By Aphrodite Manousos

Russell Brand is cashing in on the American Dream although he has little respect for what he views as the American, capitalist, consumer-run colonization of the entire world. One wonders if he is referring to the very same capitalist model, which promotes his books, tours, films and comedy performances, keeping him in the filthy rich lifestyle to which he is accustomed to.

Brand is working on a documentary and subsequent comedy tour to promote it. He played several low key dates at the Acme Comedy Theatre in Los Angeles, testing out his brand of comedy on American audiences. It would be prudent to note, American public opinion is as varied as Brand’s consortium of lady friends before his vow of eternal monogamy to pop singer Katy Perry.

Although Brand referred to the performances as rehearsal exercises with unfinished material, from the moment one has a paying audience with expectations there is a responsibility to come prepared as a performer with material that is somewhat coherent and pre-rehearsed. Only then can one get useful feedback from an audience.

His first performance was on Wednesday, January 12th and Brand came out excusing himself by stating he was running on large quantities of coffee and very little sleep, later he would again apologize for his “laissez-faire” attitude as his energy and act were both waning. On stage was the requisite comic’s stool, which he shunned in favor of sitting cross-legged on the floor and a small table filled with various brands of bottled water and a couple of bananas (presumably his preferred potassium-rich snack of choice). The water was meant for a bit he never got to and the banana he ate as he walked through the theatre, chatting to various audience members as part of the show.

The “rehearsal show,” billed as a performance with new material and being filmed for a documentary, amounted to some rambling lackluster drivel, peppered with technical difficulties, the dulcet sound of a trapped cricket in the theater, some scattered commentary from his notes, as Brand tried to gather his thoughts, and far more interesting ad-libbing when he interacted with the audience.

At one point, as he was kneeling on stage looking through his notes, Brand absent-mindedly said, “I’m under a lot of pressure at work,” which evoked more laughs than some of his prepared material. The highlight of the evening was when he got confrontational with his own camera man which he mistook for a rogue audience member trying to record his copyrighted material.

By the final performance date, on Monday, January 17th, Brand had gotten his thoughts in order, complete with a board showcasing his talking points and a comedy act which flowed coherently and cut out most of the rambling.  Of course, on both occasions Brand’s fascination with the art of hairdressing was omnipresent (lest we forget the teased-out, rat’s nest poof he sported for several years) as he picked on male audience members whose hairstyles he likened to both Princess Diana and Justin Bieber.

The premise of the act is about his previous misconception as a boy that fame would bring him happiness and fulfillment and how after achieving fame he found it did not deliver what he was expecting. Brand did have the good sense to add he wasn’t looking for sympathy over his glamorous life living in “a huge mansion with pop star Katy Perry,” as he put it.

He then launched into a foray of almost preach-y dialogue about children’s priorities revolving around shallow aspirations like fame, good looks and riches and his charitable appearances in third world countries to boost his self image. Well the part about his public profile being enhanced was said in jest, as was the nature of the act, but it rang true enough.

He likes to wax poetic about his quest to somehow be a better man and come to terms with his celebrity status within the confines of his non-violent, consumer-free, animal loving, transcendental activist aspirations but his narcissistic self-awareness of his fame addiction won’t allow him to ever reach full enlightenment. Thus, Russell “Mahatma Ghandi” Brand, an extension of his name which is sure to catch on soon, goes into shameless self-promotion about his “Buy Love Here” one-day, barter campaign and his other various creative and promotional outlets.

The act is a mixed dichotomous bag of hypocrisy, mimed masturbation, cheeky sex talk, a fascination with incest and rectal shenanigans and pseudo-enlightened references to world peace, global branding and the world’s obsession with celebrity, which in effect is what keeps Brand in business. Sounds titillating, doesn’t it? Oh yes, and then there’s his bad-boy reputation, long mane of kinky locks, uniform of black jeggings (jeans/leggings) and his pulchritudinously angular facial features. The latter is what certainly filled the seats for more than half of the female members of the audience and perhaps some of the males.

Although Brand’s act aspires to be half a socio-political commentary (in the spirit of the late, great comic George Carlin) and half an over-indulgent celebration of debauchery and vice (as Sam Kinison was best known for), the act comes off as a messy hodgepodge of ideas, failing at both because it won’t take a clear, steady and unapologetic stance in either direction. Also, the material is trite and nothing that hasn’t been said before by several greater comics and by Brand himself in numerous interviews and late night television appearances.

Perhaps Brand should rethink his ideologically ungrateful stance on fame and commerce as he is a public figure who continues to pursue and benefit largely from both. Furthermore, with fame comes greater responsibility. This responsibility lies not only in one’s preparedness when presenting one’s work but also in having a healthy respect and common courtesy to the fan base which keeps a celebrity’s career off of death row.

I write this not because Brand is not a personable and charismatic individual who greets his fans, but because he needs to show some sincerity. One example being on the final night of his show he promised to come out and meet the crowd and take pictures, which he did. The caveat, he stayed for five minutes, was rushed through the crowd and when a gentleman begged for a picture, declaring that he had driven eight hours to see the show, Brand responded, “Sorry mate, I gotta leave.” That one extra second of time meant a lot to that fan but meant little to Brand. Perhaps he should think of that next time he makes empty promises of coming out to meet and take pictures with the entire audience, which amounted to 40 people staying behind in the lobby.

In summation, perhaps in dispensing with his signature teased hair poof, Brand also dispensed with his ability to be the irreverent, lascivious cad, British audiences came to know and love. For his LA persona he’s adopted instead a vanilla-version of himself, I’ve dubbed cad-light, with a less tangled head of hair and a milder form of regurgitated comedy which serves to boost his self-image but does little to advance any original concepts.

Already sold out dates have been added at the Hollywood Improv from Tuesday, January 18th through the 20th.