After a few years out of the game, Russell Brand has made a return to podcasting and is sitting at the top of the iTunes chart with Under the Skin. It is nowhere near as populist as his pods of old, but having enrolled at university, he is on a “voyage of learning”. And everyone’s invited! “Watch me, Russell Brand, coast through a three-year MA in religion in global politics by interviewing top academics and usurping the curriculum,” he suggests. Studious Brand is inquisitive rather than confrontational. Revolutionary, but in a reasonable way. He’s talking a whole lot of sense and keeping the jokes contained.
The first episode, Can We Really Stop Terror?, is a conversation with Brad Evans, whose book Liberal Terror “fascinated and excited” him. Brand pitches it graciously, limiting his initial monologue to a tight introduction and interrupting only if he needs a concept putting into plain English. “Don’t say: ‘Basically, Michel Foucault …’ on a podcast!” he chides, turning on the mega-mockney. “What do you bloody mean by that?” Briefly touching on that time he told everyone not to bother voting, Brand admits: “I realised that this was a very complex world and I didn’t have the armoury, the artillery to engage in this battle.”
His beliefs are still strong, however, and they are rooted in love and compassion. Many big ideas are covered: the lurch to the right, humans becoming redundant thanks to the rise of digitalised economies and the focus given to the image of the burning twin towers after 9/11. Although the thoughts exchanged aren’t those that usually make it on to Question Time, they are powerful. He’s keen to know if stopping hatred and violence and giving people the dignity they deserve as human beings would work. “Do you have any actual belief that love would make a difference at a political level?” he asks. “It’s often called flaky and idealistic, but to me it’s very real,” says Evans, an advocate of non-violence. “We’ve given war too much of a chance for so long. Why not give it a try? What have we got to lose?”
Under the Skin is off to a fascinating start and Brand promises more diverse topics. “One minute we’ll be talking about hypnobirthing (a sort of hippy way of doing a baby), another week we’ll be talking about cooking,” he says. Stay tuned.
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