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In 2009, British comedian Russell Brand was arguably at the peak of his powers, having just starred in his first hit film the year prior, the hugely popular Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Making it in America meant the world was his oyster, and the expansion of the “Brand brand” was swift, dizzying and all-encompassing. There were global comedy tours, more films, and his first-ever memoir, My Booky Wook.
The many faces of Russell Brand.Credit: Marija Ercegovac
“I want people to remember me before I’m dead,” wrote Brand in My Booky Wook. “And then more afterwards.” The recent allegations against the comedian have all but guaranteed that.
Four women interviewed by The Sunday Times newspaper and the UK’s Channel 4 TV’s Dispatches documentary program accused Brand of sexual offences, including rape, between 2006 and 2013.
While Brand has denied the allegations and said that all his relationships have been consensual, the story has triggered an examination of how we ended up here and what might happen next. Brand has, throughout his history, proven himself a chameleon – the king of reinvention.
Here, we take a look at the many faces of Russell Brand.
Early 2000s: “I’m a bloke from Essex with a good job and a terrific haircut.”
Brand first rose to prominence in the early years of the 21st century as a stand-up comedian who spoke honestly (and verbosely) about his addiction issues. In 2004, his addiction-themed show Better Now toured the Edinburgh festival, the same year he began hosting a sister show to Big Brother.
As a presenter, Brand’s extensive vocabulary and cheeky chappy schtick struck a chord, and in 2006, he was given his own chat show, 1 Leicester Square. Guests included Tom Cruise, Uma Thurman, Boy George and, of course, Dannii Minogue. Minogue’s appearance on 1 Leicester Square would later be detailed in an interview she gave to The Daily Mirror in which she called Brand “a vile predator”.
At this time, Brands’ reputation as a serial womaniser was well and truly established, bolstered by the fact The Sun named him “Shagger of the Year” three times in a row from 2006 to 2008.
2008: Hello, Hollywood
While he had dabbled in acting, 2008 represented a breakthrough for Brand when he landed a starring role in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall alongside Mila Kunis, Jason Segel and Kirstin Bell.
Brand played rock star Aldous Snow, a rock star whose obsession with sex was viewed as an extension of Brand’s off-screen persona. He returned to the role for the 2010 film Get Him To The Greek, establishing Brand as a bona fide star in Hollywood.
Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Brand, Bill Hader and Jason Segel promote their movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008.Credit: AP
2009: Brand fever arrives in Australia
Global comedy tours followed, including a sold-out series of shows in Australia for his 2009 Scandalous tour. Brand returned to our shores in 2010 to promote Get Him To The Greek, appearing on the breakfast TV show Sunrise for an interview with Fifi Box.
A clip of the interview, which remains on YouTube, shows Brand making an explicit joke about Box and climbing into her lap.
The interview ends with Brand sitting on her lap, hugging and kissing her on the cheek.
Box would later describe the experience as a very strange encounter. “By the end of the interview, he was straddling me, grinding me inappropriately and trying to kiss me,” she said.
During that interview, Box would reference Brand’s high-profile relationship with Katy Perry. The pair would marry in 2010 but divorce in 2011, with Brand famously ending the marriage via text message.
Brand’s relationship with Australia would flourish during this period. In 2012, he was a presenter at the 26th annual ARIA Music Awards.
Brand would also raise eyebrows for his 2012 interview on 60 Minutes with Liz Hayes, in which he grabbed Hayes and kissed her before joking about unhooking her bra. Hayes addressed the moment in a 2021 retrospective on her career, saying: “When Russell Brand decided he would like to kiss me, well, you size up the situation. You think, Mmm-hmm. Am I in danger? What could go wrong?”
Brand presents the ARIA for album of the year at ARIA Awards in 2012.Credit: Getty
2013 – 2017: No more acting, lots more politicising
In 2013, Brand told the Financial Times he was quitting acting because he was “not interested in making money anymore”. The comedian turned self-styled activist said money made him “feel guilty” and that the trappings of fame and fortune were “worthless and meaningless”.
This was the beginning of Brand’s transformation into a political and cultural commentator who harnessed the power of social media to share his views. In 2014, Brand launched his YouTube series The Trews: True News with Russell Brand, in which he claimed to analyse the news “truthfully, spontaneously and with great risk to his personal freedom”.
The politicisation of Brand was typically chaotic; he famously told his listeners not to vote in the UK General election in 2015 before flipping his position and endorsing Jeremy Corbyn for Labour ahead of the 2017 election.
Brand seen performing at Rod Laver Arena during his 2015 tour.Credit: Meredith O’Shea
2020 – present: A step to the right and response to allegations
Once viewed as a roguish poster boy for the left, Brand’s anti-establishment messaging became increasingly in line with right-wingers during COVID-19 as he began questioning the pandemic’s origins.
His new weekly views rose from a low of under 500,000 in November 2020 to about 14.5 million weekly views during March 2022, with videos like “Get Boosted, The Mainstream Media’s COVID Hysteria is Back!” garnering millions of views.
Since then, Brand has amassed a dedicated following on social media – 3.8 million followers on Instagram, 2.2 million on TikTok and 6.6 million on YouTube – off the back of YouTube videos about conspiracies, vaccine misinformation and interviews with right-wing broadcasters, including Americans Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan.
In the wake of the allegations this week, Brand’s first response was to post a video to his fans suggesting that the investigations were part of a “coordinated media attack”.
And now what?
While Brand performed to a 2000-strong crowd on Saturday night at London’s Wembley Park Theatre, promoters have since pulled his appearances over the next ten days. His publisher announced it was pausing all future book projects with him.
Brand was due to perform at other English venues over the next week – the Theatre Royal Windsor on Tuesday, Plymouth Pavilions on Friday and the Halls Wolverhampton next Thursday. A statement from the promoters said: “We are postponing these few remaining addiction charity fundraiser shows; we don’t like doing it – but we know you’ll understand.”
Brand has also been dumped by his management and talent agency, while Trevi Women, a women’s charity based in the UK, also announced that it has ended its relationship with him. YouTube has announced it will no longer monetise his videos, denying him revenue.
In addition to the original allegations, the Metropolitan Police in London said on Monday it had received a report of an assault alleged to have taken place in Soho in 2003. That is three years before the earliest of the alleged assaults reported by the media outlets.
Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
Find more of the author’s work here. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram at @thomasalexandermitchell and on Twitter @_thmitchell.
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