Russell Brand In New York City

Comedian Russell Brand is known primarily to American audiences as Sarah Marshall’s new boy toy in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the somewhat poorly received host of the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards. He also did one of those stand-up specials for Comedy Central. It’s now on DVD. The one thing I did not expect when I started watching the DVD of Russell Brand in New York City was that the guy who was so funny in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and cultivated such an outrageous persona would have such a limp opening to his stand-up act. It is about how things are different in Britain (where he’s from) and how people sometimes talk with a snooty accent. Then he starts talking about Brittney Spears. It’s the sort of low hanging fruit you expect from someone just starting out, not a guy who achieved comic fame in Britain and has made strong headway into America’s comic consciousness on a reputation for saying just about anything.

Fortunately, as Brand stalks around the stage with his trademark rocker haircut (or, as he explains, something that without his fame looks like “mental illness”) and tight black pants, he begins to bring the funny. He covers not only what was going on when he hosted the Video Music Awards, which he admits did not go well, but reads some of the death threats he received after the show for encouraging people to vote for Barak Obama (the VMA’s were shown before the election.) He moves onto things like sex, how he’s described in English newspapers, filming Sarah Marshall, meeting the Queen, and how he interacts with fans after the show.

It’s not really the punchlines that are particularly fantastic, but Brand’s ability to string together rapid fire set-ups that make you realize this is not some dumb-bunny stoned rocker dude. He tosses out social, cultural, historical, literary, and psychological references in a dizzying array that makes even the, at times, barely adequate payoff ten times more amusing. He also skips around, plays with his hair, makes faces, and adopts accents to sell the stories he tells. When this guy is on fire, he’s really good.

The main problem is that thanks to the slow start and the fact that this was made for television, Brand finishes up just as he hits his stride. It’s 61 minutes long and while five minutes in, you might be checking your watch, when he starts saying goodnight, you wish he’d recorded a bit more. The “extended and uncut” above the title on the DVD box is half true. It’s uncut. Despite his appearance in Bedtime Stories, Brand is not kid friendly, unless you want your kid to hear about how Brand accidently came on a male friend’s leg during a threesome. However, the extended claim is misleading. This is long for a stand-up set, but short for a DVD. Buyer beware.

If you are only familiar with Brand because of Sarah Marshall and want to see if there is something more to his persona, this is a good place to start. However, it’s a brief introduction, more a taste than a full meal. Getting this as a rental is probably the wiser move. Although there are some extras, Russell Brand in New York City, is shockingly devoid of basic DVD items. Are you deaf and want to turn on the subtitles? Too bad, they don’t exist. Habla Espanol? Tough , no other languages. No set up options at all when you put the disc in, just “Play” and “Bonus Features.” Since Brand speaks very quickly in a somewhat heavy accent, it would be nice to catch some of the nuances with the subtitles, but he’s not that hard to understand, so this isn’t a huge problem

The “Bonus Features” include a segment, about six minutes long, called “Loose Cannon Drunk Girl” that is the best thing on the disc. Cut from the actual stand-up routine shown on television and from the DVD, a drunk fan in the front row occasionally interrupted the show by yelling things or throwing stuff onstage. Brand, completely impromptu and without losing his charm or cool, skewers her in the hopes of getting on with the show. He’s flat out amazing when you know that he isn’t doing a “routine” he’s probably done in other shows or wrote up with his writing partners. He’s just berating a drunk woman for being an ass. You must watch this part.

Less interesting is “The Notorious 2008 MTV VMA Monologue.” This the one where he made fun of the Jonas Brothers’ abstinence rings and called President Bush a retarded cowboy. It’s a good thing to have since Brand refers to it almost exclusively for the first part of his stand-up routine. It’s not a very funny performance, but it should probably be watched prior to watching the main stand-up routine. Also, it shows that Brand re-uses the same bits at times, like most comedians.

The final extra is “An Englishman in New York.” This is sort of a “making-of” featurette for the comedy special. It’s a camera following Brand around New York as he gets ready to film the special. He interacts with New Yorkers and goes on photo shoots and the like. It has some charm, but it doesn’t give much insight into what Brand is really like, since he knows he’s being filmed and acts in that sort of stoned court jester persona, like he does on stage.

The additional items, especially the drunk girl segment, help make this a better value, but it’s still only worth purchasing for about half the normal DVD price.