It was with a strange lack of fanfare that, late last week, Russell Brand announced his first British performance in three years, to which my first reaction was – performing what exactly? It can be a struggle to remember what Russell Brand does for a living. He is, first and foremost, a comedian, but that was before MTV, Big Brother, a radio show, two autobiographies, sex addiction, drugs, rehab, that answer-phone message, Hollywood movies, a pop singer, weddings, select committees, divorce, the Dalai Lama, the Olympics and The Daily Mail all became woven into the Brand narrative.
But now Brand has returned to stand-up, or as he chillingly put it: "Selling my mental illness to you for money." Leaping on to the stage at Brighton's Theatre Royal to the sounds of Marc Bolan, a man on whom Brand has largely based his sartorial aesthetic, his first request was for us to "manage your expectations" since this was "freeform comedy", seemingly based on a single sheet of paper containing a list of themes – "meeting the Queen", "Olympics", "Prince Harry", "sexual things" and "David Icke". Perhaps the only rehearsed moment came with a party piece revolving around the replaying of a phone message left by Noel Gallagher immediately after the Olympic closing ceremony, in which the former Oasis star jeered at "old Mr Skinny legs, murdering the Beatles on top of a bus".
Those expecting a more serious and mature Brand in light of his divorce, his recent BBC documentary on drugs, and his delicious take-down of Peter Hitchens on Newsnight, were in for a shock. If Brand's split from Katy Perry has done anything, it's reawakened the predatory, lip-smacking, potty-mouthed sex monster within, prompting him to bound into the audience and have a closer look at what might be on offer, both male and female, for post-show shenanigans (his lingering in the lobby for autographs later on as the audience filed out suggested that at least one or two of these fantasies might have come to pass).
But it was his recollections of his extraordinary Olympic moment in which Brand really reached his stride, outlining, without the pause or punctuation, the manifold humiliations of being required to mime to a Beatles song and, specifically, the dilemma in which he found himself one minute prior to show time. There he was, his microphone switched on, David Icke's mad-eyed claims of "mass Satanic rituals" ringing in his head, and grappling with the desire to ditch Stephen Daldry's onerous direction and make out that the much-feared terrorist attack had finally come to pass via a psychedelic bus crammed full of Semtex. In the event, however, his nerve failed him, a situation exacerbated by the fact that his costume had split at the crotch and his left foot was wedged in the bus's hydraulic platform.
This is where Brand really excels – not tripping the red carpet with kitschy popstrels, or having his hair teased in massive trailers at Hollywood film studios, or trying to temper that ego of his in front of a living deity, but in turning a single, potentially calamitous event into a terrific piece of Socratic questioning, delivered with endearing hyperactivity, and spun into yards of comedy gold.
Last month, Brand launched a new TV show Brand X on the United States' FX Network, to largely negative reviews. Perhaps his adopted home doesn't appreciate the multi-layered, hyper-intelligent, undoubtedly rambling and haphazard but ultimately brilliant Brand stand-up style. Perhaps they simply don't want the self-styled "anarchic usurper tearing through convention with a cock of fire". Perhaps Los Angeles, where he hightailed it after the storm in a teacup that was "Sachsgate", wasn't ready for him after all. Perhaps it's time that Brand came home.