British comedian, actor, radio host, author and activist. His latest book is titled Revolution. He hosts an online show called Trews.
In a holiday special, we feature our interview with Russell Brand. For years he has been one of Britain’s most popular comedians, but in 2014, he also emerged as a leading voice of Britain’s political left. He has taken part in anti-austerity protests, spoken at Occupy Wall Street protests and marched with the hacker collective Anonymous. A recovering addict himself, Brand has also become a leading critic of Britain’s drug laws. He has just come out with a new book expanding on his critique of the political system. It is simply titled, "Revolution."
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’re broadcasting from London, and we’re joined by Russell Brand. Up until last year, Russell Brand was best known for being one of the most popular comedians here in Britain. His résumé includes hosting the reality TV show Big Brother’s Big Mouth, a stint as a BBC radio host and starring roles in the films St. Trinian’s, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. He also hosted the MTV Movie Awards.
But in recent years, Russell Brand has emerged as one of the most prominent voices of the British left. He has taken part in anti-austerity protests, spoken at Occupy Wall Street and marched with the hacker collective Anonymous. A recovering addict himself, Russell Brand has also become a leading critic of Britain’s drug laws.
Last year, he guest-edited the New Statesman, a political and current affairs magazine here in Britain. The issue included cover art by Shepard Fairey and articles by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, among many others.
He then appeared on BBC Newsnight in an interview with the well-known BBC host Jeremy Paxman. The video became a YouTube sensation.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Is it true you don’t even vote?
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah, no, I don’t vote.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity. Alternative means alternative political systems.
JEREMY PAXMAN: They being?
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, I’ve not invented it yet, Jeremy. I had to do a magazine last week. I’ve had a lot on my plate. But I say—but here’s the thing that you shouldn’t do: shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power, not people who like doing a magazine for a novelty.
JEREMY PAXMAN: How do you imagine that people get power?
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, I imagine there are sort of hierarchical systems that have been preserved through generations—
JEREMY PAXMAN: They get power by being voted in. That’s how they get it.
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, you say that, Jeremy, but like—
JEREMY PAXMAN: You can’t even be asked to vote.
RUSSELL BRAND: It’s quite narrow—quite a narrow prescriptive parameter that changes within the—
JEREMY PAXMAN: In a democracy, that’s how it works.
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy, given that the planet is being destroyed, given that there is economic disparity of a huge degree. What you’re saying, there’s no alternative. There’s no alternative, just this system.
JEREMY PAXMAN: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying—
RUSSELL BRAND: Brilliant.
JEREMY PAXMAN: —if you can’t be asked to vote, why should we be asked to listen to your political point of view?
RUSSELL BRAND: You don’t have to listen to my political point of view. But it’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy. I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now and which has now reached fever pitch, where we have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system. So, voting for it is tacit complicity with that system, and that’s not something I’m offering up.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Why don’t you change it then?
RUSSELL BRAND: I’m trying to.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, why don’t you start by voting?
RUSSELL BRAND: I don’t think it works. People have voted already, and that’s what’s created the current paradigm.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, when did you last vote?
RUSSELL BRAND: Never.
JEREMY PAXMAN: You’ve never, ever voted?
RUSSELL BRAND: No. Do you think that’s really bad?
JEREMY PAXMAN: So, you’ve struck an attitude, what? Before the age of 18?
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, I was busy being a drug addict at that point, because I come from the kind of social conditions that are exacerbated by an indifferent system that really just administrates for large corporations and ignores the population that it was voted in to serve.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But you’re veiling the—you’re blaming the political class for the fact that you had a drug problem?
RUSSELL BRAND: No, no, no. I’m saying I was part of a social and economic class that is underserved by the current political system, and drug addiction is one of the problems it creates. When you have huge underserved, impoverished populations, people get drug problems and also don’t feel like they want to engage with the current political system, because they see that it doesn’t work for them. They see that it makes no difference. They see that they’re not served. I say that the apathy—
JEREMY PAXMAN: But of course it doesn’t work for them if they don’t bother to vote.
RUSSELL BRAND: Jeremy, my darling, I’m not saying that—the apathy doesn’t come from us, the people. The apathy comes from the politicians. They are apathetic to our needs. They’re only interested in servicing the needs of corporations. Look at where—ain’t the Tories going to court, taking the EU to court? It’s because they’re trying to curtail bank bonuses. Is that what’s happening at the moment in our country?
