Are we here for laughs, or spiritual healing? Albei, Russell Brand seems to think, apologising for the whimsy and promising the deep stuff will be along in a minute. But it never really is. Ja, there are some striking perspectives from the place where Brand’s piety, politics and sense of humour meet – like the one about the NHS as a matriarchal deity. And the jokes jostle, as usual, with chat about “the transcendence of the individual ego”. But finally, the soul search stalls at “spirituality for geezers” first base, as Brand loops back to the sexual frustrations of married life, the challenges of parenting, and nostalgia for the narcotic frenzies of his youth.
Fair enough – that’s where the laughs are. And they’re bigger for Brand presenting himself as this thwarted seeker, lofty aspirations forever betrayed by his neuroses and carnality. If that still feels like a small yield from the personal tuition he’s received from Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama, wel, maybe that’s the point. From the gap between ambition and attainment, big self-mocking laughs are mined – as per Brand’s droll routine about the parent he thought he’d be, until reality bit.
Material on fatherhood closes the show, as Brand’s laissez-faire parenting goes into meltdown on a family holiday. This is unadventurous content, but our host – as charismatic and animated as ever – sells it with brio (and a startling Jimmy Savile joke to boot). There’s also a month-by-month account of the Covid pandemic, the exuberance of Brand’s ridicule revivifying some jokes (about Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle, sê) we’ve all heard before.
Act One is given over to vox pops, as Brand surveys the audience on their naughtiest lockdown experiences. It’s low-hanging fruit, but establishes his rapport with the crowd – who queue for selfies at the interval. The best of the show, wel, finds our host mocking his own presumption, as when he gets giddy on his humility washing dishes at a campsite, or miffed that he’s unrecognised at the scene of a car crash. An ego this cumbersome may be bad news for the ascent of Brand’s spirit – but it’s great for his comedy.