I recently ran across a year-old video of Russell Brand inviting two members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church to sit down on the set of his now defunct FX talk show, Brand X. It was a masterful stroke by a gifted madman.
Russell’s decision to produce uncertainty in front of a live audience with the enemy du jour was brilliant because it worked and even more brilliant because its success was never certain.
From the opening, where he performed a bit of comedic jujitsu by insisting his audience show respect to the fundamentalist “Christians,” Russell set the tone for what I can only describe as a philosophy of unoffendability. He refused to be offended, even when called a “fag pimp” (for a Brit that just means a cigarette salesman, as he cleverly points out) and told he will burn in hell alongside Tom Hanks and Ghandi in a Madonna bra.
It’s tempting to label any foreign cultural critic who takes a sober look at America’s cultural menagerie a modern day Alexis de Tocqueville. But I have been thinking quite a bit about the soulful, whip-smart impish Brit comedian and, to be honest, I think his work has transcended Alexis’s.
Whether confounding pundits or accepting awards in delightfully indelicate ways, Brand is rising above mere criticism. He is on a journey through the fast and narrow rapids of life and seems to be showing us that being unoffendable helps illuminate the line we must run to keep the boat from flipping.