AMY GOODMAN: That was Russell Brand being interviewed on BBC Newsnight by host Jeremy Paxman last year. Since it was posted online, more than 10 million people have watched the video. Well, Russell Brand has come out with a new book expanding on his critique of the political system. It’s called Revolution. We’re just in front of Big Ben and also MI5, the British domestic intelligence service. And our guest has now turned around to look out the window to say, "Which one is MI5?" It’s the low building, Russell.
RUSSELL BRAND: It’s a secret. You’re not supposed to know that.
AMY GOODMAN: Russell Brand is our guest, Russell Brand who’s well known as a comedian and an actor, and also become a leading figure on the British left and has a new book out. It’s called, simply, Revolution.
Russell, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. And even though there are a lot of obscenities in the world, please don’t use them on Democracy Now! today, or our stations will be taken off the air.
RUSSELL BRAND: You’re really concerned about that. Did they say, "Just say it to him on air"? Honestly, I don’t swear very often. This evening, I’m performing at the Royal Albert Hall, London, before an audience of children. I won’t swear, I promise. You’re perfectly safe.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there are children who are listening and watching right now. There are adults. There are senior citizens.
RUSSELL BRAND: Stop worrying about it. I won’t swear. What do you need to know, Amy? There won’t be any swearing.
AMY GOODMAN: I need to know where you were born.
RUSSELL BRAND: Grays, Essex, where people do use obscenities a lot, as would anyone suffering under such dreadful conditions. If continue down the Thames in that direction, you will end up at Grays, and you’ll swim back rather than stay there. You’d rather live in the MI5 building.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Grays. Talk about where you were born, Russell.
RUSSELL BRAND: Where I’m from is a suburban town with low expectations. So people in America understand, it’s a bit like Camden, New Jersey—low expectations, really, really cool people, fantastic people, but a kind of place where it’s difficult to engage with hope, where it’s easy to imagine that your life can just sort of trundle out like this low, grey River Thames.
AMY GOODMAN: Camden is one of the poorest places in the United States.
RUSSELL BRAND: Oh, it might be a bit better than that, then. It’s not one of the poorest places; it’s just not that nice. And growing up there, I think it sort of—I’ve had cause to reflect. I wondered why it was that I was so attracted to the idea of being so famous and living a sort of glamorous life and going to sequin-covered events and being in sparkly places with superficially attractive things. I think I put a lot of it down to the sort of mundanity of my early life. What was surprising when I went back there recently is, even though it was kind of ordinary to begin with and somewhat economically deprived, when I went back there recently, it had become much, much worse—like the sort of dodgy shops, payday loans, people living on welfare. And it really was the inspiration in the writing of the book to see how the place where I come from had deteriorated and where that money has gone, where those resources have gone, and why people don’t seem to think that they have any political purchase or any ability to change the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were talking about this with Jeremy Paxman, the clip we just played that went totally viral, from BBC Newsnight, where you talked about why you don’t vote. Now, that was a few years ago. Have you started voting?
RUSSELL BRAND: One year, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you voted since then?
RUSSELL BRAND: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the system is changing at all?
RUSSELL BRAND: Do you?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I don’t live here.
RUSSELL BRAND: I think this is an international problem. You’ve just had the American midterm elections, in which $4 billion was spent on the campaigning, when we’re told there’s not enough money to deal with what would seem to me to be more—like, you know, it was interesting recently, you know, like that FEMA, that U.S. agency that lent out money to people who were victims of Katrina and Sandy. They wanted their money back that they lent to people that had suffered in those hurricanes. And this is simultaneously, $4 billion has been spent on campaigning in midterm elections. And, like, we live in a system where tax breaks and tax avoidance are easy if you understand the law. So, the degree of systemic change required is so significant, I don’t see any point in voting for it. But no one’s saying, "We will do something about that."
AMY GOODMAN: Russell, this gives me a chance to go to your show, called The Trews. And—
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah, The Trews is my TV show that I made with Gareth. It’s not on the television; it’s on the Internet.
AMY GOODMAN: So it’s a combo between "truth" and "the news"?
RUSSELL BRAND: It’s one of the cleverest puns in human history.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you talk about this issue of disabled and elderly residents in a assisted living center in Rockaway, New York—this is after Sandy, after Superstorm Sandy—being asked to return aid to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Let’s go to that clip from The Trews.
RUSSELL BRAND: "Can we have our money back?" "But the hurricane, disabled." "Money back."
