My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
I’d not paid much attention to Russell Brand before I went to go see Rock of Ages, but somewhere between my second viewing of Rock of Ages and the beginning of July, I’ve ended up journeying on a Russell Brand archive binge. I’ve always loved British comics (Eddie Izzard is my heart) and, while Brand can be a hit or miss kind of guy for most people, he definitely works for me, despite the fact that I’m ace and he’s had an award for shagging renamed in his honor. So of course the archive binge took a turn for the literary, when I remembered he actually had a book (or two; My Booky Wook 2 is a thing and kind of sad in retrospect since it’s dedicated to his ex-wife).
My Booky Wook is Brand’s memoir, spanning from childhood to a stint in sex rehab that marked the turning point in his life and his career. Classically trained as an actor, Brand found his true passion in stand-up comedy, but his addictive personality turned recreational activities into, well, addictions. Here, Brand spares no detail in describing the depths he descended to and how he got out.
…okay, that makes My Booky Wook sound more aspirational than it actually is. Part of the reason that I enjoy Brand as a comic is that he manages to successfully integrate truly bizarre yet logical flights of fancy with sharp and articulate intelligence. His most recent stand-up tour (available on DVD as Scandalous in the UK and Live in New York City in the US–not the same show, but the same tour) quotes Foucault and Freud while making points about the Jonas Brothers’ manipulation of sexuality and the true self, respectively. The cheerful Dickensian camp angle doesn’t hurt, either. Some celebrity memoirs feel distanced from the celebrity in question, but not only does My Booky Wook feel like Brand wrote it himself, it feels quite of a piece with the rest of his work, from the jokes to the philosophical moments to the turns of phrases. Whatever you think of him, he’s good at what he does.
And yet… I ended up with sort of the same feeling I got from Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Patton Oswalt’s book. I was mildly disappointed in that memoir because half of it was amazing and the other half was hit-or-miss material Oswalt can’t do in stand-up form. Here, it’s more consistent. I definitely enjoyed it—I ended up reading the first two hundred pages when I meant to be getting ready for bed. It’s funny, self-aware, and even sweet at times (Brand adores his mother), but where it falls apart for me a bit is when Brand engages with the darker side of his life. Like a lot of comedians, he uses the pain of his life as material for comedy and makes it work well, and there’s a haunting passage where Brand describes an encounter with a prostitute that ends with him realizing that they’re just two people in a room and this is her job. But I feel like he’s occasionally skirting away from engaging in it head-on, either because the material is difficult to make light of or because there’s too much ground to cover to give it enough time to breathe.
Which of course isn’t to say that Brand doesn’t deal frankly with his drug and sex addictions—he does, and even contextualizes himself in the world of British theater, where actors like Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton had similar problems, but were praised as long as they brought the goods. It’s something he’s clearly spent a lot of time thinking about, and, never one to be shy, he depicts his lifestyle as it is. This is not a memoir for the faint of heart, but, then again, Brand’s not a comedian for the faint of heart. But he doesn’t demonize it either; he talks honestly about what joy he found in using drugs, and how it absolutely turned against him. Towards the end, Brand recounts a decidedly unsober evening where he and a Scottish guy he barely knew ended up quoting poetry while wandering the streets, and how his old lifestyle made random moments of connection like that easier—which makes remaining chemically abstinent difficult for him. I think I just wish that we’d gotten more about his relationship with women, which he tantalizing touches on briefly here and there and has clearly evolved over the years. But perhaps that’s in My Booky Wook 2 or a future return to stand-up…
Bottom line: Brand, a comedian not for the faint of heart, can be hit-or-miss for people, and My Booky Wook is no exception. If you like Brand’s dementedly cheerful, crude, and savagely smart style, then you’ll enjoy the first volume of his extremely honest memoirs, even if it feels like Brand is occasionally going too fast to stop for more introspection. If you’d like!
I rented this book from the public library.