When you’ve done it all, what then? When you’ve smoked all the crack, eaten all the chocolate, had all the sex, made all the money, and been on all the talk shows—where do you go next? Because there it is, squatting on the far side of adulation: nothingness. “Celebrities,” the Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman once said, “are in a very interesting position. They’ve already achieved great fame, success, and wealth, and they’ve realized that those things alone don’t bring happiness; that, in fact, they can be a real pain in the neck.” Or, as Russell Brand puts it, tunneling toward enlightenment in the 2015 documentary Brand: A Second Coming, “Fame and power and money is bullshit.” (Brand, in this scene, is addressing a group of wonder-struck English schoolchildren.) “To feel adored is a buzz for me, but—what does it matter, really?”
Russell Brand has always been interesting. Excessively interesting, perhaps: There’s an outsize, overheating quality to his charisma, as if it entered his body superpower-style, via a laboratory accident or flying asteroid chunk. Forty-three years old, he comes from the working-class backwater of Grays, Essex, in England. His physical presence is slightly dazzling, unnerving, with a subversive, greased-by-eroticism effect. The word louche attaches itself to him. Genetically a comedian, he is also an occasional film star. As the sleazily marvelous rock-god boyfriend Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he stole so many scenes that he got his own spin-off movie, Get Him to the Greek. He is also some sort of culture-jammer, a serial causer of flutters/disturbances in television studios and at awards ceremonies. (“Is this what you all do for a living?” he asked during an infamous 2013 takeover of Morning Joe, a pheromonal blitz that deprived the panel of speech and left Mika Brzezinski slurping in panic from her water bottle.) In pre-Brexit Britain he reaped the scorn of the political classes by appearing on current-affairs programs, long-haired and messianically tinged, and preaching revolution: transformation of consciousness, down with capitalism … love. He writes, speaks, and performs a lot about his former addictions—to drugs, to sex—and about his need for attention. For less than two years, he was married to the pop diva Katy Perry.