Russell Brand: Standing Up To Addiction British comic Russell Brand is known for his outlandish appearance, sharp wit and no-holds-barred language. He's put his over-the-top comedy on the page with his new memoir My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-up.
NPR logo

Russell Brand: Standing Up To Addiction

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Russell Brand: Standing Up To Addiction

Russell Brand: Standing Up To Addiction

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When I tell you that my guest today is a very funny British actor and comic who sometimes goes too far and can be offensive, but is mostly very funny, a lot of you will be thinking Russell Brand. On the other hand, some of you may have never heard of him.

He's quite famous in England and quite controversial. He's been fired from MTV and resigned from the BBC last year after a huge public outcry over a radio program he co-hosted. The BBC was fined 150,000 pounds over the incident. His unpredictability certainly makes him memorable, and that's one of the reasons we're featuring his interview in our holiday week series of memorable interviews from 2009.

Brand is starting to become known in the U.S. He played the self-absorbed, over-sexed rock star in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and is making a sequel. He twice hosted the MTV Video Music Awards. The first time, he acknowledged his relatively unknown status here.

(Soundbite of "2008 MTV Video Music Awards")

Mr. RUSSELL BRAND (Actor, Comic, Author): English people present will be able to testify that I'm famous in England.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BRAND: Admittedly, fame does lose a little of its cachet when you have to tell people that you have it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: And English people always say to me, ah, I bet you love it in America, not being famous. It must be a relief. Do you love it? I (censored) hate it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: My personality doesn't work without fame. Without fame, this haircut just looks like mental illness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The hairdo that Russell Brand described is long and ratted-up. We'll talk more about his look later. Brand has a memoir that was a bestseller in England and the U.S., called "My Booky Wook." It's about his difficult childhood, his sex and drug addictions and his life in comedy.

Russell Brand, welcome to FRESH AIR. When you're in the United States, and you're doing standup with a new audience, are you trying to take advantage of that now and kind of in some ways trying to start from scratch with people who don't much know who you are, like not totally recreating yourself but asking yourself if I were starting over again, what would I do, maybe differently?

Mr. BRAND: I think it is a new opportunity to - it gives you the reptilian opportunity to shed parts of your skin that you don't like, although a reptile would never do that. I think it's a pretty wholesale skin-shedding that they go in for, but it does allow me to be a bit selective.

I do think yeah, I won't highlight that aspect of my personality. What I will highlight is, you know, this particularly quaint part of my English eccentricity.

GROSS: Now in the clip we just heard, you referred to your hair as something that would just be mentally ill if it wasn't for the fact that you were famous. Let's talk about your look.

Now, you often wear really tight, hip-hugging leather pants, a shirt that's unbuttoned to your mid-chest, chains around your neck, mascara under your eyes, and you have a moustache and beard and long, almost like teased hair. And in some ways, you look like a pirate with a taste for leather and chains and God knows what else. So how did this become your look?

Mr. BRAND: The reason I feel that it is an ingenuous way for me to dress is, it did happen quite organically that - you know, like that Smiths lyric, I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside - I dress all kinky because that's generally how I feel.

GROSS: So a lot of Americans know you for your role in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," a really funny comedy written by and starring Jason Segel, in which you play this very self-absorbed, completely narcissistic rock star who's very sex-obsessed and dresses kind of like exactly the way you do.

And I'd like to play a scene from the movie before we talk about it, and in this scene, like, you've stolen away Jason Segel's girlfriend, and so you and that girlfriend have gone to a resort hotel in Hawaii on vacation.

At the same time, he's inadvertently gone to the same hotel to, like, nurse his wounds, and he runs into you, and mayhem ensues, and it's all horrible, but then he finds another girlfriend.

So in this scene, you're meeting in the lobby of the hotel. He's had a very good night with his new girlfriend, and you are in the process of going back without your new girlfriend, his ex, going back to London. And so here's the scene.

(Soundbite of film, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall")

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. BRAND: (As Aldous Snow) Hey, all right, mate.

Mr. JASON SEGEL (Actor): (As Peter Bretter) How are you today?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Yeah, I'm good, I'm good. Are you okay?

