An American in London Warms to Brand’s Revolutionary Voice on the BBC
The Land of Hope and Glory has been shaken up in the most extraordinary way. The flagship BBC late night news magazine program Newsnight ran a radical interview last week between two very different personalities: Russell Brand–the rather attractive bad boy comedian, actor, former drug and sex addict–faced off against Britain’s intellectual giant at the BBC, Jeremy Paxman. Paxman is notorious for his incisive, brilliant and not infrequently rude approach to his subjects. Why the interview? A rather attractive heiress, Jemima Khan, who Brand may or not be sleeping with, invited him to edit the respected, 100-year-old New Statesman magazine this month. (The human rights champion Khan is an accomplished provocateur.) The choice rankled the establishment, and the BBC pounced. From the start, Paxman had the upper hand, excoriating the louche comic for admitting to having never voted. Paxman asked Brand to explain what right did he have at all to criticize a system which he did not bother to try to change? Brand replied that he is unwilling to try to change the “indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations.”
Why has this interview gone viral? I think because Brand puts forth his argument against economic disparity in a very simple way, and gives a voice to so many who are less eloquent. Without defining a new political system (after all why should he?), Brand opines about the lies and deceit of today’s politicians and bankers–and the economic disparity that staggers the world. Specifically, Brand takes Prime Minister David Cameron to task for slashing welfare services and supporting the right of bankers receiving huge bonuses. The interview, which mirrored in microcosm the larger conflict by pitting the comfortable establishment against the raw upstart, struck a chord with the justice-conscious and disenfranchised alike. Russell Brand–the self-admittedly crazy, long haired comic with an addiction problem in his past–feels familiar to a lot of people who haven’t been on the winning side of a gamed system. Millions took heart from the way he held his own against the establishment, the way he pilloried it. As a result, Brand has gained a whole new level of fame and respect. He may have also gained the difficult title of spokesperson–though he looks like he can handle it. He’s cool, as Jemina Khan knows. Russell Rocks.
—Allison Havey is a TV producer and writer based in London. She has interviewed Bill Gates, Boris Yeltsin, Paul McCartney, and Vanessa Redgrave, among others.