David Baddiel on the curious incident of Russell Brand and the ghostwriter 30th November 2007
I'VE WRITTEN HERE BEFORE ABOUT erfolgstraurigkeit, or “success-sadness”, a word I made up to mean the flip side of schadenfreude. Where schadenfreude is joy at someone else's failure, erfolgstraurigkeit would be despair at someone else's success. One version of erfolgstraurigkeit is the tired old journalistic trope where a hack waxes lyrical about their subject's beauty/riches/talent/lifestyle, before ending: “Don't you just hate her/him?” I would never use that trope. But if I did, it would be about Russell Brand.
From my point of view, he's an obvious candidate. He's younger, hipper and better looking than me. He's taken that rock'n'roll comedian thing once ascribed to Rob Newman and myself, and made it flesh — a hell of a lot of flesh, as it turns out, judging by the absurd number of women throwing themselves against his bedpost, desperate to make another notch. So, if in some kind of terrible self-defeating self-esteem challenge, I was to put my life up against his, the thing I might cling to is writing. Where, I might say, are his writing chops? C'mon, get your books out on the table and we'll see, would be the cry, much as Alan Mullery once challenged Rodney Marsh after an argument on Gillette Soccer Saturday (except using “caps and medals” instead of books). Sadly for me, however, he could now slap down on that imaginary table his autobiography, My Booky Wook.
And even more sadly — were I to continue the face-off, which, by then, frankly, would be starting to look a bit stupid — My Booky Wook turns out to be really good: a Tourette's-honest, laugh-out-loud funny, rabidly well-written story of Brand's journey out of the badlands of Essex astride a fame-targeted rocket fuelled by narcissism, alienation, desperate, soul-crumbling hedonism, and — the key to his appeal — an always foregrounded vulnerability.
At this stage, perhaps I should be upfront that I know Russell, as last time I wrote a positive piece about a book by someone I know — David Thewlis — a blogger on The Times website wrote bitterly: “And of course, he's a mate.” So, yes, the same is true of RB, and those of you for whom that means any opinion I may have of his work should now be discounted, please go ahead. But mate or not, the truth is — as ever when the person who might cause me erfolgstraurigkeit is actually doing something worthwhile — I don't hate Russell Brand. One person I think might, though, is whoever was originally his ghostwriter. According to Russell, when he gave in the material recorded for the book, it came back from the publisher typed up like his own life “written by someone who hates me”. Using the comedian's own tendency for nodding and winking Dickensian asides, the ghostwriter had apparently added a commentary to Brand's exploits, but usually in the negative, à la “So I slept with her again (like the stupid a***hole I am)” or “Then I went back on heroin (what a pathetic idiot, I hear you cry!”). This led to a parting of the ways between the owner of the life and its compiler.
This has clearly been a positive for Brand because, having got down to the job himself, the book is now written entirely in his distinctive comic voice; which does mean, of course, that you have to put up with his tendency to describe crack-ingestion and record-breaking promiscuity in the idiom of a Victorian chimney-sweep, but I've always rather liked that incongruity. It makes me wonder, however, whether dislike of the subject is always a potential trap for the ghostwriter, or indeed for the biographer. In the introduction to The Life And Death of Peter Sellers, Roger Lewis describes how writing the book led him to despise his idol. Lewis takes the high moral ground on this, based on Sellers' various domestic and professional transgressions, but it's hard not to wonder if his dislike isn't something to do with him being — and there's no nice way of saying this — the parasite on the back of the star. Compulsive hero-worship often goes hand in hand with hero-loathing, and it's made much worse if week in, week out, you're sitting at home collating into print the experiences of someone who has lived a much more exciting, glamorous and successful life than you. Even if — as in the case of Sellers and Brand — that life has had its appalling comedowns, because, from where the writer's sitting, even the comedowns are no doubt pretty glamorous.
Basically what I'm saying is, don't be a ghostwriter, or even a biographer, unless you are absolutely convinced that the person you are writing about hasn't lived a life that will make yours look shite by comparison. Or unless you are utterly untroubled by erfolgstraurigkiet.
