The unashamed star of UK stand-up comedy, Hollywood movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and one of the biggest scandals in the history of the BBC talks before his show tonight
Did you know your Enmore Theatre show sold out in 30 minutes here?
I'm really proud and pleased that I can develop a following in another hemisphere, because stand-up comedy is more important to me than life. More important than eating, sleeping. I get a lot of interesting requests and comments on social networking sites from the people of Australia, some of which I'm very much looking forward to following up.
You've been to Sydney fairly recently, haven't you? Was that just a holiday?
I came out to Sydney towards the end of last year and had an amazing time. I was only there for two days but it was terrific. A beautiful, clean, expansive blue-skied place. Yeah, I popped over for a few days because I was seeing an Australian woman, the ever lovely, beautiful Teresa Palmer [with whom Brand co-starred in Bedtime Stories].
What happened there?
Nothing, really. I still adore her.
Do you have to change your act much when you take it to different countries?
Yes, Dan, but good comedy is universal, that's why great comedians have international appeal, generally speaking. If what you're doing is incredibly parochial, it's difficult to succeed, but one has to temper the language, the references and learn where certain things have to be given more exposition.
Do you still struggle to get through customs these days?
Yes. I get stopped quite a lot. Even though I've not taken drugs or had a drink and haven't been arrested for over six years now, I think I still have a gait and manner of a man who might be about to do something illegal.
Did you really travel with drugs up your arse?
Yes, Dan, it's a necessity as a drug addict. It's more important than your wash bag really. There's no sense going away without drugs if you're a drug addict because it's not a holiday. It doesn't matter how nice a place you go to, you will still be shivering on the beach. I know you can get drugs on holiday but as an addict you need them as soon as you get off the plane, so you can't muck about.
When was the last time you were body searched?
Seven years ago, when I was thrown off a plane in Barcelona for causing a ruckus. Not full cavity, thankfully, otherwise they would have found I was carrying heroin and marijuana. I generally travelled with drugs up my arse in the belief that if customs officers decided to pursue this unsavoury line of inquiry, my day would already be ruined, and the discovery of crack or heroin couldn't make it much worse.
When was the last time you were arrested?
May Day 2001 when I stripped naked at an anti-globalisation protest. I've not been arrested or had any confrontation with the police since I've been off drugs. Obviously, not a coincidence.
You've been sacked in pretty dramatic fashion from most of your previous jobs haven't you? [See 'Brand on the Run' panel.] Perhaps most notably when you turned up to work at MTV the day after 9/11 dressed as Osama bin Laden and introduced your heroin dealer, Gritty, and his eight-year-old son to our own Kylie Minogue.
Kylie was our guest on the show that day. Me, Gritty and his son Edwin went into the toilet and the two older members of our party smoked some crack. Edwin didn't have any. He was just a little boy and seemed quite upbeat about life. Children don't need drugs because they have sweets. We blearily swaggered out of the disabled toilet and on the other side of the foyer I saw Kylie, all famous and everything. Before I knew it, I'd walked across the foyer, made a kind of "wooh-ooh" noise – in a mum-across-a-neighbour's-fence sort of way – and said: "Kylie, meet Gritty". And there's me standing beside them, dressed as Osama bin Laden. I thought: 'It don't get much better than this.' And it didn't, 'cos they sacked me about two days later.
Kylie is royalty here. To Aussies, that was ruder than Paul Keating goosing the Queen.
I would argue with that. There is no way that any transgression toward Kylie Minogue could equal what Paul Keating did to Her Majesty. What he did to our queen that day – he might as well have took a five pound note and rubbed it round the rim of his helmet.
Have you seen Kylie since?
No, I've not seen dear, beloved Kylie. The last time I saw her, I was dressed like Osama bin Laden and I was introducing her to a crack and heroin dealer. That might be why it's the last time I saw her. She might be seriously avoiding me.
Just last year you resigned from your BBC Radio 2 show after broadcasting messages you left on Andrew Sachs' voicemail [the actor who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers] apologising for having sex with his granddaughter. Thirty thousand complaints and condemnation from the prime minister. Nice work.