FEMA AID RECIPIENT: I asked them, "Do we have to pay this back?" And they said, "No, it’s a gift from the president."
RUSSELL BRAND: "You know that gift I gave you?" "Yes, we all appreciated it." "Mmm, that makes it a little bit harder to say what I’m about to say." "Oh, what is it?" "Give it back."
AMY GOODMAN: There it is.
RUSSELL BRAND: I’m proud of The Trews because what it does is it gives us an opportunity to provide an alternative news narrative. What I’ve noticed since I’ve come in this sphere of public debate talking about politics, which I do in my book with, like, input from insightful and brilliant figures such as Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, that, like, it’s sort of like people are having a go at me, like I’m not allowed to participate. You know, "Shut up! Look at your hair! Listen to your accent! Be quiet!" It’s like a really sort of fiercely guarded, like, realm—not just from the right, but from the left, as well. If you sort of go, "Hey, I’m actually from a background where people are affected by stuff like this. This is what we think. Can we talk about this in a different way?" people are so fiercely territorial and protective, it’s interesting. And it’s not difficult to see why there is such political stasis and such immobility, because people don’t welcome new debate. Not ordinary people. Ordinary people like it. Ordinary people are engaged and excited. But I would say there’s a kind of circuitous establishment that’s interested in a kind of peculiar circle jerk of exchanging opinions.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you did at Occupy Democracy and what it is, what it is here in Britain.
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, Occupy—the Occupy movement is a leaderless, decentralized campaign movement, so it’s the same in the U.K. as it is in America. There were a group of protesters occupying Parliament Square, a coalition of groups interested in issues such as, like, you know, fracking, animal rights, but primarily our inability to have any political purchase through democratic process, like that voting doesn’t make any difference. No one’s interested in presenting alternatives to draconian, restrictive trade agreements, whether they be European or TransAtlantic. And we have no—and these are the rules and regulations that affect people’s ordinary life. And so, I suppose something like Occupy Democracy is people venting that frustration and demonstrating their belief that there’s a need for change.
So I support that, because what I reckon is important, and what I talk about in my book, Amy, is that creative, local direct action is the answer, that we shouldn’t be looking for sort of glamorous new figures to lead us. We shouldn’t be looking to conventional politics. It’s not going to provide any answers to people, like the women of the New Era Estate in Great Britain, who were being evicted from their homes because their areas got trendy now, so all of the rents have gone up. These people were going to be evicted from their homes. They organized themselves. They campaigned. And now Richard Benyon, MP, the wealthiest politician in the houses of Parliament there, has packed his bags and run from the confrontation. But still, the Westbrook group, the developers that own 90 percent of the estate, still have to be confronted. Still, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has to be confronted, because, you know, it’s difficult to get any political purchase. There are no political figures that are interested in representing ordinary people.
AMY GOODMAN: Might you run for mayor of London?
RUSSELL BRAND: I don’t think I would really want to be part of that political system. What I’m interested in is ordinary people being engaged, whether it’s for union activity in their workplaces, new coalitions or people that are taking control of the places that they live, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: You have talked a lot about the power of corporations and also materialism.
RUSSELL BRAND: How come you’re allowed a glass, and mine’s plastic? Why am I not trusted?
AMY GOODMAN: You can have mine.
RUSSELL BRAND: Why am I having so many warnings about swearing? You get glass; I get plastic. This is America versus England, isn’t it? You’ve nicked our language. You’ve thrown our flag away, rejected our queen. And now you’re taking all the glassware. Come on!
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Russell.
RUSSELL BRAND: Cheers! To freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Corporate culture and materialism—I mean, I want to talk about your book, because you talk about the kind of revolution you want to see. Talk about the revolutions in your own life, how you’ve changed over time.
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, the reason I have such faith in the capacity for change, for people to change their lives, is because my own life has changed radically. All a revolution is, really, is to create structures outside of the existing structures, to create change without using the sanctioned means for change. And me, I’ve gone from a life of being impoverished and drug-addicted to a life where I’m sort of affluent and free from drugs. So, that’s what gives me this belief that change is possible on an individual level.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how you beat addiction.
RUSSELL BRAND: I don’t know that I beat addiction. One day at a time, I surrender to the fact that I am a drug addict. And with the help and support of other drug addicts and the belief in a higher power, I’m able to get daily reprieve from drugs, that is contingent on me being available to help other people with the disease of addiction, taking advice from people that have got more time than me, offering help to those that have got less.
