Phroth Interviews Russell Brand

As the ‘Campus U’ Marketing Representative for Universal Studios in the State College area, it was my (Brandon Scott Wolf) goal to get more votes than any other schools in the Big Ten Conference.  After 7,427 votes, The Pennsylvania State University won the Get Him to the Greek Challenge which brought Russell Brand, Jonah Hill and a screening of their yet-to-be-released movie to Happy Valley.  As the Phollegian Editor for Phroth Magazine, I was able to go one-on-one with Russell and Jonah and talk to them about the film, their impressions of State College and so much more.

Brandon: What is your first impression of State College?

Russell Brand: I think it’s a lively place.  People seem up for it, vivacious and ready for fun. I liked it.

B: Did you get to go around town?

R: Not much, I had to go to bed straight after it [the movie screening]. It’s not good for me to be let loose in an environment where people are hormonal.

B: What did you think of the crowd who viewed your new movie Get Him to the Greek at the Premiere 12 Theatre?

R: Really, they seemed very enthusiastic about the movie and enthusiastic about life in general, which gave them early announcement in which they, themselves were alcoholics. Which is a cause for great, great optimism in me. If these people drink that much and keep this amount of enthusiasm for life, then there is hope for our future.

B: Minutes before entering the theater, I advised you to yell, “We Are,” three times to the crowd and say, “Thank You,” after the audience responded.  How do you think that went over?

R: I was very happy with the, “We Are.” I could’ve done with more work on the, “We Are.”

B: There definitely could have been more rehearsal time.

R: Much more, because I was never fully confident we’d reach the final, “We Are,” and then I was panicking about the, “Thank You.”  Then I wasn’t sure if I had to say the, “You’re Welcome,” or it was them.  So, for given that it is a relatively simple song, one wonders how I would cope with Rachmaninov, or one of the great speeches of Roosevelt, given that, “We Are, We Are, We Are,” was baffling.

B: How did you get your start as a stand-up comic and how did you get involved in films?

R: What happened was I went to drama school to get trained as a straight actor, a place called Drama Centre in London, which is the closest thing in Europe to the Lee Strausberg School in New York.  It’s a very method based place, very serious, a lot of crying in the nude type acting. Get your clothes off and cry and then you’ll be an actor.

B: If you wanted to be cast in a serial killer role you would have to kill 17-or-so people before you could truly get into the part.

R: Exactly, so if you wanted to be in Seven, you’d have to do seven themed murders.

B: So you wouldn’t have any qualms with killing Gwyneth Paltrow and then putting her head in a box?

R: I wouldn’t do that because I would save that for the actual movie.  What I’d do is murder someone who I thought was dopey, someone who I thought was bashful and then someone who I thought was sneezey in preparation for a more deadly sin-based spree of killings.

When I was in school I was a bit loopy and crazy  and on drugs so I got thrown out, and when I got thrown out, me and my mate who was also there started doing sketches and stuff, and he’s gone on to be a successful comedy actor in England, Karl Theobold. He does a short role in fact in the Greek. He’s the person who opens the door to Jonah and kisses him twice. That’s my mate, Karl. Me and him were in a double act when I got thrown out of drama school.

After that I did stand up on my own because I started to realize that if it’s just you, you’re alright.  That’s why I like stand-up comedy. It is the equivalent of being a Clint Eastwood character. You’re a gunslinger, you’re a lone wolf, you’re out there on the plains of stand-up comedy. Instead of having a pistol, you have a microphone. It’s just you, there, in your boots.

B: What would you tell an aspiring humorist, satirist, comedy writer or stand-up comic?

R: I’ll give you the advice that Eddie Izzard gave me when I started out. Don’t judge yourself until you’ve done at least 100 gigs. A hundred gigs before you can even go, “Are you any good or not?” So them hundred gigs could suck, or them 99 gigs could suck, and for me, personally, what’s personally important to me is being authentic and personal.

It’s impossible not to be influenced by the great stand-up comedians, most of which are American, my personal favorite practitioners are those of the likes of Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinnison, Eddie Izzard, Betty Connelly, like these are the people that touched me. What all of them are, is true to themselves and have unique voices. So you have to find the thing that’s unique about you and be like, “Oh that’s good. I like the way Richard Pryor said that story about how he set his hair on fire.” For me, it’s all about authenticity and truth because then you’ll know you’ll have something unique.

