Russell Brand: My Life In Media
'It was embarrassing getting sacked for going into the office dressed as Osama bin Laden on 12 September, 2001'
Monday 03 April 2006
Russell Brand, 30, is a television presenter and stand-up comedian dedicated to "getting as many peculiar and unsettling ideas as I can into very standardised formats". His first MTV presenting job coincided with the peak of his heroin addiction. He was sacked in 2001 and also lost his Xfm radio show. Last night MTV welcomed him back on 1 Leicester Square, an entertainment show whose guests will include Tom Cruise.
What inspired you to start a career in the media?
Lack of opportunity and a sense of devotional vocation. People laughed at me all the time when I was trying to be serious and get a point across, so my options were limited.
When you were 15 years old, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?
I used to get the Mirror and my stepdad used to read the Mail. I think I got the Mirror because I liked the cartoons and the gossipy stuff. I had an unspoken and an un-nurtured sense that the Mail might have been trying to make me racist. I've been very fortunate not to have been lured into a lifetime of small-mindedness.
And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's Big Night Out. On the radio it was weird late night things like James Whale, a reactionary media shock-jock, very much in the world of Garry Bushell and Richard Littlejohn.
What's the first media you turn to in the morning?
I read The Sun and The Guardian every day and the London Evening Standard. I like the way The Sun panics as if Armageddon's approaching and then offers free chips on the same page. On the front page they'll talk about the horrors of rape and the objectification of women and on page three they'll show you women's breasts. It bypasses anger. Getting angry with The Sun would be like getting angry with a toddler.
Do you consult any media sources during the day?
My life isn't compartmentalised in that way so for work I read the same things that I would anyway. I sometimes look at news channels but there's no routine to my use of television. It's just like wandering into a library and lifting things off shelves.
What's the best thing about your job?
Presenting is just talking to people and showing off, and I like talking to people and showing off. With stand-up comedy I can talk about things that make me feel embarrassed and ashamed and just laugh about them.
And the worst?
On television you often can't talk about unusual ideas.
What is the proudest achievement in your working life?
I've just won Time Out's comedian of the year. I'm proud of that because people I love like Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey and Harry Hill have won in the past.
And your most embarrassing moment?
Most of my sackings were quite embarrassing. The Xfm sacking for bringing homeless people into the studio and reading out Sunday Sport pornographic letters. Getting sacked from MTV for going into the office dressed as Osama Bin Laden on 12 September, 2001. It was embarrassing getting beaten up and arrested after a show I did recently in Edinburgh. The material was a bit incendiary - I was making an interesting point about the way we view psychopaths and criminals but it may have sounded like I was accusing the people in the audience of the Soham murders and it ended up in a fight with security. All, retrospectively, deeply embarrassing incidents.
At home, what do you tune in to?
I love Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development, though it's not on television at the moment. I don't really watch anything that isn't comedy, but I do love The Apprentice.
What is your Sunday paper and do you have a favourite magazine?
I read The Observer and the News of the World. Finding The Observer really made me feel included in some world that I didn't even know existed and showed me a baffling array of bourgeois interests which fascinate me. I get the News of the World because I like sensationalism. I like Word magazine and Private Eye and almost by osmosis you read some Heat every week.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.
I want to make films. I've just done one called Penelope with Reese Witherspoon and Christina Ricci. That whole experience was joyous. We filmed in the UK and I play the vital part of Sam the jazz club owner, without whom the film would be a waste of an hour and a half.
If you didn't work in the media what would you do?
Take drugs, wait for death.
Who in the media do you most admire, and why?
Stephen Fry because he's erudite and brilliant and charming. I loved Peter Cook because he was wonderful and embodied fun and comedy above all else and gave his life to silliness and absurdity.
1995 Gives up on a career as a postman to attend drama school in London
2000 After years trawling the stand-up circuit reaches the New Act of the Year final at the Hackney Empire and takes a show to the Edinburgh Festival
2001 Lands first presenting job with MTV's Dance Floor Chart, where he banters with clubbers, moving onto Select and Jackass
2004 Joins E4 presenting Celebrity Big Brother's Big Mouth
2006 Named Best Stand-Up by Time Out and returns to MTV with entertainment show 1 Leicester Square
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