Having spoken to a lot of very clever people in the last few weeks of RHLSTP I realise that I don't read enough. Reading is the secret to becoming intelligence. By which I mean reading, not Reading. Don't go to Reading hoping to soak up cleverness, it won't work.
I just don't get the time to read. This is utter bullshit of course. I spend at least an hour of every day playing some stupid game on my iPhone. I could get through a book a week if I just stopped doing that and picked up my kindle instead. I like to pretend that the game playing puts my brain into a zombified trance from which loads of comedy will emerge: if I can stop thinking consciously then my sub-conscious might kick in. That works to some extent, but the truth is that engaging with other people's thoughts and ideas is a much better way to become creative. Not by copying them, of course but they might say something that becomes a springboard to a whole new idea. I hate myself for being so lazy and dumb. It's amazing how intelligent I am given how little I read. Imagine how clever I'd be if I read.
Of course it can go the other way - if you read too much, books can mulchify your brain as much as computer games. You need to have some experience of real life and interaction. Too much knowledge and too many facts can lead to you losing sight of reality. I am not sure that the answers to life are in books, but all the good questions are.
So I am quite pleased that today I was able to read all day and because I was researching for my podcast it didn't feel like I was slacking off (weird again that this is part of the reason I won't read usually - I should be working not reading, but end up doing something even less worthwhile when I can't). I wasn't reading Plato or Shakespeare but a tome with the unpromising title of "My Booky-Wooky", which succeeds in being an even worse title than "Moab is My Washpot". But the contents belie the title. It's a funny, honest, slightly heart-breaking and conflicting book by Russell Brand (of course).
Just as I prepared for the Stephen Fry interview by reading about his trouble childhood, I've ended up doing the same for Brand (though this book does take us right up to 2007 when he was a finally fully-functioning adult (at least outwardly). If I needed any reminder of how cushy and lucky my life has been (and I don't really) then these books have certainly given me that. Like Fry, Brand had to battle his demons and like him he wasn't taken in by the conformist bullshit that most of us go along with (I questioned everything and children do have the ability to see that the traditions and rules we observe are weird and often random, but I was too good and too intent on doing well at exams to be anything more than a little bit cheeky and naughty). These guys (Brand especially) pushed back the boundaries and gleefully discovered what happens if you trangress social norms. But then both these men had to cope with stuff as children that perhaps propelled them towards such anti-social acts/social experimentation.
There was some common ground between me and Brand I thought, and maybe between all people who want to be comedians. The main one being that he spent hours playing himself at Subbuteo and making his team win all the games (and I think it's interesting that he sees that as a chance to control the world, like a god - fighting back against the impotence of childhood, but driven by human ego) -though my biggest crime was to do a bit of shop-lifting in my early 20s (embarrassingly late). I didn't get addicted to arm heroin. I was too scared to even take nose cocaine or lung cannabis.
Brand continued this well into his adult life (I don't think he's really stopped) using himself as a walking experiment and his TV series Re:Brand which I have never seen sounds both intriguing, brave and dangerous as well as slightly exploitative, pathetic and attention-seeking. As a man who had a Hitler Moustache for a year I know a little bit about pathetic, self-defeating stunts, but Brand pushed this so far that I think ultimately they were worthwhile and interesting performance art - what if we push ourselves beyond our boundaries and do things we shouldn't do? It does make you consider ethical issues and the false construct of society. But then again sometimes you don't need to push the false constructs to know why they're there. In some ways moving a homeless man into your house for a week says a lot about our attitude to these invisible people, but then again the homeless are not Subbuteo players made for our entertainment. Part of me sees Brand surrounded by homeless people in his promotion for his new tour and thinks - is this weird, a millionaire using homelessness as promotion or is it brilliant that a star is using his fame to make us think about an issue we ignore? And I think the point is that it's both. Comedy isn't there to provide answers, it's there to ask questions and to make us think about that. And can any of us really accuse Brand of hypocrisy towards this issue? What are we doing about it?
Whilst Re:Brand might not always have got it right (and to be honest Brand was being as exploited as anyone as he was a heroin addict himself at this time) it's still an important step on the journey for him. I really like the political stuff he's been writing recently and the fact that he is engaging with the world. It's often as much about him as it is about the issues, but he is honest about that (some comedians try to pretend that the showing off and ego is not a part of what they're about, but it kind of has to be) or as honest as anyone can be. He's a very interesting man and I hope the podcast can do him justice. I have a feeling it could be another cracker.
He seems up for a laugh. I emailed him saying, "We usually go to Pret a manger before the show. I imagine you're on some holistic macro-biotic Hollywood diet where you only eat pure thought, but if you'd like us to pick you up a sandwich or a pack of crisps or something then let us know."
He replied, "I only eat consciousness and self-righteousness now and they won't have that in Pret. I'll just drink water and act superior."
It's all sold out, but I will RT any spare tickets on Monday and you can still see it if you subscribe to the video
Tickets are also selling fast for next week's podcast with director Edgar Wright and comedian and political activist Mark Thomas (two more incredibly clever men) Book Now