And I think it’s an important issue, because I think that actually drug addiction is people—like, the reason people are addicted to drugs is because there’s sort of a deficit of happiness, a deficit of community, a deficit of connection. Joseph Campbell talked about our problems being due the lack of a communal myth. I think all of us feel a little bit—or a lot of us feel a little adrift, that we don’t know how we’re supposed to live, we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. And in the end, some kind of anesthetic becomes attractive. Certainly that’s my personal experience. I recognize now that the thing that I was chasing after in my years of addiction was probably some sort of sense of communal connection or a connection to a higher thing.
AMY GOODMAN: You write very movingly about Philip Seymour Hoffman and also about Robin Williams, both dealing with addiction. Both died in the last year.
RUSSELL BRAND: Yes, well, I suppose those high-profile and sad deaths provide an opportunity to highlight how many lives are affected by addiction and the need to address it by different means. I think criminalizing and penalizing people that are ill, like Philip Seymour Hoffman or Robin Williams, is sort of pointless. It doesn’t work. People are using more progressive means to tackle the issue of addiction, places like Canada and in Portugal and Switzerland. I think that the only way for drug addiction to be correctly addressed is for it to be regulated, regulated properly, not left in the hands of criminals—decriminalized and regulated.
AMY GOODMAN: And overall, the drug war, overall, how this fits into that larger story?
RUSSELL BRAND: It’s even just as a piece of language, Amy. It’s a bit of an odd thing to say, isn’t it? We’re doing a drug war. Bill Hicks, the American comedian, said, "If there is a drug war, and we’re losing it, that means drug addicts are winning." That’s really bad to lose a drug war to people that are high. So, like, it’s the wrong attitude to have wars on terror, wars on drugs. Stop making things worse.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the amount of money, for example, that goes into—in the name of fighting against drugs. Like yesterday, our big special was on Mexico—
RUSSELL BRAND: Was it?
AMY GOODMAN: —and these 43 students who disappeared in the state of Guerrero. And it turns out that the mayor and the police turned them over to drug gangs. And the question is—
RUSSELL BRAND: Good, good.
AMY GOODMAN: —going right up to the president, the billions of dollars, for example, the United States has given the Mexican military and Mexican police, in the name of the so-called drug war, where has it really gone? And is it in fact a real war, but a war against people, particularly poor people and indigenous people?
RUSSELL BRAND: Some people would argue, like in that brilliant film by Eugene Jarecki, The House I Live In, he argues that what’s actually happening is that the bottom 15 percent of society are no longer needed because of the collapse of the manufacturing industry, so it’s a lot better to just criminalize them and put them in prison. So, yeah, it’s like it’s a proxy war on poverty. It’s a proxy race war. I certainly think that argument holds. I mean, I think addiction can affect people from any economic or social background, but those who tend to suffer most are those without money. And there’s no doubt that social conditions have a huge impact on people’s tendency to get addicted to substances. I think if people live in communal environments where they’ve got access to support and—forgive me for using the word—love, then they’re less likely to get addicted to drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to an amazing moment you had in the U.S. media on Morning Joe.
RUSSELL BRAND: Do you?
AMY GOODMAN: But before I do that, I want to go to the Parliament right here.
RUSSELL BRAND: Do whatever you want.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the Parliament building, where you recently testified. You offered testimony on the issue of drugs?
RUSSELL BRAND: Didn’t offer it. They drag you in there, to go, "Will you talk to a committee?" And I think the reason they got me in there was to draw attention to the fact that they were having a committee to debate drug laws. Since then, of course, drug laws have radically changed in the country. They haven’t. They’ve done nothing. So, it was like a sort of a circus, you know, kangaroo court thing, when they just bring people in, have a little chat.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to Russell Brand in the British Parliament.
RUSSELL BRAND: It’s more important that we regard people suffering from addiction with compassion and that there’s a pragmatic, rather than symbolic, approach to treating it. And I think the legislative status of addiction and the criminalization of addicts is kind of symbolic, not really functional. I don’t see how it especially helps. I’m not saying let’s have a wacky free-for-all with people going around taking drugs. Didn’t do me—didn’t help me much.
KEITH VAZ: You’re a former heroin addict.
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah.
KEITH VAZ: Briefly, could you tell us how you got onto drugs and then how you managed to come off it, and how many years you were on hard drugs?
RUSSELL BRAND: I see you’ve incorporated the word "briefly" now into the question. As you already know, it’s my propensity for verbosity.