Don't Offend The Queen for Fuck's Sake! Joanne Leyland
Monday, 03 December 2007
Tonight is the night we should all feel sorry for the Queen and Prince Philip. After all, how many eighty-somethings are expected to politely applaud as self-confessed "ex-junkie twerp" Russell Brand and Joan Rivers take to the stage? Prompting onlookers to perhaps wonder why they asked him to appear in the first place, organisers of tonight’s Royal Variety Performance have asked the hugely controversial stand-up comedian not to direct any comments towards the royal guests.
Brand has form for making vulgar comments about public figures, including the 81-year-old monarch. Several hundred viewers lodged official complaints following comments made by the Essex-born presenter at The Brit Awards earlier this year. These included sexual comments about the Queen and a 'joke' about allegations that Conservative Party leader David Cameron smoked cannabis at Eton.
Addressing an audience of music industry big-wigs and millions of live TV viewers, self-confessed former drug addict Brand asked: "Who among us didn't smoke just a little bit of weed at school, just to take the edge off those irksome crack comedowns?"
Asked about his upcoming meeting with the Queen following the Royal Variety Performance at the Liverpool Empire tonight, Brand declared: "The worst thing I'll do is say something stupid. I'm not going to hit the queen, but what if I made a suggestion to kick her shoe off? Or for her to throw some jewellery at me. Maybe I'll do that."
Previously quizzed about his life before he found fame as a stand-up comic and presenter of Big Brother's Little Brother on Channel 4, Brand admitted: "I'd watch Richard & Judy, take drugs, watch a film, drug myself to bed."
Also on the bill at tonight's Royal Variety Performance is Joan Rivers, the equally loudmouthed, American comedienne who is a great friend and fan of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. Like Brand, she's notorious for shocking audiences with a sharp but also frequently crude dialogue.
I edited the headline of this story slightly, did you guess?
My Booky Wook By Russell Brand. He tells us exhaustively about his use of hard drugs, perhaps because not much else has happened in his life
Reviewed by Christopher Hart
Television’s Russell Brand always did know where he was going. “When I used to watch TV as a tot, I’d sit really close to the screen: just trying to get into that box.” From the age of four or so, he was also an avid reader of his father’s porn mags, recalling titles such as Jugs and Big Ones with particular affection. The twin themes of sexual consumerism and a longing for celebrity have dominated his life ever since.
He also tells us exhaustively about his use of hard drugs, perhaps because not much else has happened in his life. He certainly doesn’t seem to have travelled adventurously, done any worthwhile work, forged any deep or enduring friendships, let alone relationships, or met any interesting people; although he did once snog the actress Martine McCutcheon in a corridor. On the other hand, we do learn that he suffers from indigestion, for which he takes Rennies; that he once urinated on a friend’s sofa (Brand calls urine “winky water”); and that as a schoolboy he masturbated frequently.
Indeed, there is so much enthusiastic onanism lovingly documented here that the book could very well have been called “Russell Brand: A Wanker’s Memoirs”. He has visited Athens, cradle of western civilisation, where he passed his time in a lap-dancing club, excited to learn that the stuffy Anglo-American “no touching” rule does not apply there. In Istanbul, he spent his time in a brothel with a prostitute called Bev. And in Bangkok, he and his father both copulated with prostitutes in the same room, his father’s appreciative cries of “Phwooar, you’re juicy!” only adding to the erotic intensity of the occasion.
All womankind are now, as he gallantly puts it, a “Disneyland for my Dinkle”, and he no longer needs to pay for it, “cos of the ol’ fame”. The book is “beautifully written”, by the way. The publisher says so on the jacket, which is probably just as well, since you might not notice otherwise; although oddly, it didn’t admire the book quite enough to edit it properly, hence the reference to George IV as “glutinous”. Presumably, Brand means “gluttonous”. Perhaps Messrs Hodder & Stoughton were too busy worrying whether they were quite wise to pay £500,000 for this particular Booky Wook.
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Brand first made his name in comedy, feeling “a tremendous compulsion to express myself, not in a smutty fashion, artistically”. He always wanted his material to have “a spiritual and political agenda”, one of his most momentous spiritual observations being, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was ‘f***’.” His politics led him to berate his audience as “passive Nazis”, telling them on the day that Ian Huntley was charged with the Soham murders, “You killed them little girls.”
