This isn’t the Russell Brand who made us howl in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
Nor is the 2023 Brand the fellow who pushed socialism while living the life of a movie star, complete with his pop goddess wife, Katy Perry.
No, the comedian front and center in the comedy special “Brandemic” is a whole new fellow, but he sounds just like his old self. His quicksilver tongue, able to keep pace with his fertile mind, hasn’t aged a minute.
The Liverpool performance, captured in a bare-boned setting, focuses heavily on COVID-19 and its aftermath. His pandemic timeline is a tour through the denial, fear and frustration we faced as the virus ransacked the globe, along with power-hungry pols eager to exploit all of the above.
Brand’s delivery, so fast you fear he’ll run clean out of breath, gives even his lesser material a spark. It’s endearing, too, as are his occasional jigs and funny faces.
American audiences may not grasp all the British-based references, but hearing him skewer British pols who partied up while punishing the commoners evokes memories of French Laundry visits and hair blow outs.
His targets are many, and they deserve Brand’s brand of mockery.
“Australia – started off as a penal colony, finished up as a penal colony,” he spits out, referencing the nation’s draconian lockdown policies.
He takes a page out of Jon Stewart’s playbook, comically noticing the odds of a pandemic starting near a lab where gain-of-function research is conducted on, wait for it, viruses.
His attempt to describe all the do’s and don’ts about pandemic rules is perfect, marrying his rat-a-tat style with a withering critique of government hypocrisy.
Brand returns to unity and sweetness, throughout the set. It’s a far cry from crusty comics as well as the old Brand, who routinely lashed out at his perceived ideological foes.
There’s little outrageous about “Brandemic” on the surface. His political skewering, all richly deserved, mirrors what you’ll see and hear on alternative media platforms. They still would make the suits at, say Netflix, uneasy.
Brand’s followers know not to expect him on Stephen Colbert’s couch.
The comic’s populism hasn’t ebbed over the years, and it bubbles up throughout the hour. He cheers on the pandemic “carers” while noting the huzzahs don’t include giving them better wages. He applauds the government for housing the homeless at the pandemic’s peak but notes how they were kicked to the curb once the virus levels drooped.
The Brand approach to stand-up, even at its most appealing, can leave a viewer weary. It’s a high-energy affair, and when he starts one segment in a quieter voice, seated on the ground, you can’t help but soak in the tonal shift.
His manic approach is still best for gnawing through societal ills.
A late routine, presumably based on a true story, finds a gaggle of strangers stopping to help an injured soul on a British street. The story is whimsical, filled with the star’s pointed self-deprecation.
The overriding message is simple.
People often do the right thing when left to their own devices. It’s part of the new Russell Brand ideology, a wish to give power to the people, and local government, rather than the blokes who made us miserable during the pandemic.
He has a point, no?