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Am I okay? I'm better than okay, my friend.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) You seem sprightly.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) I had a great time last night.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Congratulations. Well done, well done.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Thank you. What about you? What's with the bag?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Oh right, yeah. I'm off back to England, mate.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Oh, you and Sarah are going to England?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) No, no, no, I'm just going alone.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Did you guys have a fight or something?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Yeah, it was really - how you served five years under her, I don't know. You deserve a medal or a holiday or at least a cuddle from somebody.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) You were only here for a week.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Well, I don't know. For me, that one week of it was like - sort of like going on holiday with, I don't know, I wouldn't say Hitler but certainly Goebbels. It was like a little holiday with Hitler.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Jesus.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Oh well you know, hey listen. At least it's clear now for you two to reconnect.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Oh no, no. No, you know what? I have a good thing going on with Rachel, and I want to see that through.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Or maybe, you know, you could have both of them, Rachel and Sarah. They got on all right, didn't they, at dinner? So maybe.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) You know what? First of all, I'm not that kind of guy, and even if I was, I don't think that I have the sexual competency to really pull that off.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Yeah, it's a gift. Okay, well I think my ride's here. So I'm going to skedaddle, then, before anything else happens to me, before life gets any more daft. Is someone going to take that? Listen, don't let them grind you down. Take it easy, eh? Hey, look at my driver. I'm going to have sex with her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest, Russell Brand, with Jason Segel in a scene from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which is now out on DVD. Did you feel like you were playing a satirical version of yourself?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, I was because the process of me getting that part, it came about thusly. I went for an audition to play the part of Aldous Snow, if that was indeed the character's name at that time, who was originally intended to be a nebbish, bookish, you know, Poindexter-type individual, like an English Hugh Grant, bespectacled character.

I went in there, did the audition. Jason and Nick Stoller, the director, and everyone, they really liked it, and said but this man is clearly not a bookworm. We'll just rewrite the part and make it exactly how he is. And so in a way, it's very flattering because it means they like me. In another way, it means they think I can't act.

GROSS: Well, funny you should mention that. When Jason Segel was on the show, he told his version of the story of how he ended up rewriting the part for you. So let's hear that clip, and then I want to ask you about it. So listen to this.

You wrote a character that's played by Russell Brand in your film, who's a pop star, who's deeply in love with himself and has also stolen your girlfriend.

Mr. SEGEL: Yes. Do you want to hear an amazing story about casting Russell Brand?


Mr. SEGEL: That part was originally written to be a young British author. Like, I picture like a Hugh Grant type. And so we're holding the auditions, and people are coming in and doing these terrible, fake British accents and wearing suits, you know, three-piece tweed suits and everything.

And so about halfway through the day, we're just exhausted, and we feel like we're never going to find somebody, and then in walks Russell Brand in his full regalia.

He's wearing leather pants. He's wearing a shirt unbuttoned to his navel and just, like, it must have been three pounds of necklaces and his all teased. He's wearing eyeliner, I mean just totally wrong for the part.

And he walks in, and he has the nerve to look at me, the writer, and he says you have to forgive me, mate. I've only had a chance to take a cursory glance of your little script. Perhaps you should tell me what it is you require.

And I literally went home that night and rewrote the movie for Russell Brand to be a British rock star. I couldn't imagine anyone to be more jealous of or intimidated by if they were dating your new girlfriend than Russell Brand.

GROSS: That's Jason Segel, telling the story of how he cast my guest, Russell Brand, in the film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

So Russell Brand, had you really not read the script when you showed up for the audition?

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, but they'd only just given it to me. It's not like I'd had it ages. I'd had it about - someone gave it to me about an hour before, and so like I didn't have a proper chance to read it. I wasn't trying to be deliberately truculent. It was just, like, that was the truth of the situation.

And it's lovely to hear someone talking about me in that fashion. It's proper good for egotism, but like you know what, Terry? What happened was that when Jason told me that story of like, Russell, when you came in, you said I've only had a chance to have a cursory glance at your script.

He told me that. I said I would not have said that. That is really, really rude, and I would never say anything like that. I'm an Englishman. I'm a gentleman. That's unforgivable. I'd never say it.

And of course, it's all been filmed because it's an audition. They showed me it, and I did say that. I can't believe it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Makes you wonder about the rest of your life, doesn't it, what you think you're doing, and what you've really done?

Mr. BRAND: To tell you the truth, I'm an unreliable witness of my own existence. So perhaps my autobiography should be dramatically re-edited by people who were actually there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So more on the subject of Jason Segel, there's another clip I want to play for you from Jason Segel, and this is talking about his current film, and that's the film "I Love You, Man," in which he plays this kind of, you know, a bachelor who, like, doesn't want to get married.

