Review: Russell Brand’s NYC debut

Russell Brand‘s show proved the toughest ticket in Montreal last week, but would Americans (and our ex-pats) react with similar enthusiasm to his New York City debut? Brand’s first two shows, Sunday-Monday at the 600-seat Blender Theater at Gramercy, served as a promising introduction for the comedian who already is considered the hottest talent in the U.K.

As Brand acknowledged openly, he’s a star on that side of the pond, while here, Americans just barely have gotten to know him through his breakthrough film role in this year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Brand wisely constructed his set as an introduction to these new fans. But first, some "playful banter," as the comedian is wont to walkabout into the audience for his crowd work — Monday’s banter was perhaps a bit more abbreviated as fans who had returned from Sunday’s show tried to hijack the discussion, although Brand, upon returning to stage center, had a bit of fun with a blind woman in the front row, telling her, "I wish I could help, but despite my appearances, I’m not Christ."

Slithering, crouching and twirling about onstage, his sprawling updo of hair flowing and bouncing behind him, Brand dresses and acts the part of a rock star, not just with the wardrobe and the charisma, but also in his great gift for lyrical storytelling. How many other comedians can weave in words such as recalcitrant and ensconced, with references to Baudelaire and Nietzsche, and have everyone in the audience at rapt attention? Yet again, this was for most in the audience, their first chance to hear Brand tell any stories, and so he quipped: "I’m very famous in Britain, you know…Fame loses some of its luster if you need to tell people about it." He spoke about his need to be famous, whether it’s something as simple as perfecting his seduction techniques or Googling himself. He devoted quite a bit of his 75-minute set to stories surrounding Forgetting Sarah Marshall, from meeting Seth Rogen on the red carpet, to spending three months in Hawaii and his misadventures in horseback riding, surfing and snowboarding and wooing Mila Kunis away from her boyfriend "Mac." He also encountered Woody Harrelson on the island, and a variation on that story can be viewed on video here (fairly NSFW):

Brand had some wickedly funny things to say about Michael Jackson. Even more wicked, he opened up about trying to score a date with Serena Williams after they met on a chat show this summer, reading aloud the horribly awkward email he sent her at 3 a.m. But Brand has more success in Britain, mind you, so he has gotten to meet the queen, which also means he has to resist many temptations. And in his final 15 minutes, Brand closes with a raunchy section in which he describes all of his sexual tricks and tips. Don’t know when we’ll get to see this 33-year-old Stateside again, though he’s in the process of Americanizing his memoirs, My Booky Wook, for a February release, and in various stages of production on several more big comedy movies. So we will see him plenty more in 2009. Be ready.

Related: My interview with Russell Brand, parts of which appeared in this week’s Time Out New York.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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