A picture of Russell Brand, with his self-conscious gaze, sculpted eyebrows, and 5 o’clock shadow jumped out from the pages of Entertainment Weekly yesterday, and I quickly checked to make sure my shotgun was in reach. Although after seeing him a few times on talk shows I’ve come to realize that Brand can be a slightly amusing storyteller, in a poor man’s Peter O’Toole way, that guy really annoys me. Believe me, I know nothing about him (he may be a fantastic human being and all that), but every time I look at him he strikes me as a world-class wannabe! Specifically, he’s a wannabe of a sort that immediately turns me off: the Rock ‘n Roll Comedian.
I can’t put my finger on when, exactly, the notion of the Rock ‘n Roll Comedian was hatched. In the ’70s there were plenty of comedians who were tuned into rock ‘n roll culture: the hippified George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Cheech and Chong… Although they often appeared on the same stage with rock ‘n rollers, partied just as hard, and pushed the envelope of “rock ‘n roll values,” they never seemed to think of themselves as rock ‘n rollers. They ran paralell the Beat/hippie strain of rock ‘n roll, but they didn’t strike me as trying to ride on the coattails of a rudimentary understanding of rock ‘n roll.
Someone probably beat this guy to the punch, but Sam Kinison is the first Rock ‘n Roll Comedian who comes to mind for me, the first comedian who directly promoted himself as a rock ‘n roller. He was occasionally funny, but if rock ‘n roll was about nothing more than outrageous behavior, wild partying, and elaborate headwraps to keep a few dozen strands of long hair in place, then count me out! Along with Kinison the ’80s gave us another hair-farmer comic of moderate talent and poor taste in music, Howard Stern. Whatever…
Maybe more troubling yet was Denis Leary, another comedian of some talent who tried too hard to come off as a rock ‘n roller. What was really so rock ‘n roll about that guy? Did he even inhale his prop cigarette? I don’t think so.
Once that run of ’80s Rock ‘n Roll Comedians got rolling any mildly funnyman was free to make his rock ‘n roll dreams come true: Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, my man Conan… These three axe-wielding comedians, however, bug me much less than Russell Brand, because they’re not equating their work as a comedian with that of a rock ‘n roller. They’re not reducing rock ‘n roll to the human bong resin that is Tommy Lee. Brand does self-consciously play with the notion of being a Rock Star; is he also vying to be an-honest-to-goodness Rock ‘n Roll Comedian? I’m not sure, because I’m turned off by him as soon as I see his preening face.
Beyond Brand, specifically, I don’t know if a comedian can equate him- or herself with rock ‘n roll without making me feel ashamed for loving rock ‘n roll. Comedians can’t really really be cool, can they, and rock ‘n roll depends heavily on being cool.
Anyhow, now you know where I fall on the six-pack or shotgun spectrum of the notion of the Rock ‘n Roll Comedian. Am I missing a Rock ‘n Roll Comedian who deserves the six-pack? For those of you who are unfamiliar with the six-pack or shotgun question, read on.