He wants a series of flings. He doesn't want a committed relationship, and he lives in this apartment that he set up just with like videogames and instruments and things just for guys, just for his, like...

Mr. BRAND: Committed man-child type character.

GROSS: Precisely, precisely. So here's Jason Segel, talking about how you figured into his interpretation of that character.

Mr. SEGEL: Sydney was a late bloomer, and so he's kind of terrified of monogamy, and you know, he's a bit of a womanizer and really values his guy friends.

He's a little bit mysterious. I don't want to give too much away, but he, you know, he's got this attitude that I don't possess in life, which is this is who I am, take it or leave it, which is what really drew me to playing that part.

It sort of reminded me of my friend Russell Brand, who I did Sarah Marshall with.

GROSS: Oh, he's terrific in your film, yeah.

Mr. SEGEL: Oh thank you. Well, he has that quality in real life, as well, of this is who I am, you know, accept it. And I've never had that. I'm the kind of guy who, like, stays up until midnight thinking I wish I hadn't said that thing to that guy. I hope I didn't hurt his feelings. And then I'll call the next day and apologize, and they'll have no idea what I'm talking about. That's sort of how I'm bent, and it was nice to sort of play the opposite.

GROSS: So that's Jason Segel, talking about my guest, Russell Brand, and by the way, Russell Brand has a new memoir, and it's called "My Booky Wook."

So Russell Brand, do you see yourself the way Jason Segel does, as someone who really doesn't care what anyone thinks?

Mr. BRAND: No. I think of myself as being utterly tortured by introspection and self-analysis, burning the midnight oil, reflecting endlessly on traumas, what the French would call L'esprit de l'escalier, the thing you should have said but only remember on the stairs after you've left the room. I'm forever thinking of things that were funny to say just a little too late.

But you know what? It's so lovely to hear how Jason - this is a good format for a radio show. I wish you would just interview everyone that's ever met me and get them to say nice things about me, and I'll just sagely nod along, yes I am great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Plus I heard you say something nice about me, that you think I'm fantastic in that film. That gave me a little twitch, if you don't mind me saying so, Terry.

So in spite of being deeply flattered by the idea that I could be perceived as a living-in-the-moment, hedonistic, bacchanalian warrior for truth and beauty, I'm as neurotic as the next man, and the next man in this case is Jason Segel.

GROSS: But in some ways, comedically, it seems like you don't really care what other people think, that you will do daring things without worrying about the consequences, and there's been lots of consequences. You've been fired from, like, so many broadcasting positions in England.

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, well that's true, Terry. I mean, as a performer, I'm very, very confident in what I do. As a person, that is, I suppose, where I'm a little more doubtful, introspective and analytical.

But as a performer, I'm very confident in my work because I feel like I'm in alignment with something. That's what I feel. I feel that when we're doing something well - whether it be cooking, making love or performing - I feel that when it's done well, you get out of the way of nature. You allow nature's rhythms and frequencies to move you.

What I feel is that the stuff about me that works is not really me at all. It's just getting out of the way of a kind of frequency that's everywhere.

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand, and he has a new memoir called "My Booky Wook," and he is a British comic and actor who's recently started to really make his mark in America through movies like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and through hosting the "MTV Video Music Awards" ceremony.

Let's take - let's talk about one or two of the really, like, risky things that you've done that have been really controversial and that ended up getting you fired, because I'm interested in what you were thinking comedically when you did it. Let's start with dressing as Osama bin Laden on your TV show the day after September 11th. This was September 12th, 2001. Tell us what you said on your broadcast in this bin Laden costume.

Mr. BRAND: What happened, Terry, was that one recalls the horror of that time and how obviously deeply moved the whole world was by that dramatic trauma of, you know, the most horrifying act of terrorism in history.

And what was so - me, at that time, I was a crack addict. I was on heroin. I was out of my mind. So to see something so genuinely dramatic and awful happening in the world, it kind of, it really, really moved me, and I didn't really know how to deal with it.

I didn't have the facility to write a poem or to, you know, think about the real effects of an event like that on the victims. All I thought was my God, what is happening in the world?

And I remember I was hanging out with my drug dealer that day, Gritty(ph), and we were smoking a lot of crack and heroin. I'd been aware of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden for a while. So I felt, you know, and this is what was really crazy of me.

