In the middle of his highly entertaining interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, Russell Brand referred to himself as “an actor”. I had always thought that he was a stand-up comedian, and this put a very different complexion on his performance. Was it all an act? Did he really believe in the overthrow of the entire political system, or was it an dramatic exercise designed to keep Brand's intellectual motor ticking over?
Brand presented himself as a man of conviction who is furious about the inadequacies of politicians to effect meaningful change, and who believes that the status quo exists to perpetuate inequality and iniquity. And all I can say is that, if he didn't mean it, then he is a bloody good actor.
It was a classic Paxman interview. On one side was a rather effete figure with an unruly beard who found it hard to take anything seriously, and on the other side was Russell Brand. Paxman's first contribution rather gave the game away. He sneered at the fact that Brand had guest edited an edition of the “New Statesman”. Paxman asked him: what gives you the right to edit a political magazine when you don't even vote? Brand replied in characteristically disarming fashion: he was in the editor's chair because he had been “politely asked by an attractive woman”.
Brand might adopt an ethereal air, but this knockabout exchange showed just how out-of-touch old Paxo is. Doesn't he know that the media is no longer the exclusive province of a gilded elite. Anyone with access to a computer screen can get published. If you've got an opinion and a mobile phone, you can make sure the world hears you.
This - broadly - fitted in with Brand's narrative. He seeks an egalitarian nirvana, where, as far as I could make out, companies don't make profits, the planet's resources are protected, and privilege is abolished. It sounded rather attractive, even if it wasn't exactly worked through. But Brand's rhetorical flourishes made up for the lack of detail. “Jeremy darling,” he said at one point, “don't ask me to sit here in a bloody hotel room and devise a global utopian system.”
Brand, who sounded like the love child of Stanley Unwin and Will Self, was goaded to genuine anger by Paxman's patronising assertion that he was “a trivial man”. Whatever Brand may be, he's not trivial. His call for revolution may be Spartist nonsense, but Brand definitely articulates a strain of thinking among a growing number of young people who feel disenfranchised, disenchanted, disengaged and, most important, disinterested in the idea that politics can change the world.
Most politicians don't lay a glove on Paxman. Brand made him look uncomfortable and faintly ridiculous. And his retort to Paxman's consistent sneering was priceless. “Jeremy, you've spent your whole career berating and haranguing politicians,” he said, “and when someone like me says they're all worthless, and what's the point in engaging with them, you have a go at me for not being poor any more”. A bit of verbal slapstick it may have been, but there was just the sense, when Jeremy met Russell, that some of the old certainties may be shifting.