B: My main issue when I started performing was to keep myself from emulating comedians that I look up to like Kyle Cease, Nick Swardson and Noel Fielding. The main thing I’ve been trying to do is to find my comedic niche… and I noticed as soon as I said Noel Fielding, your eyes lit up.

R: Yeah, I love Noel and I miss him a bit. Yeah, he’s been a good friend of mine for ages and I love The [Mighty] Boosh and I loved The Boosh before I was friends with him, really, and since then I’ve done a lot of things with TV things with him and a lot of live things with him. He’s a person you could lose yourself in his imagination. You know when I do radio shows with him I can’t concentrate on the time or when the news is coming up because like we had a producer who was an insomniac, right, and I was like let’s not worry Nick, the producer, cause he’s an insomniac and Noel was like, he’s not an insomniac, when I got here he was asleep, curled up like a little white kitten in a basket. I like it that he had that image of a little white kitten in a basket available to hand. When you think of a sleeping thing to immediately have white kitten curled up in a basket, the detail of a white kitten is good. He’s a guy who elevates you, same thing with Jonah Hill. You know, when you’re working with people who are quick like that, you have to tune in.

B: You mentioned Jonah Hill and radio, so I might as well combine two questions I had for you. What is your favorite way to express yourself, stand up, television, radio, film and who has been your favorite person to work with?

R: Stand-up comedy is my favorite thing because of the autonomy. You don’t have to worry about no one else, the lights, or studio, and it’s just you. That’s what I prefer and you can always go back to it.

In terms of people who’ve I’ve enjoyed working with, Jonah is amazing to work with, and I haven’t done that many films, so sort of Jason [Segal] and Jonah are the main people I’ve worked with. Then I’ve enjoyed working with a lot of other people across mediums. Noel Fielding, as you’ve mentioned, Noel Gallagher, from Oasis and stuff. I used to do a chat show on MTV and I interviewed [Adam] Sandler and that was wicked, and Will Ferrell, as well. Working with them people who have been doing comedy for decades, and they’re like sharp people, packing a punch from the past.

B: For Get Him to the Greek, what was your favorite part of the production? Was it working with Jonah, reviewing the script, acting, working with [Sean] Puffy [Combs]?

R: Jonah I reckon, because that’s the comedic heart of the movie, the comedic heart of our relationship in the movie.

B: What’s the difference between a US audience and let’s say, and audience in Australia, or the UK or anywhere else in the world?

R: I’m not entirely sure because when you’ve worked in a lot of different countries, Brandon, say you work in New York, it’s really not that different from working in London, which is not that different from Sydney or Melbourne. Big cities are similar, right, but small or more provincial areas have a similarity as well. America has a very particular identity, because the core of popular culture is American. So there is something about that. People here know that they are at the core of something.  They know that this is where culture is being generated from.

I think through the practice of comedy, or anything really, you’ll start to see that there are similarities with people that far outweigh the differences.

B: Almost everyone who attends Penn State is from either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Which city do you like better and/or would you rather live in?

R: I’ve been to Philadelphia, I’ve ran up them Rocky steps. I was briefly in an addiction clinic in Philadelphia for one month, so I suppose, if I had to have an affinity, I would choose Philadelphia. Also, because of Rocky. Mostly Rocky-based prejudices.

B: Where do you go from here?

R: I’m making a movie, Arthur, about a billionaire drunk who marries to inherit his fortune and then falls in love with another woman. I got this, Despicable Me, cartoon coming out and I’m the playing the Easter Bunny as the only animated character in the film I Hop. It’s a live action movie made by the people who created the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Also, The Tempest, is a Shakespeare film I’m in and next year I’m going to be in a film called, Bad Father, in which I wrote with Happy Madison which is Sandler’s production company.

And stand up. I will always love stand up, because it’s cool.


By Brandon Scott Wolf, Phollegian Editor

Check back tomorrow for Brandon’s interview with Russell Brand’s co-star Jonah Hill