I felt a little bit - you know, like, if you really like a band or a writer, and then that band becomes the biggest band in the world. I kind of wanted to go hey, I knew about this for ages, you know. I've known about this for a long time.

So I had to almost re-pledge my commitment in a ridiculous, drug-induced, you know, tribute by dressing up that day. That's all - you know, it was an insane thing to do and not something I would ever try to justify and never would repeat without, you know, drugs and alcohol.

But I don't know if you've ever taken crack, Terry. It makes you do some very, very eccentric things, you know. So my point was really, I suppose, just trying to align myself somehow with all of that chaos, but you know, in retrospect, it was a very disrespectful and foolish thing to have done.

GROSS: Now you quote in your book something that you actually said that day, dressed as bin Laden. Do you want me to quote it, or do you want to say it?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, please do. Yeah, please tell me.

GROSS: I hate it when I do other people's routines. This is always so awful.

Mr. BRAND: Come on, Terry. You can't do any worse that I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what you said was come on, guys. Get over it. It was yesterday. We've got to move on now. We can't grieve forever. And in a way, like years later, you can look back at that and say that's really kind of funny because it's taking that kind of advice of, like, you know, you must get over it, you must move on, and using it in such an incredibly inappropriate way.

Mr. BRAND: Precisely, yes. I mean...

GROSS: When no one could possibly have gotten over it yet. So you're taking this kind of self-help bromide and really making it seem just absolutely ludicrous, but it could also be very offensive to people because everything was - the wound was just...

Mr. BRAND: Absolutely, of course. And I was always - like, I was sort of obsessed with being original at that time and not a lot else, and I think one has the privilege of that perspective when you've not been personally affected by an incident.

Obviously, had I not been on drugs and had stopped to think about the reality of that situation, and you know, the people that died that day and the effects it has had and continues to have on people that lost loved ones because of that terrible event, then that - you know, I would have had a very, very different perspective.

But through the haze and crack and heroin, all I saw was an incredible new spectacle, and look at the way it was presented to us, the iconography of it and difficult to say sensationalized when it is clearly such a sensational event.

But subsequent events proved that it kind of, you know, sort of was used as a mandate for some, you know, terribly destructive foreign policy, and I suppose that kind of hysteria is what I tuned into.

GROSS: You know, you make it really clear in your memoir, where your fans and the people who don't like your work already know, which is that, you know, you - as you said, you've been a heroin addict, a crack addict. You appear to have a very addictive personality. But I'm wondering, like as a comic, as somebody whose world is centered around being funny, how is that affected by heroin and crack? I mean, does being funny matter on a heroin high?

Mr. BRAND: It doesn't seem as important because nothing seems as important when you've got heroin. One of the key components of opiates is that it diminishes the significance of all else.

You know, if you've got heroin, nothing else really matters. Everything comes in second. In fact, I've often thought that opiate addiction, opium addiction particularly, is like the materialization of the abstract idea of need.

Most of us have an idea that we're missing something from our lives. Some of us think of it as God. Some of us think of it as a new pair of shoes or the success of a football team that we follow or the craving of the embrace of an absent lover.

But with heroin, once you're addicted to it, those needs, those abstract needs, that hole that I feel is within all of us, doesn't seem to be nameless, some unknowable entity, but the clearly material, definable, accessible drug of heroin.

You don't think oh God, what is it, I wish I had a new girlfriend or a new car. You think, I've got to get heroin. Once you align that physical addiction with that kind of psychological need, your life just has a very clear linear narrative. I want heroin. I want heroin. I want heroin. It's just a tiny, cyclical loop of futile desires.

You know, and in a way, in the rest of my life and in other people's lives, it seems we pursue similarly futile endeavors, but just you know, there is just a bigger carousel. You don't notice it as much. You know, the futility of consumerism is less obvious than the futility of heroin addiction but still the same paradigm.

GROSS: So writing comedy when you're doing heroin, is that hard to do?

Mr. BRAND: Yeah...

GROSS: I mean, do jokes come to you? Does humor matter? Do you care?

Mr. BRAND: No, I was an awful comedian...

GROSS: Are you any more or less funny?

Mr. BRAND: Terry, at the time, when I was on crack and heroin, I was a lot, lot less funny, you know, because I was a self-indulgent maniac up on the stage. You know, I'd be up using heroin on the stage in front of an audience. I used to go into butcher shops and buy loads of animal entrails and skulls and offal and smash up skulls and batter them all up with a hammer and kick them into the audience.

