars so he gets sick of them. I willingly ate the cigars – I watched so much of my own content that now I think, “F*cking hell, I’m not going through that again.” And I’m sure other people feel the same [laughs].
You’ve gone back to stand-up after a long break. How are you finding it?
Great. I’ve just done a tour in Australia, which was f*cking mental. People kept getting their knockers out. One bloke got his d*ck out. I walk around the audience at the start of a show, so people can get things out of their system. Not literally, I’m not encouraging the projection of fluids. Just to let people know there will be access [to me] at either end of the gig.
Some stand-ups often say comedy groupies aren’t as appealing as music groupies. Do you agree?
Mine are all right. But you don’t have to have sex with all of them. You can be selective.
How crazy are your female fans?
People will show you a tattoo of your face on their body. There’s one girl who has an angel and devil version of me tattooed on either foot. I like her. For me, the only difference between a stalker and a lover is bra size. [Shouts] “I’m being troubled by this woman! Get her away from me… Oh, she’s got big tits. Let her in” [laughs].
Do you still get hecklers?
Oh yeah. People shout “[Inaudible mumbling] Katy Perry!”
That must be tough when it’s about personal stuff…
Yeah, it’s horrible. But you’ve got to be a big boy if you’re standing on stage in front of 10,000 people and you’ve taken 50 quid off each of them. They should shout what they want.
How has divorce changed you?
I feel different about my private life. I feel like I need to have one now. If you’re married to someone who’s also famous, privacy becomes a commodity. But f*cking hell, that’s not really a problem in a world where people are starving. My attitude to fame and celebrity changes continually.
If you’re profligate with fame, it neuters itself. When that natural disaster happened in Haiti [in 2010], I was part of this charity telethon with Daniel Day-Lewis, De Niro, Pacino, DiCaprio... I saw them all together and it just seemed… stupid. Like a waxwork museum. There they all were, shuffling about [laughs]. I thought, “I can’t take fame seriously again.” I spent the day pretending to be other celebrities. People would phone and say they hadn’t heard of me, so I’d say, “Hang on, I’ll put you on to someone famous… [adopts US accent] ‘Hello? Tobey Maguire here! Spider-Man!’”
Has divorce put you off the idea of marrying again?
Not at all. I liked marriage. Most of it was brilliant. You can’t condemn an institution on one incident. You can’t condemn the whole Catholic Church for a few dodgy priests [laughs].
What’s your current view on the tabloids? You’ve had a rocky relationship with them in the past…
Those publications don’t bring out the best in me. It’s like hearing someone gossiping about you – you wonder what they’re saying. But I don’t indulge that any more.
Did you enjoy being named ‘Shagger Of The Year’ by The Sun?
I’ve reclaimed that title! They reinstated the award for me. It’s now ‘The Russell Brand Shagger Of The Year Award’.
Do you take any pride in it?
I think it’s funny. But I don’t like that word, ‘shagging’. None of the euphemistic terms around sex are good. Only ‘f*cking’ is any use. In America, I play the ‘Shagger Of The Year Award’ like it’s important. I tell people it’s the same as a knighthood. I’m unstoppable now. No one else can win that award. It should be retired, like Bobby Moore’s No6 shirt.
So, are you at your ‘shagging’ peak now you’re single again?
No, no. I was once so devoted to ‘shagging’ I would forget to eat. I was like those people in China who die because they’re so into their Xbox they stop having dinner [laughs]. I prioritise other things now, like meditation and yoga.
Do you spend more time meditating than having sex?
Yes. Isn’t that good? It was unthinkable five years ago. I think the quality of shagging has improved now, though.
Presumably that’s down to yoga?
Absolutely. And not just on a physical fitness level. It also gives you an understanding of chakras and energy and how to umbrella round into the G-spot [promptly demonstrates this, as noted earlier].
Nice. You worked with Tom Cruise last year on Rock Of Ages – did you speak to him about Scientology?
I couldn’t have given that man more opportunities to enlist me into Scientology, but he was not interested [laughs]. I’d walk round set going, “Oh Tom, if only there was something to believe in. A catch-all philosophy, if you will.” He’d say, “I don’t know, Russell – go to church or something. F*ck off.” I don’t know what the criteria is [for becoming a Scientologist], but I obviously don’t have it.
You’re also friends with David Lynch. Is it true you meditate together?
Yeah. Just the two of us in a room. Me perched on his lap, running my fingers through his quiff.
He has got incredible hair…
God, it’s gorgeous, isn’t it? He’s a proper old-fashioned genius. I went round his house once and he’d set up a cage with cheese in it and he was getting ants to eat the cheese into a weird shape, which he would make into a sculpture. He’s on one, that guy. I sent him some herbal Viagra as a gift.
Isn’t Viagra a slightly insulting gift?
I thought it was a loving gift. He sent me an email, all in capital letters, that said, “I gave the Viagra to the hummingbirds in my garden and this is what happened,” and he attached a photo of a hummingbird with a superimposed c*ck f*cking another hummingbird with superimposed tits. And the first hummingbird is saying, “Hey baby, I’m gonna drive it in your brain!” I’ve had that photo blown up and it’s hanging on my wall.
Finally, you’ve done a few awards shows in the past – would you be interested in presenting the Oscars?
It would be interesting, because you’d wonder how badly I could f*ck it up. If that opportunity came up I don’t think I’d be able to resist.
For more information and tickets to Russell Brand’s Give It Up gig at Wembley Arena on 6 March visit rednoseday.com/giveitup
Images: Ray Burmiston, Rex Features