By the end of EPIX’s “Russell Brand: Messiah Complex,” the comic has morphed into his Trews persona, a rabble-rousing socialist hurling stones at Fox News, celebrity worship and false idols.
It’s an awkward journey, and one he does all he can to leaven with his saucy wit. That he partially succeeds during the special, which airs at 10 p.m. EST Nov. 28, is a tribute to his cheeky stage presence. It’s still impossible to take him, or his political views, seriously, and not just because he spends the show’s final five minutes detailing the joys of rimming.
Hitting the stage to the strains of “Personal Jesus,” Brand kicks things off with, of all things, an airline gag.
Brand quickly gets to the point, motioning to the faces adorning the stage – Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Che Guevara. They’re the collective catalyst behind the special, a look at four figures who swam against the cultural tide.
Brand fashions himself a steampunk poet, a seer of things the average mind can’t comprehend. He mentions one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most famous quotes, “God is dead,” and then does a virtual victory lap for his own brain power.
“I should warn you at this point there’s clever things in the show,” he says, as if Stephen Hawking had hit the stage as a surprise opener. If a bubbling stew of word soup equals clever, he does have a point.
Brand shrewdly skewers his own hypocrisy early in the performance. Sure, he name drops folks like Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame, but he sure feels guilty about it.
Fame, he says, is like a “tumble dryer full of tits and money,” he jokes. It’s still not a full-throttled defense against his personal fortunes, especially given his zest for spreading the wealth around.
Yet he’s more Kathy Griffin than Noam Chomsky on stage, shredding his pop culture existence for our bemusement. He uses that angle to attack the media, our celebrity obsessions and selfies gone wrong. Watching Brand poke fun at a picture of his shirtless self with Olympian rowers is to find any political differences you may have with him melt away, if for a moment.
The comedian appears the most enamored with Guevara, dismissing his ruthlessness and vile homophobia with a wave of his hand. Jesus Christ gets the least amount of his attention, serving primarily as a cudgel to bash the right, Rupert Murdoch and Fox News.
He’s on more solid, and original, footing when describing how our views on Princess Di intersect with the patriarchal society. When Brand dips into more trenchant political arguments his reasoning could be dismissed by a fifth grader.
The Soviet Union’s version of Communism failed, he explains, because “they didn’t follow the manual.”
Of Communism he says, “I know it’s not a popular idea anymore, but I looked it up on the Internet and it just means ‘sharing.'” That’s hardly comfort to those suffering in modern socialist countries, such as Venezuela and Cuba.
Brand also mocks how reporters embrace simple, often erroneous memes, but his own political posturing is equally vapid. He shreds British Prime Minister David Cameron for not looking like a leader
He has a face like “a lil’ painted egg,” he says of Cameron, as if appearances should matter in the slightest when it comes to a politician’s mettle.
“Messiah Complex” would have worked better as a one-hour special. Instead, Brand goes on for another 25 or so minutes, with the material getting more pointed and less humorous. His targets become obvious and rote, from calling McDonald’s “evil” to blasting Fox News as a bunch of bigots for criticizing illegal immigration.
Here, he sets up the laziest straw man in town.
“Immigrants are just people who used to live somewhere else,” he says in his oh, so serious tone.
“Russell Brand: Messiah Complex” wants to make audiences think as well as laugh. Brand should do more of the former himself before attempting to prick our consciences from his comedy pulpit.