Sunday, May 24, 2009

Watching Life from the Periphery: Russell Brand's Booky Wook

Lately I've been quite fascinated with British comedian Russell Brand. I first became aware of him from an appearance on a late-night show, and since then he's been on my radar screen. I recently saw his performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and just finished reading his Booky Wook, a "memoir of sex, drugs, and stand-up."

He's not a very cuddly or tender man. His memoir is mostly a story about his nearly career-destroying descent into heroine and sex addiction, followed by his successful rehabilitation as a stand-up comedian and actor. Along the way he wises up to his detachment from his own life and the "amoral dream of commodified sex." Though he doesn't talk much about death, Brand is clearly driven by the sense of the fleeting and fragile span of life that we're given on earth, and yearns to connect with others who feel the same. More than once he recollects with happiness those rare moments when he found "one of those rare women who recognized that life is finite and saw orgasms as a wonderful distraction."

In his life, aside from his insatiable fancy "to have sex with adult human females," one thing remains the same: his relentless ambition to become famous. From the start he knew that comedy would be his ticket - his "cursed talent." It was the only way he could relate to others and cope with his sense of always being an outsider, watching life from the periphery, and only really living it on the stage. It also makes him tolerable and charming.

I like him because he has a poet's appreciation and ear for language—"you are in for a giddy, wild ride through language," he says of his book—combined with a preference for the grandiloquent and even grotesque phrase or gesture or act over the customary, conventional, and cliched. Like all comedians who get their material by watching life from the periphery, Brand also makes some prescient observations about humans. Like their tendency to change their mind about what they want to do that evening: "People do this a lot. They don't seem to realize that the future is just like now, but in a little while, so they say they're going to do things in anticipation of some kind of seismic shift in their worldview that never actually materializes. But everything's not going to be made of leather, the world won't stink of sherbet. Tomorrow is not some mythical kingdom where you'll grow butterfly wings and be able to talk to the animals—you'll basically feel pretty much the same way you do at the moment."

As a connoisseur of sex, he knows what's sexy: "She was sexy, in a lap-dancer sort of way, which many might think, incidentally, is the best way to be sexy; other ways include: sexy like a teacher, sexy like a police-woman, a mate's sister, a biblical character, Cher, Eva Braun, a Brontë sister, a babysitter, Madonna, or The Madonna."

Brand is a cocky, confident, cheeky man. I can't wait for his next book(y wook).

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