Some commentators said it was the biggest UK media story since the death of Diana. Certainly in terms of newspaper inches - if that is any way to judge anything other than the size of your willy or someone's orbs - it certainly was big.
You apologised to Sachs, but have you spoken to his granddaughter since?
No. I can't envisage circumstances where that would be required.
All these scandals don't seem to have held you back. It all just seems to have made you more famous.
Yes, that's fair. If people want to sack me, they should be prepared for the consequences. Really, I'm a good person, I care deeply about people, I'm just motivated by a peculiar cocktail of love and vanity.
Given that you haven't been able to hold down a single job until recently, it's pretty impressive that you now have several on the go. Are you making up for lost time?
Yeah, very much. I've got to do all of it, because I was unemployed and unemployable for such a significant portion of my life. I'm trying to make up for eight to ten years.
You were bulimic and into self-harm as teenager. Have you ever been diagnosed with any mental illnesses?
Yes, depression and manic depression and more latterly, bipolar. Attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity. It's difficult to know which of those diagnoses are correct because most of the time I was very young and on drugs.
Are you happier these days – or is it still up and down?
Yes, much happier. This is the closest I have got to feeling fulfilled.
Your past drug addictions are well documented. Mainly by you in your autobiography, My Booky Wook. Are you still an addict?
I would never, ever be arrogant enough to say that addiction has been conquered, I just don't take drugs anymore or drink, one day at a time. Hopefully it can go into a form of remission if one pursues a programme of recovery but I think addiction is a life-long condition.
How long have you been clean for now from both drink and drugs?
Six years and two months.
Do you still get the urge to take drugs?
Sometimes. When you finish work late or you've just done a gig and you think "What am I going to do now? Go to bed? That's when I miss it. You feel like you need an experience, some sort of punctuation: an orgasm, an epiphany, something.
How do you manage to control that addiction now?
With some sort of transient erotic experience that's both consensual and blissful and conveys nothing but glory to the participants.
You're doing a million different things all at once. Is this indicative of an addictive personality?
Yes, I think it probably is an indication. I think it's very difficult not to transfer whatever proclivity that leads a person into addiction into other areas of life: romantic life, professional life or even domestic life. Sometimes I've acted like a man possessed.
Is your ambition stronger than your addictions?
Yes, it certainly is, Dan. I finally gave up drink and drugs because my ambition is the most powerful force within me. So once people convinced me that behaviour might become damaging to my career, I found it easier to think of it as a flaw that needed to be remedied. I'm keen to align my ambition with activities and projects that are valuable beyond self-fulfilment, because otherwise my life would be about shallow acquisitions of accolades and tin baubles when I could make it the happiness and fulfilment of huge numbers of people with just a tiny adjustment.
Talking of the fulfilment of huge numbers of people, your sex life is also well documented. Mainly by the tabloids. Are you a sex addict?
I don't know. I think I have problems with addiction as we just discussed a moment ago, and this can be transferred to most areas of my life if I'm not cautious but you know, I don't like to undermine the experiences I have by putting that tag on it. I don't think it's helpful if I imply that everything I do is regrettable in an area. Frankly it isn't. A lot of it is bloody brilliant and lovely.
When was the last time you had sex?
Do you have a girlfriend at the moment?
I think it is because of the momentum of my work, because I'm obsessed and devoted to my work and because I'm still not ready to commit emotionally to one person and that I don't want to put myself in the position where I have to lie to someone because I'm not ready to stop sleeping with different people... I'm not ready to make that sort of monogamous commitment. But a lot of my friends have kids now and I really love their children and I love hanging around with their children and playing with their children. And I think it would be amazing to have that kind of relationship.
So you do want to be a father one day?
Very much, yeah. But given my own family history, I don't want to do that now.
You've had an interesting relationship with your own father...
He did his best, groping through fatherhood without a template.
But he took you on holiday to sleep with prostitutes in South-East Asia when you were 17!