I became a drug addict, I think, because of emotional difficulties, psychological difficulties, and perhaps a spiritual malady. For me, taking drugs and excessive drinking were the result of a psychological, spiritual or mental condition, so they’re symptomatic. I was like sad, lonely, unhappy, detached, and drugs and alcohol, for me, seemed like a solution to that problem. Once I dealt with the emotional, spiritual, mental impetus, I no longer felt the need to take drugs or use drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: So that is Russell Brand testifying before the Parliament. And we’re going to go to break—
RUSSELL BRAND: Why?
AMY GOODMAN: —to a music break for a minute. But you said something right as we were going into this.
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: When I said, "Let’s go to Russell Brand in Parliament," you said, "Get used to it"?
RUSSELL BRAND: "Get used to saying that." I was being silly.
AMY GOODMAN: No, but are you?
RUSSELL BRAND: What do you mean? Go to Parliament?
AMY GOODMAN: Would you consider running as a member of Parliament? Would you consider running?
RUSSELL BRAND: No, I want to help the ordinary people of America and Britain dismantle their corrupt political structures and replace them with directly responsible, directly democratic organizations. I don’t want to help them lot continue to tyrannize people.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think you could ever do that within the system, or do you think it’s much more effective to be outside?
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, I would take the advice of people that know a lot more than me—Lawrence Lessig and Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky. Most of those people say that change within the system is prevented, impossible, futile, that we need significant systemic change.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Russell Brand. We’re going to go to break, and then we’re back right here in London, as we sit in front of Big Ben and MI5. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Russell Brand, who is the well-known British comedian, actor and now really leading member of the British left. Last year—
RUSSELL BRAND: Am I?
AMY GOODMAN: —he edited a issue of the New Statesman. He spoke at Occupy Democracy—that’s what an Occupy movement here in Britain is called, in London. Tell us about that music.
RUSSELL BRAND: Oh, well, what happened was, is that a thing started in our country where people were like saying—in my book, they said I’m loquacious and verbose, because I use long words. I love long words. In fact, I love all sorts of different words. I like specificity of language. I like hip-hop. I like Shakespeare. I like things where people use language well. So people, I think, to try and exclude me from the debate, posh people went, "Well, when you hear someone with that accent talking and using long words, one can imagine 'Parklife' being shouted"—in a reference to a 1994 Britpop anthem called "Parklife." So I thought, ah, all right, I’ll do this song. So, me and these lads, The Rubberbandits, these Irish lads, the hip-hop group, did a version of "Parklife" where we refocused on the issues, issues such as austerity, decline of public services and the ineffectiveness of our current leaders and system.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, your book is getting a lot of positive reviews. The New York Times Book Review—
RUSSELL BRAND: And at times being savaged!
AMY GOODMAN: New York Times Book Review said "a relentless ride"—well, no, this was actually about My Booky Wook, your previous book.
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah, this one, people can’t wade into it hard enough.
AMY GOODMAN: "A relentless ride...The bloke can write." And Dwight Garner of The New York Times said, "I laughed out loud at least a dozen times."
RUSSELL BRAND: "Before I opened it."
AMY GOODMAN: That was—
RUSSELL BRAND: That’s a Groucho Marx joke.
AMY GOODMAN: But I want to go to your moment in American media—you’ve had many, but this one was your appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last year, with co-host Mika Brzezinski introducing you by saying, quote, "He’s a really big deal, I’m told. I’m not very pop-cultured, I’m sorry," and another co-host—well, that was Katty Kay, your countrywoman here from Britain—she does BBC in the United States—Katty Kay continually referring to you as Willy or Willy Brandt, right, the former German chancellor. About six minutes into the interview, the bottom of the screen reads, quote, "Russell Brand Takes Over, Dominating the MJ Set." This is a clip.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: OK, Russell Brand—
RUSSELL BRAND: This is what you all do for a living?
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Yes, yes.
RUSSELL BRAND: OK. But I’m here to—
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I’m a professional.
RUSSELL BRAND: OK, well, let me help you. I’m here to—
KATTY KAY: Russell.
RUSSELL BRAND: —promote a tour called "Messiah Complex." It’s here for the people of America. I want the people of America to come and see me do stand-up. Go to RussellBrand.tv, where you can purchase tickets to see me. These people, I’m sure, are typically very, very good at their jobs. What are you? You’re conveying news to the people of America?
