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Russell Brand: Standing Up To Addiction

Russell Brand first appeared onstage as Fat Sam in a school performance of <em>Bugsy Malone</em>.
Dave Hogan
Getty Images
Russell Brand first appeared onstage as Fat Sam in a school performance of Bugsy Malone.

British actor and comedian Russell Brand is known for his outspokenness, his outlandishness and his wit — not to mention a raunchy on-air phone prank that ended his tenure as host of a BBC radio show.

Brand admits to Terry Gross that his past antics — which include pulling down his pants in public on occasion, and dressing up as Osama bin Laden on Sept. 12, 2001 — were often fueled by his drug use.

With rehab behind him, Brand says he's less likely to be caught with his pants around his ankles. But through a mysterious alchemy involving nerves and diminished inhibition, the actor still manages to get himself into hilarious and inappropriate situations — as when, for instance, he recently presented the actress Helen Mirren with a pair of his dirty underwear.

Brand says his embarrassment in such situations often develops into new material for his stand-up routine: "I think, 'Right, never tell anyone about that. You've done a very stupid thing, the less people know about it, the better. If you can inhibit the number of folk that know, less people know how daft you truly are.'

"And then the next impulse is: 'That means it's funny — tell everyone.'"

Despite the notoriety his pranks have earned him in the U.K., Brand is best known in the U.S. for hosting the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, and for his role as a caddish rocker in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

In a March 2009 interview, actor-writer Jason Segel told Fresh Air that he'd rewritten that role after Brand gave a cheeky but memorable audition.

"I literally went home that night and rewrote the movie," Segel recalled. "I couldn't imagine anyone to be more jealous of, or intimidated by, if they were dating your new girlfriend, than Russell Brand."

Brand says he's flattered by Segel's comments — but that he's less confident in person than he seems onstage.

"As a performer, I'm very, very confident in what I do," Brand explains. "As a person ... I'm a little more doubtful, introspective and analytical."

Brand used his gifts for over-the-top comedy and personal reflection to write his memoir My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up, a chronicle of his struggle with addictions to sex, drugs, and stand-up.

The memoir became a best seller in Britain after its 2007 release, and it has been slightly revised for its American publication. The New York Times called the book "a child's garden of vices" and "a relentless ride with a comic mind clearly at the wheel."

Click the "Listen" button above to hear the entire Fresh Air interview.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.