On the plane on the way home he said: "I went away with a boy and came back with a man." Some of the attributes of a man included 'I have now had a prostitute stick her finger up my arse while sucking my cock.'
You've been named The Sun newspaper's Shagger of the Year three years running – to the point they named the award after you. How do you feel about that?
This shagging I'm doing is truly worthwhile and obviously world class – like when my football team West Ham retired Bobby Moore's number 6 shirt. To have the Shagger of the Year award named after me is quite an accolade – just to know subsequent shaggers who take on that mantle will always, always just have to bask in the glint of glory afforded by my enormous obstructive shadow.
How many women have you shagged then?
I never, ever am going to say a number ever again in response to that question and any journalist that puts it to me will receive instead this boring speech that you are about to receive: I love and cherish all the people that are involved in my life and I would never denigrate them by reducing them to statistic on a government chart. The truth is, I just don't know, but whoever I'm with is the only person in the world. Unless there's more than one of them, and then they're the only group of people in the world.
Come on, how many in an average month?
I've never had an average month. If I had my whole month that was average, I'd kill myself. I'm only interested in extreme experiences.
Is it almost too easy to seduce women now that you are famous?
Well, if people sort of already know you, you don't have to do so much of the getting-to-know-you quiz most people do when they meet each other. I'm just a bloke from Essex with a terrific haircut who's been given a Wonka ticket to a lovely sex factory because of the ol' fame. I love it when I meet a woman and her sexuality is dancing across her face so it's apparent that all we need to do is nod and find a cupboard.
You say that sex is the one physical pursuit you are good at...
Well, it's chemistry innit? It's not like it's table tennis or anything. I think sex, when there's a chemical connection between people, I think it can be supernatural. That's why I think it's appealing: it doesn't have to be gruntin', snarlin', curl-lipped warthogs. It can become transcendental, truly a union through the physical which is beyond the physical. You say I'm good at sex like as if I could do a video of sex moves. Although now I say that out loud – Russell Brand's Sex Moves Video– me in a leotard and a sweatband on with an erection poking through my lime green tights is what the world needs now.
What's the most ridiculous rumour you've ever read about yourself?
There's loads. That I was caught waving a sword around in the London Underground, knighting homeless people with a sword. That was a favourite. A lot of them involve swords, strangely. I haven't even got a sword.
You're famed for your style. I know this is normally a question heavy breathers ask women on a sex line, but what are you wearing right now?
Well, I'm having my hair done at the moment, so I've got a cape on and a towel around my shoulders, nice tight-fitting J Lindeberg jeans, a rather thick faded brown leather belt, a J Lindeberg sheer t-shirt, Stephen Webster rings on both my index fingers and a Stephen Webster crossed hammers emblem of West Ham United and I've got my hair slicked back with a conditioner in it.
Are you at your house at the moment?
I am. Yes, just with the lady who does my hair and makeup and her friend who cuts my hair. I'm just walking in the bathroom to do a bit of wee out of my award-winning penis.
What are you doing with the hair these days? Still a bird's nest up top?
In my normal life I don't bother to do anything to it. I just leave it as it is to do what it wants. But when I do shows I back-comb it into a ludicrous, follicular mist so it forms a nice silhouette, a nice halo.
How would you describe your style?
I'm an intergalactic bejewelled pirate, a spindly sex stick, a he-witch scarecrow dressed by Dior.
You wear a lot of black. Does this reflect your inner personality?
You know the Morrissey lyric: "I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside". I am very fond of that. But I think it's simply because it's easier to get dressed.
What with your quasi-camp persona and foppish appearance, people might look at you and assume you're gay. But you once masturbated a man to prove conclusively that you are not, didn't you?
I did do that whilst on crack and heroin, Dan. Whilst on crack and heroin I did a lot of things as part of a TV programme. I didn't do it out of my own curiosity. Jackass was a big deal at the time and I was charged with promoting that in UK so I decided to do more of a psychological Jackass where I'd do stunts of a more cerebral nature. So I went to live with Nazis to see if I could change them, I went to live with a prostitute to see if I could make her fall in love with me and then see what it was like to have sex with a prostitute if you knew her. And I did wank off a man to see if your innate heterosexuality can be overcome by committing a homosexual act. It can't, incidentally. I also tried to seduce a little old lady and had a bath with a homeless man. It was a funny couple of months. I'm curious about the fringes of psychological experience.