On a more aesthetic level, he began to realise that his verbal inventiveness made him an heir to the dadaists, serving “to interrupt and alter language” and thereby escape the “homogenised and bland”. Hence the metonymic playfulness and alliterative richness of such phrases as “winky water” and “Disneyland for my Dinkle”. He is also “very politically engaged”. To that end, “I once stuck a sheathed Barbie doll up my arse onstage at the London Astoria”.
Stand-up comedy was never going to be enough, however. “Stardom — the yearning for recognition — had encamped in my gutty-wuts.” (“Beautifully written”, you see.) En route to stardom he tried various attention-grabbing pranks. He and a friend once planned to steal some “malformed foetuses” they’d spotted in a hospital, dump them in a local park, and then phone the newspapers, saying they had found some aliens. But on the appointed night of the raid, “We couldn’t find those bloody babies”, so they contented themselves with stealing medical supplies.
It still wasn’t enough. Brand would have to get on telly somehow. And finally it was with a show on satellite called RE:Brand that he finally made his name, its challenging debates covering such topics as, Is sexuality innate or acquired? “I examined this issue by wanking off a man in a toilet.” He also adopted Homeless James from Oxford Street for a while, for various stunts. Homeless James was malleable because he was desperate for the money. “That’s how it is with heroin addicts,” Brand explains. “If you give them money, they’ll agree to do just about anything.” One amusing stunt involved taking Homeless James . . . to the Ideal Home Exhibition! But it was difficult for them to maintain a “genuine friendship”. Homeless James was, well, homeless, and slept outside C&A, whereas “I’m a glamorous TV presenter!”
Brand was by no means insensitive to human suffering, however. All this time, “I was in such a damaged place, psychologically”, with “absolutely no concern for my own physical or emotional well-being”. But he courageously pulled through, and to this day he is “still proud” of the RE:Brand project, seeing it as full of “humanity, love, self-expression and truth”.
RE:Brand led to Big Brother’s Big Mouth, and such was the ensuing success that he is now inside your television all the time. For one little tot, dreams really did come true.
Call of fame
You get some idea of Russell Brand’s obsessive desire for celebrity at almost any cost from the long, lovingly assembled but underwhelming list of awards posted on his Wikipedia entry. Almost anything will do, as long as it shows him being afforded some measure of recognition. So, alongside a lad-mag gong for funniest man of the year and several television and comedy awards, the site carries the proud boast that Brand was the Sun’s Shagger of the Year for 2006, the world’s Sexiest Vegetarian for 2007, and BBC3’s third most annoying person of 2006.
That compulsive need for recognition has led to some distinctly unpleasant moments. Responding to an insult by Bob Geldof at the NME awards show in 2006, Brand was later heard to retort, “Really it’s no surprise he’s such an expert on famine; after all, he’s been dining out on I Don’t Like Mondays for 30 years.” Five years earlier, Brand got fired from his first presenting job, on MTV, when he came to work on September 12, 2001, dressed as Osama Bin Laden.
Available at the Books First price of £17.09 (including p&p) on 0870 165 858
Part of 1957 Week. To mark the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac's novel, On the Road, Russell Brand and Matt Morgan follow in Kerouac's footsteps, journeying from Massachusetts to San Francisco, meeting up with characters from the book and visiting his old haunts along the way.
This looks unmissable!! But then again, Russy taking a nap would be unmissable to me...
Russell ditches his wild side and gets a brand new religion by DONNA McCONNELL
13th December 2007
Motormouth comic Russell Brand appears to be seeking the path of enlightenment as he took time out to connect with his spiritual side at a Hare Krishna Temple. The wild-haired one got into the spirit of things donning traditional flowing white robes, gladiator-style sandals and sitting in the lotus position among his fellow devotees.
Russell, 32, spent the day at the Bhaktivedanta Manor retreat in Watford, Hertsfordshire, and according to The Sun, a source said: "He has a very deep spiritual side." The star has been open about his battle to overcome his sex addiction, and this could be another step on his road to recovery.