I was much like - you know, like GG Allin, the New York...

GROSS: May I just interrupt you and say ick?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, no, it was crazy days, Terry.

GROSS: That sounds horrible.

Mr. BRAND: It was pretty awful. But I was just interested in the spectacle of self-destruction. You know, it was so - heroin addiction was so centrifugal to my life, as it is with all drug addicts, that it overwhelms all of your being, really.

So to answer your question about humor, I mean, I was occasionally funny by accident when I was a heroin addict, never knowingly. You know, I mean, it was - it consumes you to such a degree, it's difficult really to write a well-constructed joke or to let the part of you that's beautiful and amusing flourish because, really, you just become a vessel for that addiction.

GROSS: Russell Brand will be back in the second half of the show. His memoir is called "My Booky Wook." I am Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with British comic and actor Russell Brand. He's best known in the U.S. for his role in last year's film comedy, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" as the self-absorbed, sex-obsessed rock star. And he's known for hosting the MTV Video Music Awards last September. His memoir, "My Booky Wook" is now an American bestseller. He's more famous in England than here, and his broadcasting controversies have added to the fame.

I want to get to, like, something else you did that was really controversial that you resigned over.

And the person who is in this bit with you ended up being suspended for several months, and it's a prank that was very famous in England, semi-famous in the United States. And this is when you called Andrew Sachs, who is an actor now in his 70s, who is best known in America as one of the co-stars of "Fawlty Towers"...

Mr. BRAND: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the British comedy series. And so he didn't show up for an appearance on your radio show.

Mr. BRAND: It was actually a phone interview, but he didn't answer the phone and...

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. BRAND: ...just to give the situation a little more context...

GROSS: Thank you.

Mr. BRAND: Yeah. I loved "Fawlty Towers" growing up, thought it was like the best comedy. I loved Monty Python. I loved John Cleese. I loved "Fawlty Towers" so much, and I grew up listening to the audio cassettes of that show. Now Andrew Sachs was due to come on our show as a phone-in guest, booked by our producers because the previous week, an anecdote, during which it was revealed I'd had relations with one of his granddaughters who was a member of the Satanic Sluts burlesque dance group had come out on my show.

It had been mentioned, oh, yeah, didn't it - like, you know, another guest on the show said, Russell, did you have sex with that - Andrew Sachs' granddaughter who happens to be in the burlesque dance group, the Satanic Sluts? I said, yes. As a matter of fact, I did. Now one of the producers subsequently booked Andrew Sachs to come on and guest the next week. So there would be a kind of elephant-in-the-room interview in which we would subtly allude, perhaps, to these ideas - or not mention them at all, but the listeners would know, thus providing a kind of a bit of cheeky, naughty comedy.

But what actually happened is we, Jonathan Ross - who's the best broadcaster in our country - and I ended up leaving accidentally a kind of ridiculous answer phone message, very much - and then very much in the vein of the film "Swingers," left subsequent answer phone messages trying to retract to the original one, but actually hugely exacerbating the situation.

GROSS: And in those messages, there were references to this relationship that you had with his granddaughter, whose stage name, by the way, is Voluptua.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Voluptua, no less. Yes.

GROSS: So, anyways, he was very offended. She was offended. Go ahead, yeah.

Mr. BRAND: He was. Yes. It was accidental. You see the thing was that - the distinction I always feel compelled to make is between a deliberate prank with intention and sort of a mad, giddy accident. It wasn't like, okay, let's call up Andrew Sachs when and then - and only then - we shall announce that I had sex with his granddaughter. The intention was not to mention that at all. And then in a crazy moment - actually not even myself, Jonathan, as I say, the best broadcaster in our country, blurting out - he - I was on the phone leaving the message. Oh, hello, Andrew Sachs. I respect you. I respect your lineage. You're a great actor - all things I truly believe. Then in the background, Jonathan blurted out: He effed your granddaughter, right, you know, in a sort of giddy adolescent whirling moment of irresponsibility. And then we were like, oh, no. Hang up. Hang up. Oh, no. What have we done? What have we done?

So it was already on the answer phone and everything. And I said, right, okay. The only way we can make the situation better is by leaving another answer phone message. And in the subsequent ones, all we did was apologize, but, you know, in a kind of, I guess, frivolous way. And thus - I suppose what happened is because, like, you know, if any - the people that are aware of Andrew Sachs in your country will know him as Manuel, the waiter from "Fawlty Towers."

