You know when Russell Brand is in town. Outside the Duchess Theatre in London’s Theatreland are trucks and trailers denoting that this is no ordinary event.
Inside, the venue resembles a rabbit warren at springtime, all narrow corridors and enthusiastic young things clambering over each other. The reason for the glitzy, steroidal set-up is that this is a live TV broadcast of his US chat show, Brand X, rather than a solo stand-up show. Nevertheless it represents an opportunity to see one of comedy’s biggest names in a 500-seat venue.
His guests tonight are Eddie Izzard, Noel Gallagher and David Icke, and this being a TV recording, it is a stop-start affair with any momentum halted in its tracks by ad breaks and the usual contrivances about clapping wildly on demand. What quickly becomes apparent is that, professional though Brand is, he is far more enjoyable without a script than with one. His easy manner with the audience and his guests brings out far funnier moments than, say, his opening mini-routine about how unedited the show will be, which involves dotting round the stage mucking about with props to no great effect.
The show itself is a loose, indulgent affair, which plays into Brand’s strengths as a performer who thrives on spontaneity and playfulness. As a host he is charming, albeit one who is too sharp (and egotistical) to let his guests speak uninterrupted for more than 10 seconds. I’m pretty sure David Frost never said to Richard Nixon: “I find it hard to concentrate when I’m not the one talking.”
The exception is David Icke, who is revered by Brand and given the floor to air his theories, before being economically slapped down by Noel Gallagher. Izzard’s interview is a slightly fraught affair as the two titanic comedians compete to out-funny each other. His studied whimsy isn’t well suited to this frantic format though, and having coasted into Brand’s waters, Brand devours him, comically speaking. He’s simply too quick, too powerful.
It may not be a conventional comedy show but it allows Brand to show that not only does he have natural funny bones, he can also command a room like few comics can.