A Comedian's Memoir Of Sex, Drugs And Stand-Up
Reading Russell Brand's new memoir, My Booky Wook, there are times when you want to laugh out loud, and there are times when you want to throw the book against the wall. The memoir details the British comedian's addictions to sex, drugs and stand-up comedy — the first two so much that you may wonder how he's had the coherence to ever stand up for the third.
Best known in the U.S. for his role as a caddish rocker in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the comedic actor begins his book in a sexual addiction treatment center in Philadelphia. As Brand tells Scott Simon, undergoing treatment for sexual addiction provided him with "invaluable" comedic material. But, he adds, sexual addiction is a real problem — one that he sees as a byproduct of modern society.
"One of the consequences of consumerism has been the commodification not only of commercial durables and consumer items, but also of our own emotions and desires," explains Brand. "Sex isn't presented to us as a necessity, but more as a lifestyle. The commercialization of these needs can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors."
The only child of a very doting single mother, Brand describes his childhood as "tumultuous." His mother suffered from three bouts of cancer before he was 17, and so the actor lived with various relatives. He says he had a strange relationship with his father, whom he saw sporadically and who took him to visit prostitutes during a trip to the Far East.
"Of course, that's not a particularly healthy endeavor for a father and son to pursue together," Brand notes.
Brand's first stint as an actor came in a school performance of Bugsy Malone. He says he felt "salvation" on the stage. The performance taught him that "life doesn't have to be the maudlin trudge through misery ... it can be a right laugh. Being able to make people laugh — even idiomatically — imbues you with power."
But Brand says the acting and comedic success that followed wasn't enough to make up for his interior sadness, so he turned to heroin for comfort.
"One feels enshrouded and comforted by substance abuse, but then you realize that it wasn't making you any better at what you did, it just makes you care less about being rubbish," he says.
Brand says he now recognizes that the anxiety he feels before a performance is just adrenaline, "a natural incentive to be good." And through it all, he's managed to keep his sense of humor.
"Anything can be funny," he says. "When you're in the right place spiritually and psychologically you can laugh about just about anything, as long as you're not trapped in the prism of pain."
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.