★★★★ RUSSELL BRAND, TOURING Fatherhood prompts a look back at earlier misdemeanours
Were ordinary folk to plunder their lives for comedy, most of us would be sadly lacking in any topics worthy of analysis, let alone laughs. But Russell Brand, who every few years appears to reinvent himself – from drug addict to stand-up comic, from sex addict to husband, from anarchist to social campaigner, to name a few reboots – can in no way be described as ordinary.
His latest show, Re: Birth, charts his latest progression, this time into parenthood, but thankfully it’s minus any of the self-congratulatory “I changed a nappy, aren’t I super?” material so beloved of lesser comics. Instead, he uses his new status as one human being responsible for another to take stock of his life – and what he sees generally causes him pain or humiliation, and us mirth.
What also remains is his love of language, his exuberant performance style
His television appearances during his political commentator/social agitator phase at the time of the 2015 UK general election – including that interview with Labour leader Ed Miliband, and his ridiculous assertion on Newsnight that voting is pointless – are dissected alongside the tabloid headlines that resulted. He doesn’t stint on the self-mockery, but the trick here is the hilarious realisation that Brand's humongous ego feeds off even the most withering attention he gets.
Even when he describes – in deliciously graphic detail – the birth of his daughter, Brand, a self-proclaimed narcissist, still manages to make it about himself. “What is truly amazing,” he says, “is that it has taken this long" – giving us a rundown on that part of his life when sex replaced drugs as an addiction and he sowed his wild oats “like sticky confetti”.
Brand tells us that his priorities have changed since he became a dad, but it’s clear that his belief in humanity, and its power to overcome personal or political setbacks, remains undimmed. He neatly makes the point, too, that we all have our own levels of weirdness, with a foray into the audience to hear about their most embarrassing moments.
What also remains is his love of language, his exuberant performance style and his capacity to draw an audience into his storytelling, which is laden with verbal flourishes that reach surreal and even metaphysical heights (particularly when talking about his former love of drugs and how it is occasionally tested).
The two-hour show is fast-paced and, at times, almost scattergun in its breadth of subject matter: Donald Trump, his ex-wife Katy Perry, and the late actor Andrew Sachs (with whom he had a controversial run-in some years ago), and much, much more. There's an occasional weak spot with an unoriginal take on a subject, and Brand feels slightly more reined in than on his last tour, but it’s still an exhilarating evening.