First Night: Russell Brand, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

Comic capers as Big Mouth strikes again
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The Independent Culture

If you tossed a Victorian dandy, a homeless smack addict and a thesaurus into a blender, you'd get Russell Brand. From the moment he almost dances onto the stage in this, his short-run, small-venue streak across Edinburgh, you can see why the host of Big Brother's Big Mouth is the celebrity of the summer of 2006.

Sure, he has whinnied into our consciousness with his charged, bizarre presenting and his supermodel-bagging libido - a rolling Brand gathers Moss - but it is built on the fact that he is an original talent, a rare break from the steady stream of solid comics with solid jokes and solid laughs and no aftertaste at all.

Brand takes a novelistic glee in shaping words - I will never see Sean Ryder again without remembering Brand's description of him as "a shambling, rambling narcotic casualty ... the Queen Mum of junkies". Combined with a loose, flowing physical presence that makes him move almost like an animated character, Brand has appeared like a camp comet on the circuit.

But his new show is given a texture and a depth that I did not expect by Brand's therapised self-awareness. He has chosen shame as his theme, and he is marinated in it. When at first he declares, "My life is essentially a string of embarrassing and shameful incidents punctuated only by telling people about the embarrassing and shameful incidents," it sounds like the set-up for a string of oh-it-was-so-awkward gags. But it is not. He really does probe the feelings of guilt and shame that surround harmless acts - and particularly sex.

"I used to deal with my sense of shame by drinking and taking huge amounts of drugs. Now I like to have it off," he explains, reinforcing tabloid tales of sex addiction. Sex provides him with "absolute context. Nothing else exists in that moment. You don't have to feel shame". He smiles lasciviously at the audience and says, "You might be thinking, if you're a single woman, he's nice but he's so unobtainable. Let me tell you - I'm not unobtainable." We laugh, but there is an almost Clintonian charge to his act, as if he feels the need to seduce everyone in the room.

He takes this in laceratingly revealing directions. "Talking dirty is good because it stops intimacy from forming," he notes. "Otherwise you might begin to talk properly and she'll say, 'Oh, my brother's diabetic', and you begin to worry and say, 'Is he okay? Perhaps we should get him a biscuit'."

I wanted him to stay with this self-dissection, but towards the end he veers off towards a still-funny but less charged discussion of being attacked by Bob Geldof at the NME awards. "No wonder he's such an expert on famine - he's been feeding off 'I Don't Like Mondays' for 30 years," he notes.

But Russell will, I suspect, get back to his most searing subject. After this strangely sharp, bitingly honest show, the Brand brand will continue to prance higher and higher.