‘What’s beneath the surface – of people we admire, of the ideas that define our time, of the history we are told…’
Russell Brand has been a kind of spiritual icon for me in many ways. He first came to my attention during his hedonistic, party days when his 2006 stand up special Shame struck a nerve with my own comedic heritage – basically telling people all the terrible things that happen to me and turning them into jokes. I mostly enjoyed his diversion into Hollywood (shout out to Get Him To The Greek) and when he came out as an advocate of abstaining in general elections I was right there with him for that too. Somewhere between his interview with Ed Milliband and his hard lean into spiritually he kind of lost me a little bit. I tried Under the Skin when it first came out but found it to be too meandering and ponderous to really grab my attention. Until…
I had heard of Jordan Peterson through the shrieking, pearl-clutching prism of left leaning newspapers like The Guardian and decided that he probably wasn’t for me. His constant appearances on my Twitter and Facebook feed slowly wore me down however, and it seemed that his appearance on Under the Skin might work as an interesting introduction to Peterson and his controversial message.
Brand is historically left leaning himself but he certainly doesn’t align himself to one political party or belief. He is canny enough to know that the differences between the major political parties are negligible. In both of his interviews with JP, Brand’s natural compassion acts as a perfect counterweight to Peterson’s more clinical persona. This is also key to interviews with other, even more right wing commentators such as Sam Harris and Candace Owens. Both are challenged by Brand in a way that is confrontational without being aggressive and each guest clearly enjoys having Brand as a jousting partner. His podcast can become repetitive at times but also serves as a accessible conduit for ideas and theories that are not really being discussed in mainstream media.
Under the Skin is much like all of Brand’s output. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes overreaching and tedious. However, there are episodes of Brand’s podcast that are as compelling as any I have heard on any podcast anywhere. As ever with Brand, when he is good, he is pretty untouchable.