I loved that show so much. I only thought of it - I sort of thought, that's Manuel from "Fawlty Towers" I'm leaving a message for. And that in the end, listening to that answer phone would just be Manuel from "Fawlty Towers." I didn't think, oh yeah, that was 30 years ago. This is his granddaughter. I just thought, oh, it's Manuel from "Fawlty Towers" and just thought of the whole thing as kind of a frivolous jape, you know, and - but really, it would have been upsetting for Andrew Sachs, which I obviously apologized for. But what then ensued was media hysteria where the privately owned English media used it as an opportunity to destroy the publicly funded BBC, an ongoing campaign that continues to this day and will continue until the BBC is destroyed. So I got caught up in a massive storm.

GROSS: Well, let me say, according to what I read in The New York Times, after the show - after your radio broadcast happened, there were two complaints to the BBC. But then one of the tabloids wrote an article about it, and as a result of that article, there were tens of thousands of complaints.

Mr. BRAND: Yes. Because the...

GROSS: And that's what you're referring to.

Mr. BRAND: Precisely, The Daily Mail, the newspaper in question, this is - this newspaper has a huge agenda to undermine the BBC and, in fact, undermine any organization that it sees as liberal. Now I'm not suggesting that the case of me and Jonathan Ross leaving that silly, silly answer phone message is any great liberal cause. But what I am saying is that The Daily Mail took that opportunity to attack a very beautiful and brilliant institution, the BBC, and that they won't - they don't care - The Daily Mail don't care about morality. All they care about is conformity, you know.

And I've got a career that's somehow representative of kind of libertine values of sex. The radio show that, you know, that I used to make here at the BBC was always kind of anarchic and a little bit crazy. Now we crossed the line in that particular incident, but the ensuing publicity and furor was never about the incident itself. It's more about conformity and making sure people don't have the kind of liberty to express themselves, and that the BBC and publicly funded media and the ethics implied within the nationalism are destroyed.

GROSS: Now, I want to talk to you a little bit about what it's like to get that level of anger directed at you, as well as the BBC. Now you said after hosting the Video Music Awards in the U.S. that you got death threats because you said some things about the - you said that you made fun of the Jonas Brothers for their purity rings, and you called - I'm trying to remember what you called President Bush.

Mr. BRAND: George W. Bush. I said - what the joke was, right, because here's how this it makes sense. I said, you know, I'd like to - hello, on behalf of the rest of the world, I'd like to urge the people of America to vote for Barack Obama. Now, I know a lot of people - racists, I think they're called -say America is not ready for a black president. But I know America to be a free-thinking, forward-thinking, liberal country. After all, you've had that retarded cowboy fellow in the White House for eight years. We all think that's very liberal over in Europe, because in my country, he wouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors. Right? So a frivolous, daft little joke about it. But, you know, some people - supporters of George Bush and people of that political persuasion, did send death threats. But for me, you know, a death threat, you know, I'm aware that I'm not immortal. Death is going to come regardless of the death threats.

GROSS: So what's the difference between the American way of expressing anger at you and the British way of expressing anger? Like, did you get death threats in England? You know, like, when you become a public target like what - would you make a comparison for us?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, I would. I mean, in England I think any actual death threats -I think because of our English system of politeness, I think a death threat would be considered rude. But some people did roll their eyes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: A death threat would be considered rude, I like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest Russell Brand and his new memoir is called "My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-up." You write in your book that your father use to listen to self help tapes in the car, and the message you took away...

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, Anthony Robbins and all that.

GROSS: So, the message you took away from of all this was, you can do anything you want. Can you talk a little bit more about the impact of growing up with self-help tapes?

Mr. BRAND: Well, yeah, I think...

GROSS: Because this is a very self-help country. Yeah.

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, it's like, the Mecca, right, of self help. I mean like, you know, so self-help as in Scott M. Peck and Anthony Robbins and those kinds of guys. Yeah, he was always - my dad was involved in (unintelligible) weekends and stuff, and from time to time he was very much into success and self improvement, like an entrepreneurial child of Thatcher's Britain. And he would listen to these tapes - they were all about yeah, you can do it. You want - you can achieve what you want, don't take no for an answer type stuff, you know. And I was used to always hearing that from probably when I was like, five years old - that and "Fawlty Towers" cassettes ironically. So like, it made me sort of feel like, you know... My dad also had this belief, which is a curious way to view the world - he said it in this way, not so articulately, perhaps, as this, not so unnecessarily loquacious and verbose, but the message was the same. This is what my dad believed.

