Russell Brand in New York City Review

You probably know Russell Brand from his briefly hilarious turn as out-there rock star Aldous Snow in the Jason Segel-penned Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Brand has been getting a lot of press recently, culminating in his hosting of the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, where he delivered a now-famous politically tinged tirade to a crowd of courageously bland faces. Brand has dabbled in stand-up, acting, and further presenting. The meager offering that this 60-odd minute act presents might be enough to satisfy fans of his, but does not hold up as a stand-up act, largely due to Brand himself.

Brand makes his entrance to the song "Rock 'n' Roll Star" by the British band Oasis, his trademark wild hair and dandyish presence in full effect. Brand is gifted with a sharp wit and a good amount of charisma, prancing around like a love child of Jim Morrison and a manic depressive; his tight black pants and wide-open shirt do much of the work to establish him as a sex symbol. It feels like Brand wants to manufacture memorability, to justify his rock star status without saying a word. Unfortunately, his material just does not stand up to the same scrutiny as his admittedly compulsively watchable persona.

Brand falls back on repetitive humor in the first half of the show, going on and on about the trappings of fame while reintroducing himself as a famous British comedian. One phrase he repeats a few times throughout the show is how his persona feeds off of fame. This is certainly true in that the majority of his material deals with adjusting to fame.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Brand’s lack of a reputation in the States hurts much of the humor, echoing as a true-and-tried collection of “this is what it’s like to be famous” jokes. Again, Brand’s charismatic delivery and his machine-gun delivery do a lot of the work for him and there’s no denying the man’s intellectual, Python-esque appeal is through the roof. Bite-sized pieces of this sort of act do tend to fare better than full hour-long servings; a fact proven by his Aldous Snow coming across as a genuinely likeable, even brazenly cool character in his brief appearances through Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Brand goes over deleted jokes from his disastrous MTV speech, reads and responds to death threats, and dissects a news article focused on his personal life. There is little shock value in his work and he doesn’t seem to exploit it for that purpose, rather resigning himself to bemusedly look out from the sidelines at the response to his act. When he spouts monologues, he does so with a granted elegance, rarely mincing words. The problem is it’s all somewhat derivative and the cerebral observations don’t really work well in a stand-up environment. Brand is a one-man show - but the show part seems in search of fertile ground. The show does pick up in the second half, with Brand going over his personal wants, needs and philosophies, which are curiously interesting, but don't make good fodder for jokes.

Brand finishes on a strong note with some dirty humor but overall, the 60-minutes barely hold up as a legitimate stand-up. When iconic comedians are still putting out material in their twilight years, to see this work, even as an introduction to Brand's style, cap at 60 minutes is a disappointment. Wait for a longer stand-up, if he should choose to pursue the field.

DVD Bonus Features

Three short features, "Loose Cannon Drunk Girl", "An Englishman in New York," and his speech at the 2008 MTV Music Video Awards are included. The drunk girl segment are just outtakes of three interruptions of the show by drunken fan in the front. Brand's responses to her are funny and his choice to interact with her surprising, but the scenes don't add much to the show. "An Englishman in New York" is essentially ten minutes of Brand gallivanting around New York City in an attempt to rile up some improvisational humor, which never really comes.

"Russell Brand in New York City" is on sale May 19, 2009 and is rated NR. Comedy. Directed by Ryan Polito. Written by Russell Brand. Starring Russell Brand.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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