BRIAN SHACTMAN: Yes.
RUSSELL BRAND: People of America, we’re going to be OK. Everything’s all right. These are your trusted anchors.
KATTY KAY: [inaudible]
RUSSELL BRAND: Is that news lingo? Here’s your papers. I’ll shuffle them for you.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Oh, shuffle, shuffle the [inaudible].
RUSSELL BRAND: Give us that.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: That’s good.
KATTY KAY: Pen. You need a pen, Russell, definitely.
RUSSELL BRAND: OK, coming up later. Thank you very much, Kat. OK, we’re going to be talking about the situation with Edward Snowden, this whistleblower. Is it good what he’s done for America? Or are our sectrets being jeopardized by his intentions? We’re going to be talking about that.
AMY GOODMAN: And there you have just a moment on Morning Joe. What happened?
RUSSELL BRAND: Well, what happened was, I went onto the television, and I was trying my hardest to be nice, and everyone was rude to me. So I defended myself, under the protocols of Britain, by just saying, "Stop bullying me, you lot. And also be more professional. If you’re going to condescend to someone, don’t condescend from the gutter."
AMY GOODMAN: And you took over the notes?
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah, oh, yeah, and then sort of just hosted the show.
AMY GOODMAN: Became a news reader.
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah, in, I thought, a professional way.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the U.S. media? I mean, you’re there a lot.
RUSSELL BRAND: Some of it’s good, because this is U.S. media, isn’t it? So this is going well. I’m enjoying this. I don’t even think that there’s a national distinction. I think that what there is is media that’s dominated by corporate interests, whether it’s in Britain or France or America. So, like, when I’ve been there, I went on like—and I’ve been on some media, and everyone’s really lovely and friendly and open-minded. But I think that—I think it’s a commonly held view, and that is true, that debate is held within very narrow parameters, and if you try to stray outside them, you get into trouble. And that’s why I think it’s good to do it comedically and lightheartedly, not to respect the parameters of debate and not to stay—not to accept the frame of, "Oh, well, you can vote for this person, or you can vote for that person, but you can’t take money out of politics and have ordinary people represented." Look, we can’t just say aloud that we live under a feudal system, we live under an oligarchy, and we have no political purchase. We have no purchase. We have no impact on power. America and Great Britain are not run for ordinary people; it’s run for corporations. But this time is coming to an end, so that’s a good thing.
Is it true your dad went to summer camp with Chomsky? And if it is true, I bet Chomsky was boring on summer camp: "OK, I’m not doing that. That’s childish. No, come on, sit down. This summer camp is corrupt. I refuse to abide by this system, while it’s quite clear that this summer camp is run by the interests of the leaders there, and we, the children, are not given any time to be free." What about spring break with Chomsky? "Spring break!" "No, well, that’s—you’ve revealed there the truth there, the manufacture of the nipple consent."
AMY GOODMAN: I actually think Chomsky was pretty playful at camp.
RUSSELL BRAND: Was he? Playful Chomsky?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go for a moment to Noam Chomsky. Let’s go to Noam Chomsky—
RUSSELL BRAND: Segue.
AMY GOODMAN: —just a couple weeks ago. I had this interesting experience of being able to do a public interview with him at the U.N. General Assembly.
RUSSELL BRAND: Was it good?
AMY GOODMAN: Eight hundred people packed in—ambassadors, people from the public all over the world. And I want to get your comment on what he has to say.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most—the single most important action the United States can take? And what about its role over the years? What is its interest here?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, one important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course, it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that’s too much to ask, but live up to its own laws. And there are several. And here, incidentally, I have in mind advice to activists also, who I think ought to be organizing and educating in this direction. There are two crucial cases.
One of them is what’s called the Leahy Law. Patrick Leahy, Senator Leahy, introduced legislation called the Leahy Law, which bars sending weapons to any military units which are involved in consistent human rights violations. There isn’t the slightest doubt that the Israeli army is involved in massive human rights violations, which means that all dispatch of U.S. arms to Israel is in violation of U.S. law. I think that’s significant. The U.S. should be called upon by its own citizens to—and by others, to adhere to U.S. law, which also happens to conform to international law in this case, as Amnesty International, for example, for years has been calling for an arms embargo against Israel for this reason. These are all steps that can be taken.
