What Was Russell Brand Really Talking About on ‘Morning Joe?’ (Hint: Wake Up)

russell brand

A recent appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” talk show by comedian and “Brand X” host, Russell Brand, has gone viral. But was he misunderstood by the show’s anchors and the media?

“Russell Brand Eviscerates the Hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe” – AV Club

“Russell Brand Destroys MSNBC Talk Show Host for Treating Him Like Shit” – Gawker

Watching the spectacle gave me that strange feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I see miscommunication and I can’t interject to set it straight. That guy is totally going to turn left at the stoplight even though he was told it’s the second light… Those things just have to play themselves out. Some kind of communication karma. And in this case, that goes for both Brand’s appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and the aftermath, too—AV Club and Gawker assuming Russell felt he was being treated like shit. (And, presumably, that goes for my own misunderstanding of what actually happened there at the “Morning Joe” table, as well. But, do read on, please!)

The headlines told a story: Poor Russell Brand and his delicate, celebrity ego, humiliated by clueless TV anchors goes nuts and retaliates. But it sure didn’t look that way. The “Brand X” host and star of films including “Get Him to the Greek” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” appeared on a recent episode of “Morning Joe” to promote his upcoming comedy tour, “Messiah Complex.” He batted around the light conversation submitted by the show’s hosts before things got a little more than awkward.

Actually, they kind of started out that way.

From the get-go, the hosts, perhaps confused by Brand’s openness to talk about sex, mental illness, and superficiality, kept rerouting the discussion by somewhat unconsciously/automatically hyper-focusing on Brand’s outfit, and treating him more like a circus freak than a fellow talk show host. It felt at times like someone passed gas. You know the situation: people talk louder and faster and appear so preoccupied so as to give off the air of not noticing the rank odor in the air.

Brand’s point for being on the show was to promote the “Messiah Complex” world comedy tour he’s embarking on, which he explained as covering how “icons are appropriated to designate consciousness and meaning,” specifically, he’s focusing on Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Gandhi and Jesus Christ. It’s not likely going to be a comedy show full of fart jokes (although mine would clearly be).

The hosts began talking about Brand in the third person, which he humorously corrected by asking them where their manners were: “You are talking about me as if I’m not here, and as if I’m an extraterrestrial.” It was awkward, but not unlike most superficial television interviews are while the guests and hosts fill those meaningless audience-less moments during commercial breaks. Brand patiently kept going through the motions these types of programs require, injecting his humor and wit regularly. But the hosts kept acting strange. Mika Brzezinski tripped over words, grabbed her water bottle like a security blanket (or a “shaft” as Brand suggested). They all seemed stunned by Brand’s candid, direct–and what appeared to be more playful than retaliatory–remarks. They called him by the wrong name. The website AVClub wrote that after the awkwardness continued for several more minutes, Brand took control of the show and launched into a tirade “about the problem with modern-day journalism’s obsession with the superficial.”

His direct comments appeared like attempts to calm the anchors down, more than they were intended to eviscerate. AVClub and Gawker said the hosts were being rude, insulting. But it appeared more as if they were just sticking to protocol, aside from being completely clueless, but not directly aiming insults. Brand didn’t seem to take it personally as much as he took it as a sign—an opportunity—to address a more systemic problem with our culture and particularly the media: the superficiality, and to the point of his tour, the inability for people to discern the true meaning as it was intended by people of influence. Perhaps he orchestrated the interview to go that way on purpose.

Brand appears keenly aware of what makes him different than most people—both the kind who watch television and those who exist solely within its two-dimensional universe. Brand is highly intelligent and articulate about many things, especially his state(s) of consciousness, his propensity towards addiction, and his investigations into the nature of human beings. He’s researched controversial topics including conspiracy theories and aliens (he’s had David Icke on “Brand X”); he’s written eloquently about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and appropriately, like he explained to the “Morning Joe” hosts about his “Messiah Complex” tour, looked into why it is that certain influential people can be so misunderstood so often.

Brand also talked about the pleasure in doing live standup comedy, where he’s in direct contact with his audience. It’s less likely that things get manipulated, he said, adding that the pre-recorded and scripted media create “fake stirs,” to which the hosts ignored the comment and instead went on to discuss Brand’s accent and how it’s difficult to understand him at times. Unconsciously projecting, anyone?

He reminded the hosts not to think about the superficial when they once again circled back to his appearance for lack of being able to address the substantial subject matter he raised. “Don’t think about what I’m wearing,” he said, “you allow the agenda to be decided by superficial information.” What really matters, Brand said is, “What am I saying? What am I talking about?”

Did he intend to eviscerate the talk show hosts or just relax them? To this viewer, it seemed to be a bit more of the latter—that the core of his actions were direct, but polite and playful. Maybe he was making a call for humans—at least the three at the table with him—to just wake the F up to what’s happening right now, in this moment… not what we think we should be thinking or talking about or reading from a teleprompter. We could do without so many distractions, at least for 8 minutes, couldn’t we?

So, things got awkward on a national television show when someone mentions “consciousness” and “meaning.” Should we really expect a different response? Jon Stewart, Bill Maher or Amy Goodman, maybe. But the gang at “Morning Joe?”

Regardless of what really happened at that table, we can take away the important lessons about misunderstanding, rather than seeing it as simply a display of brute force over idiocy. Whether that’s learning not to trust the media spinning superficial stories at us to create those “fake stirs,” understanding our own internal dialogues that make us feel uncomfortable in the presence of folks like Brand, or something else entirely, there’s a reason we allow ourselves to misunderstand people. What’s yours?

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Russell Brand

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.