You don't have to bathe with homeless people anymore, now that you are a Hollywood star.
I'm in the fortunate position of being able to do things that I really want to, which means primarily concentrating on stand up comedy, movies, writing and doing less television. I've finished filming The Tempest. I am making a documentary on enlightenment with Oliver Stone and Albert Maysles. Then I am working with Judd Apatow and Jonah Hill on Get Him to the Greek in which I reprise my character Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's a buddy movie. Then I'm remaking the film Arthur, the Oscar-winning Dudley Moore film with myself in the title role. I am execuitive producing that and am involved in the writing and casting of that currently. That's being written by Peter Baynham who co-wrote Borat. And I'm writing the second part of my autobiography - My Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal. So that's the next year...
Do you think you have broken America now?
I think it was broken when I got there. I'm going to fix it.
After calling George W Bush a "retard cowboy fella" at last year's MTV Awards, are you going to be hosting any more awards ceremonies?
Yes, but I am not at liberty to say what. The one that is the most obvious thing you can imagine – that's what will happen.
I will present the Oscars one day.
Do you think you're capable of winning an Oscar one day?
Yes. I would like to think so, otherwise there is no point acting. If people are giving out Oscars for acting and I'm doing acting I sort of think well, I'd like one.
So you're basically becoming a global Brand?
It's worth striving for the extremity, Dan, for all of us know mediocrity in some form in our own lives. I don't think there's any limit to anything really. Except time.
One man Brand
Russell Brand performs his show Scandalous
at the Enmore Theatre on 17 March and the Hordern Pavilion on 18 March. His autobiography, My Booky Wook, is out now; his stand-up DVD, Doing Life Live, will be released here on 5 March; and his Ponderland show will be shown on Seven later in the year.
Brand on Time Out
"Time Out was like a Bible for me as a new stand-up comedian, finding the tiny little pubs where you'd perform in front of 20 or 30 people, none of whom would be listening. I was 23 when I first did stand up, and in only my fifth stand-up gig ever I was in the finals for the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year. At that time I was properly a junkie, properly mental. Although I didn't get first, second or third place, Malcolm Hay, the Time Out London comedy critic, dedicated most of his review to my performance and compared me to Bill Hicks and really gave me hope that stand-up comedy could be a route worth pursuing. It really inspired me and it fairly contributed to my subsequent success and because of Malcolm I got the best stand-up award from Time Out in 2006 so I have a predisposition to like you and your publication."
Brand on the run: notes on a scandal
1999: Pretends to have AIDS to explain away an unauthorised holiday while working at a language school
2001: Gets sacked from MTV for introducing his drug dealer to Kylie Minogue while dressed as Osama bin Laden, the day after 9/11
2002: Makes cable TV show Re:Brand, in which he masturbates a man on camera, lives with a prostitute and a Nazi, tries to seduce an 81-year-old woman, and has a bath with a homeless man. Check it out on YouTube
2002: Gets sacked from Xfm radio for bringing a homeless man in to answer readers' letters that he would read out on air from a pornographic newspaper
2002: Gets sacked from Steve Coogan film Cruise of the Gods for using prostitutes and trying to coerce the cast into doing the same
2002: Gets arrested for the 11th time - on this occasion for stripping naked at an anti-globalisation protest
2002: Risks leg amputation when thrown through a glass door at the Edinburgh Festival after a gig turns sour.
2002: Checks into rehab for drinks and drugs
2005: Check into rehab (or "winky-nick") for sex addiction
2008: Calls George W Bush "that retard cowboy fella" at the MTV Awards
2008: Resigns from BBC Radio 2 after 'Sachsgate' receives 30,000 complaints and a rebuke from PM Gordon Brown