Being taught the perennial truths of life by Russell Brand was never going to involve a highbrow, conventional lecture at the theatre. It was always going to be the irreverent flip side to that; an hilarious, raunchy and unconventional performance by a teacher who, as he came to so generously confess to us, always hated the idea of being taught.
At the Civic on Monday his audience revelled in the spectacle of this and so many more contradictions. Before us was an intellectual who spoke like a sailor, dressed like a samurai and rhapsodised like a beat poet. Here was a self-described addict and lunatic who could think, talk and joke his way out of impossibly philosophical conundrums in a single breath. For as long as Brand's ideas could pass at light speed through his fertile mind, then divinity, ontology and the sublime could easily share a sentence with Wi-Fi passwords and Eckhart Tolle.
The night might have only been billed as an simple exploration into spirituality and recovery but there was nothing straightforward about this crash-coursing-carpet-ride through Brand's now famous personal journey. The man and his message were complex but honest; as revealing as they were uplifting. Whether it was ever his intention or not, his difficult path to recovery has slowly formed them into that single, idiosyncratic shape.
Before us was an intellectual who spoke like a sailor, dressed like a samurai and rhapsodised like a beat poet.
His familiarity with his past demons - or how best to use his present spirituality to defeat them - has transformed Brand into a celebrated speaker, author, comedian and campaigner. And he wore all of these hats with a flamboyancy and a charisma on this occasion. With his rapid-fire and feverish delivery, he was somehow still exacting and resolute, never once missing a chance to offer us a glimpse into the imperfections still present in his own life.
Another way in which Brand so effectively delivered his complex ideas in such an honest way depended largely on the audience themselves. Within a few minutes of the show commencing, we were all invited by Brand to raise our hands if we could relate to any form of addiction or dependency in our everyday lives. This instantly compelled us all to think more critically about what needs might be hiding within us, what empty voids we try and fill by staring for hours at our smartphones, thinking too negatively or even consuming too much sugar. It all might sound unusually serious but somehow Brand made his points, got most of us thinking and still left us all in hysterics.
Even his heartfelt, introductory sympathies to the audience could be spared from a lashing of his flippancy and wit. With his head held low, Brand thoughtfully acknowledged our past and difficult summer, our losses, our anxieties and our fears. And then, in the same solemn moment, he confessed something with a wide smile. Later in the show, he said, after he had been too rude or even offended us with his brazen humour, he wanted us all to remember this earlier moment. He was being an earnest gentleman now, but we were all warned not to expect it to last all night.
- Russell Brand Recovery Live, Civic Theatre, March 2