The second is the tax-exempt status that is given to organizations in the United States which are directly involved in the occupation and in significant attacks on human and civil rights within Israel itself, like the Jewish National Fund. Take a look at its charter with the state of Israel, which commits it to acting for the benefit of people of Jewish race, religion and origin within Israel. One of the consequences of that is that by a complex array of laws and administrative practices, the fund pretty much administers about 90 percent of the land of the country, with real consequences.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to Noam Chomsky. He was speaking at the U.N. General Assembly before 800 people—ambassadors from around the world. It wasn’t the actual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, but there were so many people who came out to see him that they had to move it into the largest chamber of the U.N. Our guest today is Russell Brand, who is a huge fan of Noam Chomsky.
RUSSELL BRAND: And as good as him at doing political analysis, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: And you bring him up in Revolution.
RUSSELL BRAND: Yeah, I do. But what’s more important, Amy, is you just admitted while that was on that Noam Chomsky bit your father.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is an ongoing debate—
RUSSELL BRAND: That’s a good quote. That should be on the New York Post front page.
AMY GOODMAN: —that we are having.
RUSSELL BRAND: "Chomsky bit my father!"
AMY GOODMAN: I’m not clear if it was—we should say—
RUSSELL BRAND: Especially if it’s called "Chompsky." "Chompsky!"
AMY GOODMAN: They were bunkmates.
RUSSELL BRAND: "Well, there you go."
AMY GOODMAN: I might have confused—
RUSSELL BRAND: Bunkmates? This is getting worse.
AMY GOODMAN: I might have confused—
RUSSELL BRAND: In my country, that means—
AMY GOODMAN: —him biting my father with simply Chomsky’s biting wit. I might have gotten confused.
RUSSELL BRAND: Which is exactly how the manufacture of consent and media manipulation of information happens, Amy. A real event concerning Noam Chomsky happens, and you manipulate it. All of his theories are right. This is a bit where I wrote about Noam Chomsky in my book.
AMY GOODMAN: So, read from your chapter—
RUSSELL BRAND: This is the Noam Chomsky bit.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
RUSSELL BRAND: Because I love Noam Chomsky. "Chomsky—who must have one of the most satisfying names to say in the world, which is apposite for a linguist—explains how [the Monroe Doctrine] has been used to validate U.S. terror"—no offense, Americans, I don’t mean you, mean your government, and our government, too—" domestically and abroad, since 1823. This is when the Monroe Doctrine was established. Because you are childish, you think that the Monroe Doctrine is a pledge to act all sexy and emphysemic, lifting up yer frock, going 'poo-poo-pee-doo.' It ain’t. It was a diplomatic commitment from a century and a half ago when the Americans decided that they intended to 'dominate the hemisphere,' which is an outlandish objective. It sounds like the sort of devilish intention that kept the British ... establishment occupied: ’I’d like to dominate your hemisphere,'“—people say over there, and I'm using it as a sexual pun, and I had to drop a bit there, because you made me promise not to swear—"they hollered into hospital wards and children’s homes.
“The United States have achieved this domination primarily by scaring us all witless and starting wars either explicitly or by proxy, primarily in countries where they were really confident they would win.
"I’m not saying I’m as clever as Chomsky—that would be mad [...]—but, as is always the case with a prefix of this nature, here is something that makes it seem like [I am trying to say that."
So there’s a bit of it. Like, I use this brilliant essay from Noam Chomsky. I analyze it and try and put it in simple language so that people that wouldn’t normally listen to Chomsky go, "Oh, yeah, that was a laugh." But now I know that he savaged your father with his fangs, I think I might scribble it out with a crayon.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry, Noam. I’m really sorry—
RUSSELL BRAND: He’s a cannibal!
AMY GOODMAN: —that this got a little out of hand. But, Russell, in the headlines today, we talked about the Wal-Mart protesters around the United States, people in the Capitol who feed the senators, who just came back from break, calling for a $15 minimum wage, and this interesting study that found the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune make as much as the bottom 79 percent of black families in the United States combined.
RUSSELL BRAND: That’s a worrying statistic and an indication that you can’t claim to be the land of the free when that’s happening, not when people have got money just because they emerged from the correct vagina and having as much money as 70 percent of—well, what is it?—185 million Americans, but you’ve framed it racially, as well. It’s really, really quite worrying. I think there is sort of room for some kind of wealth distribution.
AMY GOODMAN: And this week has also been historic in Mike Brown’s parents going to Geneva and testifying around the issue of torture, a whole issue of police brutality. At any moment now, a decision is going to be made by a grand jury over whether the police officer who killed Mike Brown, Darren Wilson, will be indicted.
