There are edgy comedians, and then there is Russell Brand. The big-haired 33-year-old British comic is beloved in the U.K. for his Johnny Knoxville-style pranks (he once “wanked off” a man in a public bathroom on British TV) and for his darkly confessional stand-up about his wild, druggy days, in which he has said he “smoked abundant marijuana, smack and crack.” At times, fans have found it difficult to tell Brand’s rock-bottom moments from his best performances: After witnessing Brand fall off the stage, drunk and high, during a dance-music awards show, Boy George theorized in London’s Daily Express that the whole thing had been an ingenious slapstick routine. Sober for the past few years, Brand is becoming a favorite with American audiences, thanks to his hilarious turn as rehabbed rock star Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall – a role that wasn’t far from Brand’s real life. (Now there’s an Aldous Snow sequel on the way – with a gloriously off-the-wagon Snow.) But first, in his biggest U.S. splash, Brand will host the MTV Video Music Awards in L.A. on September 7th. He’s ready for his close-up: “I ran into Chris Rock yesterday, and he said, ‘Go in hard – no one cares about anything except you have to have a good beginning.’ So I might open with a song. And I might take my shirt off and have lipstick on my nipples.”
We heard that while you were filming commercials for the VMAs with Britney Spears, you were telling her shocking things you wanted to do to her.
I did describe one very basic sexual technique, which I think she would have hugely benefited from —– just standard clitoral stimulation whilst achieving an upward, diagonal motion so that you can induce anal and clitoral stimulation simultaneously. But I wasn’t able to demonstrate, so it was a dismal failure.
You’ve had a fraught history with MTV. When you worked for the network in the U.K., you were fired for showing up to work dressed as Osama bin Laden – —on September 12th, 2001. What were you thinking?
I was taking loads of crack and heroin. And I was a little bit excited because I’d been talking about Osama bin Laden for ages before that, right? So it was kind of like when a band breaks that you’ve liked for ages. I was like, “I told you this guy was gonna be big!” Still, what I did was deeply regrettable. I mean no disrespect to the thousands who lost their lives in that terrible tragedy. It was a very, very stupid thing to have done.
“You’ve been pretty open about your history with drugs and bulimia and sex addiction in your memoir, “My Booky Wook.” Did you draw on your own life when you were acting as the rock star Aldous Snow in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”?
Yeah. Nicholas Stoller, the director of that film, and Jason Segel, the writer, plundered my life like British archeologists picking through a pyramid: “What else happened? What else did you do?”
What’s one of the better stories you told them?
When I was making RE: BRAND, a TV show that was inspired by Jackass, I was doing all these insane things, like having a bath with a homeless man whose ulcerated legs were weeping into the water. And I smoked crack with a prostitute and her family. During that time, we were on tour in this Winnebago, and I drank a bottle of gin first thing in the morning to steady my nerves. It made me incredibly emotional, and I was crying. I climbed on top of the Winnebago. I said, “Film me!” And the film crew said, “We can’t film you on a moving vehicle, it’s against regulations!” So I said, “You make me sick!” and stuck my fingers down my throat and started puking, but there was nothing to come out except fumes. So I tried to vomit fumes on the production company as a punishment for not having trust. Then this whole shoot was canceled, and several of my friends lost their jobs. My solution was to say, “Let’s just not tell our mums.”
You’ve got your second appearance as Aldous Snow coming up, in the “Sarah Marshall” sequel.
Yes, in the film, Get Him to the Greek, Aldous Snow is now back on drugs, and Jonah Hill’s character is charged with getting him from London to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Hilarity ensues. I torture him.
Do you like being the awful Aldous Snow better than being the clean one?
Well, I can use my friendships with British rock stars more successfully. Noel Gallagher will be a much better resource.
You’re also in an Adam Sandler movie in December called “Bedtime Stories.” Wasn’t Sandler someone who encouraged you to come to America?
Yes. He came on my show, on my MTV show – MTV re-employed me a couple of years after the September 12th incident because I got clean, and I had my own chat show there. We had Tom Cruise, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Christina Aguilera, Busta Rhymes. All manner of amazing people came on it. And when Adam came on it, he said, “Just come to America and do films.”
How’d your interview with Tom Cruise go?
He was one of the most alarmingly courteous people I’ve ever met. He made a point of coming up to me in a corridor and saying my name before I met him. He knows that he’s Tom Cruise, and if he says that, it’s going to unsettle you, and it did. “Hello, Russell. I’m Tom.” I’m going, “Yes, I’m aware that you’re Tom Cruise. I spent the whole day being groomed about the interview.”
You’ve been huge in the U.K. forever, but we’re just hearing about you more recently in the U.S. How do you think American audiences are different from British audiences?
When an English journalist asks that question, they want me to go, “American audiences are stupid.” But that is not what I’ve found. I made a documentary about Jack Kerouac a year ago, and traveling across America I met people that look like slack-jawed, gaptoothed hillbillies. I thought, “This’ll be a laugh.” But when I went to talk to them, they talked about Noam Chomsky, the Federal Reserve, the worthlessness of the dollar –— there was unbelievable awareness. A mistake that I will never make is to forget that there is a distinction between American foreign policy and the American people.
I’ve noticed there are a lot of photos of you in those fashion best and worst things on the Internet.
Yes. I rigidly adhere to a strict template: I dress like a superhero S&M scarecrow.
Do girls go for that?
It’s been paying off huge dividends in the orgasm stakes so far – and there’s a whole continent that has yet to be unpacked.
Guys are talking fashion notes right now.
It can work wonders if you have the persona for it.
What do you think has been your worst fashion mistake?
Well, in retrospect, a lot of things look ridiculous. I was looking at old MTV footage – my bloated face, drug-addled irises, the hair dye I was using, women’s clothes. I chink cross-dressing has to be undertaken with diplomacy and awareness.
You have very big rock & roll hair. How do you create that hairdo?
I release charisma through my scalp. It holds my hair up.
Does it get you closer to God?
You say that in jest, but the head of an extraterrestrial-worshipping cult once told me that extraterrestrials are communicating to us through our hair, so we should have long hair to act as transmitters. I was filming a show with him, and he had some interesting anecdotes. At one point, he told me that he’d gone and met his brothers –— Mohammed, Buddha and Christ – —on a spaceship where there are robots you can have sex with that look exactly like real women, but they don’t have any feelings. Can you imagine how great that would be? And he goes, “We can introduce you to this girl.” And I’m going, “Yeah, all right, let’s go!” And the producer we were working with goes, “Russell, you can’t fuck one of the aliens! It’s really going to totally compromise the integrity of this program!”
With everything you’ve done in your past, are there any stories you’ve heard about yourself that aren’t true?
Yes. Once there was a story saying, “Russell Brand was arrested for rampaging through the London underground with a sword.” I thought, “Well, this is ridiculous! What on earth would I be doing on the underground? Once you can afford taxis, you can swing the sword out the window.”