And it appears Russell is in need of all the help he can get, as the comic, who stars in the new St Trinian's movie, revealed it was actor Rupert Everett, rather than the schoolgirls he had trouble keeping his hands off during filming. Russell admitted it was Everett, who dresses as a buxom woman to play unorthodox headmistress Camilla Fritton, he found "tasty", rather than the iconic schoolgirls.
He said: "People ask, 'Were you not tempted by those schoolgirls in the film?' I told them they're children 'but Rupert Everett was a really tasty mistress. How I kept my hands off him was a mystery."
The St Trinian's film which stars Russell, Everett, and model Lily Cole is released December 21 in the UK
I'm not sure if this is a new religion for him at all - he's been saying Hare Krishna as he leaves since at least Big Mouth last year.
Russell Brand was born on 6 September 1974 in Grays, Essex. A stand-up comedian, TV presenter and actor, he attended the Italia Conti School in London and was sacked from his first presenting job – on MTV – for dressing as Osama bin Laden on 12 September 2001. Famed for hosting Big Brother's Big Mouth and for his romantic dalliances, with Kate Moss among others, he stars in the forthcoming St Trinian's film (see also, page 14) and his autobiography, My Booky Wook, is out now. He lives with his cat, Morrissey, in north London.
I drive: waves of inspiration to caffeinated slumber, skimming incomplete sleep.
If I have time to myself: I panic. Then do some work. Then look at the cat, Morrissey. He doesn't look anything like Morrissey.
You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at: Subbuteo, combining the nimble fingers of Liberace and the geometrical understanding of Ronnie O'Sullivan.
You may not know it but I'm no good at: dancing, unless I'm playing the part of someone who is good at dancing, in which case I can dance adequately.
A book that changed me: The one I've just written, My Booky Wook, by me, which exhausted me.
Movie heaven: Elephant Man at the Everyman cinema in Hampstead, followed by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, rounded off with Life of Brian.
Comfort eating: While watching those three films I could devour my own bodyweight in Maltesers.
When I was a child I wanted to be: lost in a Shangri-La of nymphs and fledglings, drawn by Quentin Blake and written by Enid Blyton.
All my money goes on: the gee-gees, if not the Bee Gees, and if nothing else then the heebie-jeebies.
My favourite building: is the Thameside Theatre and Library in Grays, Essex.
My biggest regret: is that I was unaware of the imperceptible movement in couture in the period around 11 September 2001.
It's not fashionable but I like: revolution, socialism.
At night I dream of: a hasty and regrettable haircut.
If I wasn't me I'd like to be: a microscopic version of me, existing in my own blood, like in Inner Space.
The shop I can't walk past: Mr Benn's shop. If I went in I'd almost certainly be able to transcend the idea of identity and self and go back in time.
My favourite work of art: I quite like Matthew Barney – he makes mad films with weird, visibly coloured people covered in foam in corridors.
The soundtrack to my life: Anything by Morrisey, though I'd like to get him to score something original.
I wish I'd never worn: the Osama bin Laden outfit in 2001; it had not yet fully entered fashion.
The best invention ever: the printing press or the Breville. If you could make toasted-cheese Bibles that would be a real breakthrough.
I wish he'd stop going on about the Osama bin Laden costume - I don't see anyone condemning him for it, and he should never apologise for a joke, even if it was daft...
Russell Brand’s life story is set to be made into a film. He is working on acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom to bring the tales of drug and sex addictions from his autobiography My Booky Wook to the big screen. And the comic is likely to play himself in the movie following his success in the recent St Trinian’s remake and the forthcoming Hollywood comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Producer Andrew Eaton told the Daily Mail: ‘I don't think it will be called My Filmy Wilm.’
The book covered Brand’s difficult relationship with his stepfather and father, who introduced him to his first prostitute in Hong Kong when he was 17. He went on to become addicted to sex in any form, as well as heroin, before his manager John Noel forced him to seek treatment for both. Eaton said: ‘We'll see how much we can get away with in the film.’
The script is currently being worked on, and filming is likely to start towards the end of the year. Winterbottom and Eaton have previously collaborated on 24 Hour Party People, which starred Steve Coogan as Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, and A Cock And Bull Story, among others.
Brand has sold 500,000 copies of My Booky Wook in hardback, and a paperback edition is due out in July.
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