RUSSELL BRAND: It’s unfortunate. It’s a really scary, terrible incident, and what’s happening in Ferguson more broadly is frightening. But what I heard was that $4.2 billion worth of military equipment have been transferred to local police authorities across the United States. So the militarization of police forces in your country and in our country is terrifying. It’s almost like they’re anticipating further public unrest, and instead of placating members of the population through fairness, redistribution of wealth, not beating them up and shooting them, they’ve decided to just arm the police. "Well, we’re going to have to shoot them a bit, then shoot them some more." It’s really sort of frightening. I think what’s happening in Ferguson, we’ll be seeing a lot more of that in countries all over the world, as this growing disparity between rich and poor, this gulf of inequality, continues.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we have a law, Posse Comitatus, that says troops can’t—
RUSSELL BRAND: What? Hakuna matata? That’s from The Lion King. That’s not a law. What is it called?
AMY GOODMAN: Troops can’t—Posse Comitatus, that says—
RUSSELL BRAND: Why is it called that in America?
AMY GOODMAN: —troops can’t march through the streets of the United States.
RUSSELL BRAND: Hakuna matata?
AMY GOODMAN: And I wonder if the arming of police is a way of getting around that.
RUSSELL BRAND: Probably.
AMY GOODMAN: Because you then have police with military weapons, with tanks, rolling down the streets of the United States.
RUSSELL BRAND: That’s really worrying. That’s sort of—you know those people, survivalists, that live in a mountain with a rifle and say, "We want to set up our own society based on camo and eating squirrels." Makes you think that they’ve got a point, doesn’t it? You know, if the government are trying to find proxy ways to militarize the police force and march them through the streets. But my hope comes from the fact that members of the police force that I know, in our country and in your country, they’re ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds that, somewhere in them, know that they’re there to protect and to serve the public, not to be the henchmen of the establishment.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your take, since you go back and forth between the United States and Britain, on—you talked about the U.S. midterm elections. So, now the Republicans are in charge in Senate, and so, when you look at the different committees, the new head of the Environment Committee is James Inhofe, who is the leading climate change denier. He’s the head of the Environment Committee of the Senate. Naomi Klein speaks a lot about him and also, of course, in her book, This Changes Everything, about the issue of climate change and what we can do—This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. You talk about Naomi Klein in Revolution. You actually just recently interviewed her, right?
RUSSELL BRAND: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Was it in The Trews?
RUSSELL BRAND: It was in The Trews, yeah. She was kind enough to come on, and I read some of her book, she read a little bit of mine. And from Naomi Klein, I learned that capitalism isn’t going to voluntarily change. Exxon, who have recorded record profits and can only $48 billion a year using the practices they currently do, are not going to change without a fight. They’re not going to start saying, "Oh, well, let’s go into renewable energy. Let’s have a windmill farm." They are happy with the things the way they are. It’s only with creative direct action, it’s only with the application of pressure from ordinary people, that there will be any kind of change.
AMY GOODMAN: Russell, we just have a minute. What gives you hope?
RUSSELL BRAND: Everything gives me hope, because every—my hope comes from the fact that I know that everybody wants change. I know that people are not apathetic. I know that people are ready for change. I know that alternatives are possible and that you constantly see how hard the establishment has to work to maintain order. Look at all these institutions, the banks of the Thames lined with institutions to hold ordinary people down. Constantly through the media, they try to prevent different arguments emerging. That is because they know change is inevitable. Change is just a different story. We, people in the media, have an obligation to reframe this argument, to tell people that they can change the world, that we are connected to one another. We have more in common with each other. We have more in common with the people we’re bombing than the people we’re bombing them for. People that say the system works work for the system. We can change the world. The revolution can begin as soon as you decide it does in yourself, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have it. Russell Brand, his new book is called Revolution.
RUSSELL BRAND: And Noam Chomsky is a cannibal.
AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our show, and I want to thank all the folks who have made this broadcast possible. Special thanks to Mike Burke and Renée Feltz and Nermeen Shaikh and Aaron Maté and Steve Martinez, Sam Alcoff, Hany Massoud, Robby Karran, Deena Guzder, Amy Littlefield, Julie Crosby, Becca Staley, Denis Moynihan.
RUSSELL BRAND: No, he was terrible.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.
RUSSELL BRAND: Denis was useless.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.
RUSSELL BRAND: Denis should be ashamed.