Monday 19 November 2018

Russell's brand of punditry will set the terraces alight

Articles of Faith: Russell Brand HarperCollins, €19.99

Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

A LITTLE-KNOWN fact about Russell Brand is that, while he puts his talent into prank-calling, shagging and back-combing his barnet, his genius he saves for his writing.

My Booky Wook, snidely derided in some quarters as an example of rush-job celebrity publishing, was in fact packed with the type of witty epigrams of which Quentin Crisp or PG Wodehouse would have been proud. It was one of those tomes you spared, and then, at the end, you felt rather forlorn because it was over.

All of which would have come as no great surprise to Guardian readers. For years Brand has written a weekly football column for that publication and, even if you have no interest whatsoever in football (and, frankly, I don't), they were absolute must-reads. They have now been collected together in this book -- and, while some may call it a lazy and cynical ploy to cash in on the Christmas market (though nobody alleges this of, say, Jeremy Clarkson), you still can't get past the writing. It is freewheeling, fruity and exquisitely original.

Russell Brand might seem an unlikely football diehard, but he was introduced to the game by his father, who took him along to West Ham games as a child. Little Russell wasn't much good but, like his hero, Morrissey, retained a sort of camp fascination with, not just the play, but the iconography and the macho culture of English football, too.

His fandom appears to be a way of making sense of his own manliness, a chance to be part of a down-trodden and manly minority (West Ham fans), while at the same time camping it up incessantly in his spare time. By way of illustration, in his stand-up he talks about the moment when he was confronted by a pack of West Ham fans who scream a stream of unmentionable things at him. There's a deer in the headlights moment when things could get nasty before Brand launches into a (crucially, little known) terrace chant that proves his West Ham bona fides. Instantly, the hooligans are won over and Brand is, for that moment at least, one of them. Still, you can tell from his recounting of the incident that he is the most unlikely hardcore football fan this side of Elton John.

He brought this same offbeat sensibility to the sports pages of the Guardian and you haven't read football writing like this. Observing Robbie Keane in tears after a big game he writes that it's "always a big plus for me to see a sobbing footballer as it brings them into the sphere of my experience ... For the parallel to have been enhanced a dinner lady would've had to stroll over to Robbie and offer to hold his hand till his melancholy subsided".

Being Brand, there are many naughty bits too. Surveying England's diminishing chances of qualifying for the World Cup he writes, "It's awful when England don't qualify. I'd rather watch every woman I've ever loved drunkenly fellating handsome idiots at a bus stop than sit through another USA '94. Actually, the bus stop thing could be quite sexy, inducing a masturbatory experience that flits between jealousy and intense excitement where one cries, despite oneself, during the act of onanism. I believe it's popularly called a "cr-ank". Well I'll be damned if I'm going to crank my way through Euro 2008. I'm older and more dignified now."

Elsewhere, he describes Fabio Capello as "a cross between David Hasselhoff and Nan" and calls Martin Jol "that big, lovely, bald, honey monster of a man".

As his comedy career reaches greater heights, the columns arrive from further afield, and a hilarious travelogue element enters the pieces. Filing copy from the famously basic Chelsea Hotel in New York he laments that "they may as well dispense with the toilet and the building; they could just have a bell hop stood in the street and charging you $200 a night to crap in the gutter and snuggle with Oscar the Grouch".

As he moves to LA to nurture his burgeoning film career, he describes trying to explain to Californians the significance of Manchester City's newfound fortune and the sacking of Alan Curbishley. He writes, "I told a young actress it was like Brad and Angelina kicking their babies into waterfalls on the same day that Morgan Freeman came out as a whoopsie."

Many will have had a bittersweet laugh at that, for it could be a portent that Brand's emergence as an international star means that the Guardian will not be able to afford him. He would hardly make time to flirt with Mila Kunis and comment on the week's Premiership minutiae.

The Andrew Sachs controversy seemed to make his exile in Hollywood even more likely. Happily, he has been back in the Guardian recently and so a sequel to Articles of Faith is possible. And, even if you could read most of the pieces collected here online, there's still something comforting about having them in a form you can read on the toilet.

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