Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 11:45 p.m.
Russell Brand's Sarah Marshall audition
Russell Brand once remarked that he wanted a tiger to be set loose on Las Vegas to devour the city’s inhabitants. On Friday night, he is performing on a Mandalay Bay Theater stage usually reserved for “The Lion King.”
So it is a something of a symbiotic, if not Simba-otic, booking as Brand makes his first Vegas appearance that is not a rote red carpet walk to promote a new film. Brand takes the stage at 10 p.m., or thereabouts, for a one-off performance that promises at least a glimpse into the inspired, reckless mind of a performer who always seems onstage. (Tickets are $72.35 and $98.60; go to mandalaybay.com or call 877-632-7800 for information).
During a phone interview this afternoon, which was rescheduled from the morning because Brand could not be interviewed in the morning, the British actor, comic, vocalist and author spoke of merely observing the more festive trappings Las Vegas offers to its weekend guests. Brand is in recovery from alcohol, drug and sexual addiction, so he sees little point in the Vegas so many tourists know -- and flee.
The author of two books, My Booky Wook” and “My Booky Wook 2,” Brand also talked of his preferred creative outlet, which is live performance. He recalled the moment he fell for his would-be wife, Katy Perry, backstage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when, in lieu of a simple text message, Perry flung a plastic water bottle (empty) at Brand to get his attention. The comic and show’s host was plunked hard in the head and, as the band X once asked, ain’t love grand?
That also was the year Kanye West disrupted Taylor Swift’s victory for Best Female Video by announcing that Beyonce actually made one of the greatest videos in history and should have won the award.
So Brand usually finds himself at the epicenter of theatrics, willfully or otherwise, and Friday night will likely play to that form. Highlights of the phone conversation from today:
John Katsilometes: We met one time, and I promise you don’t remember it. It was on the red carpet at Planet Hollywood for the screening of “Get Him to the Greek.” This was the day after you appeared on David Letterman, and you said, about Las Vegas, “I don't like it. It shouldn't be there. It's a neon nightmare. It's a mistake, I wish that a tiger would get loose and just eat everyone there.” Was that an honest depiction of how you feel about the city?
Russell Brand: Mostly that was for comedic effect, really. I am a great lover of the old human condition, and Las Vegas is very interesting to me geographically and socially. It’s built in the desert, on Mob money. It’s been sustained on human nature, you know? Gambling. Sex. Drugs. And I can’t do any of those things anymore. Las Vegas, for me, is like a conveyor belt of various tortures.
JK: So it’s more of a spectator sport than a participation sport?
RB: There’s not really any way I can participate, no.
JK: You have an interesting view of addiction in that you have had substance abuse issues, as well as sexual addiction. Sex addicts often say that it is difficult to recover from that form of addiction because it’s almost impossible to totally abstain from that behavior. How do ensure that you don’t relapse, yet still maintain a healthy lifestyle?
RB: For me, recovery in all of its elements is about one day at a time and keeping things simple.
JK: Do you have an actual date for when you stopped addictive behavior?
RB: I absolutely do, it was December 2002.
JK: You have talked and written in a very unvarnished way about your personal life and turned it into comedy. Is that what we are going to see in the show at Mandalay Bay? I expect we would not see a lot of props, but we would see a lot of improvisation.
RB: It will be some of my experiences in Vegas, when I went to the Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao fight with Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, which was a significant event. The fans from Manchester (Hatton’s hometown) were not happy that Puff Daddy and Jay-Z were rather overtly backing Pacquiao. That made me somewhat self-conscious.
But yeah, I’m going to talk about what it’s like to be married … I’ll talk about the year I hosted the VMAs the year Kanye West got up with Taylor Swift. I’ll talk about my experiences, mostly, with a lot of improvisation. I don’t know if I’d use any props unless someone left something on the stage for me, then I’ll use it.
JK: Maybe something left over from “The Lion King.”
RB: Yeah! I would be into that! Maybe one of Simba’s paws! I could incorporate that, easily.
JK: You’re obviously a very recognizable and distinctive figure. Do you miss being able to circulate anonymously or get tired of being famous?
RB: Yes, and I think everyone who is famous does feel that at times. It’s a great irony to that, how much you crave that privacy even though you understand it is the price you have to pay to be famous. You achieve your dreams, but it’s not until you achieve them that you fully understand what they could possibly be like. It’s only when they are real that you really understand what it means to give up your privacy.
JK: Did you envision this sort of life when you first embarked on a career as an entertainer?
RB: It’s different, I think. You can’t comprehend it in the beginning, really. You only have a sketch of it in your mind, just some elements.
JK: In reading about you since you’ve been married, there is a common thread in the coverage that says Katy has somehow tempered you. Is that a fair assessment? And if so, how has she?
RB: I don’t think it’s a fair assessment. I just think that there are very few people who get along well and, like any marriage, you just grow together, don’t you? I don’t think there is anything extraordinary about the marriage. It’s just a very, very normal marriage except that we’ve got jobs that involve showing off.
JK: Do you still have the plastic bottle that she threw at you at the VMAs?
RB: No, I didn’t realize the significance of it at the time. My only contact with that bottle is when it bounced off my head. There was no awareness that it might become a prized relic. If I had known at the time what I know now, I might have put it in a glass case, like a Hard Rock Cafe exhibit. But I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities for me to have bottles thrown at me over the course of my life.
JK: In reading how you write, it’s evident you could be successful solely as a writer, without performing live stand-up comedy or singing or working as an actor. Is writing the most fulfilling outlet for you?
RB: Actually, stand-up is the thing I like most. I enjoy the immediacy. I enjoy the spontaneity. There are aspects of writing that are beautiful, the chance to create something and to go back and really refine it and perfect it. But nothing can match live performance.
JK: Is it more difficult to be a great stand-up comic or to write a great book?
RB: Um (pause). Writing demands the discipline of sitting down and being an adult. So I think writing, for me, is really hard.
JK: Comically, who out there excites you? Who makes you laugh today?
RB: I love (the HBO series) “Eastbound and Down,” with Danny McBride. I am obsessed with it. Kristen Wiig, I think, is a beautiful comedian. I love Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Silverman. There are a lot of really, really funny people in this country.
JK: Could you ever envision establishing an extended residency here, in Las Vegas? Or maybe performing for six weeks a year here?
RB: Not really. A great many people have done that, but I’ve never really ever thought of that. I would need to spend a great deal of time there. To me, Las Vegas is not built to spend more than three or four days in the city at one time.
JK: Just before you called, I went online and watched the five-minute clip of you auditioning for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which is brilliant. Can you recount how you prepared for that performance, what was going through your mind then? It was completely improvised, right?
RB: Right, I had no idea what I was going to say. I hadn’t read the script. I didn’t have any plan at all. I didn’t know anything about Judd (Apatow, the film’s producer) or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Superbad” or “Knocked Up”.
I mean, had I known how important it was -- it’s like that plastic bottle. I would have taken it a lot more seriously.