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Why is Russell Brand funny?

Russell Brand

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

With his skinny jeans, back-combed hair and dandyish manner, Russell Brand has always looked an outsider on the comedy stage. To many people his style of humour is just as alien. So what's the appeal of Russell Brand's humour?

By now actor Andrew Sachs has probably realised he is not the only person to have been offended by comedian Russell Brand. Rod Stewart, Christian pop group The Jonas Brothers, and Northampton police have all had their own run-ins with Brand.

He has a Marmite effect, you either love him or you hate him
Dr Oliver Double
Comedy lecturer

The comedian has already resigned from BBC Radio 2 for the series of pranks calls he made to Sachs, 78, best known for his role as Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Collaborator Jonathan Ross has been suspended and the BBC Trust is investigating an episode that has drawn criticism from the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

It's nothing new for a comedian to experiment on the edge of what's acceptable, but the furore surrounding Brand's latest stunt takes things to a higher level.

Brand, a Sony Radio Award winner, appears to polarise people, and those who do find him funny tend to be young.

Russell Brand
Brand's subject is often himself

"He has a Marmite effect, you either love him or you hate him," says Dr Oliver Double, who lectures in stand-up comedy at Kent University and is a former circuit comedian. "Few people are ambivalent."

The 33-year-old is far from being a traditional stand-up. His fans appear to engage with the persona he has created as much as the lines he delivers.

What really sets him apart are his idiosyncratic mannerisms and use of language, say those in the business. He dresses like a modern-day dandy, all tight black trousers, flowing scarves, black eyeliner and necklaces and his speech is excessively articulated and flowery. Last year's half-million-selling autobiography, My Booky Wook, is a good example - its playful, almost childish title concealing a vivid memoirs of sex and drug taking.

"There is something almost Dickensian about him," says Mr Double.

"Language is a huge part of the texture of comedy and he uses it in a very interesting and individual way. He sounds incredibly old fashioned and plays around with the tone, making it higher for camp effect. He's almost created his own language."

MOMENTS OF OFFENCE
Sacked from MTV after arriving at work dressed as Osama Bin Laden, on 12 September 2001
Sacked from Xfm after reading pornographic letters on air
Joked he had slept with Rod Stewart's daughter. He hadn't
Mocked chastity of Jonas Brothers
Made prank call to Northampton police

Jim Holt, author of Stop Me If You've Heard This, a History and Philosophy of Jokes, said Brand's humour conforms to one of the classic theories of comedy - that we can be amused by something that is completely incongruous with what we expect.

"He has an epicene or even slightly effeminate manner. He is taking you down this garden path, you are building up all kinds of expectations and suddenly at the end there is a weird twist.

"We make jokes about sex, death and disturbing things because the whole point of humour is to take a threatening, disquieting something and by a clever twist make it okay."

The other notable aspect of Brand's schtick is that his private life and his bragging of it is, if anything, better known than his actual performances. And it has come to provide much of the material for his routines and banter.

Paris Hilton and Russell Brand
Brand 's profile is growing outside the UK
But with the spotlight of publicity firmly on him, there is a risk that people will lose interest.

"All comedians have an ego, it's what makes them get on stage," says Dr Double. "But Russell Brand's routines have become all about being Russell Brand and little else. He has become his only frame of reference and that's just not interesting."

It's no surprise that success can lead to problems, says comic Ivor Dembina, a veteran of the stand-up circuit.

"Russell Brand's been given so much exposure and is so feted he probably thinks he can say and do anything. This whole situation is a salutary reminder that comedy is of no value if it doesn't take into account the vulnerability of others. If it doesn't it's just bullying."


Below is a selection of your comments:

Russell Brand isn't funny. He's unfunny. Strip away all the affectations, and you're left with the immature ramblings of a drunk sixth former. bill macfarlane, ipswich uk

Russell Brand is the boy at the back of the classroom who gets his willy out. It's funny when you're 10.
D Edwards, London, UK

All very well but this is the man who went around yesterday saying, "'Arry Kreesshna, 'Arry Kreeshna". Sorry but this did not appear to be self parody. Simply the words of a complete prat.
James, Tehran,Iran

I just don't get Russell Brand. There may be a generational thing here - but to me his "humour" is infantile and self-obsessed. Even if some people find this amusing, I don't think it is necessarily something that should be encouraged or celebrated. Any parent knows that their young children go through phases of infantile humour, and they have to either ignore it so that it will go away, or nip it in the bud by explaining why it is not funny. In this regards I think that Mr Brand just hasn't grown-up.
Andy, Swansea

It's clear to me that his appeal is based on his character rather than comedic ability; I therefore feel completely justified in saying that I don't find him funny in the slightest.
Nick, Southampton, UK

Russell is just so unique in his comedy; there's really no-one else like him! Even if he comes across as loud and arrogant, deep down he is a very humble, self-depricating man.
Rachel, Inverness

I know you only live once, but you just can't go through life offending people.
J.Warren, Winchester

I think Russell Brand went over the top with this prank, but I really like him. I love the way he talks, and I think there is far more to him than many people assume. He's a lot more intelligent than he's given credit for, and he has a vulnerability and fragility that seems to be endearing to women. At least I think that's why my mum is in love with him. Chris, Aberdeen

Brand's appeal is apparently to my generation... As a teenager I find him an ignorant, stupid person who doesn't think before he speaks a thing I was taught to do since I was 5! he and ross should have been fired... Juvenile behaviour!
Hannah Lui (17 years old), Belfast

I'm 27 and I think Russell Brand is hilarious, as do my sisters (23 & 28). My parents don't get him so much and they both have a great sense of humour and are very liberal! Brand provides an evolution in comedy in a similar way Monty Python or Spike Milligan did: if you get it it has you weeing with laughter; if not you are baffled by the appeal.
Kahla, Leeds

I'm 21 so I suppose that I would be considered 'young'. Many of my associates seem to find Brand hilarious, whereas I can barely stomach the sight or sound of him.
Lucy,

The title of this article is wrong. It should be "Is Russell Brand funny?", which is a far more relevant question.
Mark, Plymouth UK

I think that both Brand and Ross childish and seeking to boost their own egos by being 'different'. They have no talent and are only where they are today by being verbal thugs.
Katharine, Surrey

He's a modern day Byron; this time he just got a little carried away
Matthew, Bury St Edmund

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