The world and existence itself is a malevolent force that wants to destroy you. Every day, you're going to be attacked, undermined and antipathy will shroud you and the world's going to bring you down and destroy you. Only if you fight from your core, with every ounce of your being, to succeed, would life stand back and go, right, well this one's serious, let him through. The only way you can be successful is by waging war against being. And that's kind of the opposite of Buddhism, but in a way, it does show you that you can, you know, you can achieve stuff with fervor.

GROSS: Boy, are you fighting that influence now, to see the world as this antagonistic thing that you're in constant opposition to?

Mr. BRAND: I do try to, I mean, because sometimes there seems evidence that the world is, you know, oppositional and antagonistic. But yeah, I don't want to see the world like that. I want to see the world as beautiful.

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand. His autobiography is called "My Booky Wook." More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand and he has a new memoir called "My Booky Wook." As we record this, the G-20 is still meeting in London. You participated in the G-20 protests. You weren't there like, breaking windows of banks or anything, but you were out there protesting what?

Mr. BRAND: The protest was aimed towards change in ecological and economic policy. I don't think there's a strong contra-argument for what's happening economically. There aren't many people saying, well, this was working well or the bankers are doing a fine job. So I was just there, as I've often been, in public protests, because kind of - I enjoy the energy and I like to believe in change and I believe in people's right to protest and voice their opinions. It's kind of different for me now that I'm, you know, famous in this country, it's difficult to become part of a crowd so effortlessly.

GROSS: At an earlier protest, in 1997, you got arrested for pulling down your pants in public. What was the point?

Mr. BRAND: Oh, showing off really. I mean, I was just a proper little show-off when I was growing up and I was on drugs, so those two things together - just meant like, you know. I - again, it was a May Day protest. It was anti-capitalistic, people smashing stuff up, there was loads of craziness, if you will - which I always found kind of exciting. And I would just like to get involved with it and be a part of it. And I think the stripping was - I just didn't have any better ideas. So, it was really quite an unimaginative way to show off and there were some awful photographs that recorded that incident.

It was around the Statue of Eros in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, one of the busiest part of London and a focal point for the protest for that day. I was surrounded by members of the metropolitan police force. I stripped myself naked, and as I took off the final layer of clothing, they folded in around me like dough, dragged me off. I pretended to have an epileptic fit because, you know, I was told to do that - it's a good way of, if you're ever being harangued by the police, of getting them to release you, is to say you're epileptic, that you've lost your bracelet, pretend to have a fit and, you know. As I did that, they released me. I sprung once more to my feet, only in time to be cuffed and arrested.

GROSS: Do you think of yourself as an exhibitionist?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, I do, I suppose, but at least now I've got some art.

GROSS: Right, right. So is that the kind of thing you'd ever do again? Like strip in public, I mean like...

Mr. BRAND: Never.

GROSS: Never because...

Mr. BRAND: No way, there's no need for it. It's ridiculous. I'm just, you know, making another film with Judd Apatow at the moment, and the director of that movie, Nick Stoller, who directed "Sarah Marshall," called me the other day and asked if I would mind showing my bottom. And I have to think twice about it. I mean, I think I'm going to have to do it. I think it's necessary for the story, and also it'll give people a laugh. But it's not, you know, stripping off naked, oh dear, it makes me feel embarrassed.

GROSS: Embarrassed. Now there's something that I wasn't sure you'd feel. Given...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...given all the things you've done in your life and career, I wasn't sure embarrassment was necessarily part of the repertoire.

Mr. BRAND: I think you have to feel embarrassment to vanquish it, you know. I mean like, often my material is written by virtue of this process. What'll happen is I'll think, like, something embarrassing will happen to me. Like I'll, for example, give Dame Helen Mirren a pair of dirty underpants. And then as I walk away from there, I think, Oh my god, what you've just done? You've just given Dame Helen Mirren your dirty underpants as a finish - a wrap gift on "The Tempest," that I've just been making with Julie Tamor. Then only as I walk away, do I realize that's a really inappropriate and stupid present and I think, right, never tell anyone about that. You've done a very stupid thing, the less people know about it, the better. If you can inhibit the number of folk that know, less people know how daft you truly are. And then the next impulse is, that means it's funny, tell everyone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right, like you just said why in the world did you give her a pair, a gift-wrapped pair of your dirty underwear? Like what, what is like remotely...

Mr. BRAND: They weren't even wrapped, Terry.

GROSS: ...funny about that? What's that?

Mr. BRAND: I tell you, it wasn't meant to be funny and they weren't gift wrapped. I was holding them in my hand as I was leaving the set, I was rushing to get a plane. I'd been wearing these underpants all day long. Thankfully as I left the set there was a clean pair of underpants in my dressing room. I had to rush, rush, rush to get this plane. I took off the dirty underpants I was wearing and I put on the clean, spic and span ones, rushed out of my dressing room, didn't even have time to pack the dirty underpants I'd been wearing, rushed in the corridor.

There was Dame Helen Mirren in all her substantial glory. Hello Russell, you're leaving us, she said, kissed me full on the lips as she always does. Well, I shall miss you, you're wonderful to work with, not as bad as everyone said, ha, ha, ha. It's been lovely working with you, Dame Helen Mirren. In your eyes, I silently reflect, does the Oedipus Complex seem bizarrely logical...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: ...this powerful matriarch, this goddess, this reason to align maternity with sexuality. Then as I noticed I was holding the dirty underpants at head height for some, you know... I had my hand like a clothesline - where I was nervous. I was sort of, I guess, trying to hold them far away from the conversation so that they didn't intrude upon us. But, you know, it made them more obvious. I saw, just as I was departing, just as I'd got out of that situation without embarrassing myself, I noticed, for a moment, her eyes flick towards the underpants. Then a voice said - and I recognized that voice, for it was my own - oh, Dame Helen, would you like these underpants? And she looked terrified, but then said oh, thank you, because she's polite, because she is a dame...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: ...because a dame has an obligation to be polite. You cannot play the queen of England if you don't have impeccable manners. She did not have the option of throwing these underpants in my face. So she took them and as far as I know, Terry, she has them to this day.

GROSS: I will ask again, why in the world did you think she would want them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: I didn't think it, I panicked, I panicked. I saw her look at them and I couldn't think of anything to say. It's not like I thought, oh, this is a good idea. It's like some other part of me took over. I saw her look at the underpants, you know, there was like a voice of madness. You know, sometimes you think things that are a little bit mad like, you know, wedding ceremony, you can always - at the point that goes, do you think these two people should get married, if not speak now or forever hold your peace. Every person in the world always thinks that you should shout something at that moment, you know, and sometimes I do.

GROSS: So did you talk to her about this after the fact?

Mr. BRAND: No, she gave me a copy of her book, though. She sent a copy of her book to my house and it said, to a genius, love from a mere mortal - signed Helen. But then I checked and she had meant to send it to Sacha Baron Cohen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I want to ask you about the title of your book "My Booky Wook."

Mr. BRAND: Yes.

GROSS: Don't take this is the wrong way, there's something so cutesy-poo about the title, and it's so, it's so - like you're not at all a cutesy-poo person. So I keep trying to figure out why is it called "My Booky Wook."

Mr. BRAND: It's paradoxical, right, because it is so much harrowing material and darkly humorous material in the book, I thought if I call it "My Booky Wook" it somehow castrates the potency of some of the darkness and why not do that. Also it's a tribute to the brilliant writing of Anthony Burgess, specifically in "Clockwork Orange." Alex is always saying "oh my guttiwuts" and using made-up words and mangled grammar. And I think through this dissonance it makes you acknowledge that you take on board a lot of information without questioning it. So a daft word like "My Booky Wook," it a kind of registers in a way that "My Struggle" or "My Life Till Now" doesn't, you know? "My Booky Wook," it sounds funny to me.

And I like the capacity of language to interrupt the way we think, to make us address, through poetry, how beautiful the mundane can be, and how mundane that which seems slick and appealing actually is. So there is a hugely intelligent argument for calling a book "My Booky Wook" that is somehow menacing and dark, but also I just thought it was, to use your phrase, cutesy-poo.

GROSS: Well, Russell Brand, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you very much.

Mr. BRAND: Thank you very much, Terry. It's been a joy to be on your show. I really appreciate it. I particularly like it when you play compliments that have been paid to me by colleagues.

GROSS: We'll collect some more and have you back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Thank you, thank you very much. It's been lovely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Russell Brand recorded last April, after his memoir, "My Booky Wook," was published in the U.S.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.