Ever since Russell Brand appeared on the Morning Joe breakfast show and slayed host Mika Brzezinski, social media has been blowing up about the episode—even now, two days after it happened. And it’s easy to see why. There are few who consider the video clip anything less than one of the brightest recent moments on live American talk TV, because everyone on the set, including and because of Brand, broke from the conventional vanilla talk show script.
Brand appeared on the MSNBC show to promote his new comedy tour, Messiah Complex. What Brzezinski tried to conduct as a routine guest interview quickly devolved into Brand mocking her, her show, the newsroom, and the other guests. “Is this what you all do for a living?” he asked.
In Brand’s defense, Brzezinski, Katty Kay, and Brian Shactman were talking more around him than to him. “You are talking about me as if I’m not here,” Brand said. “As if I’m an extraterrestrial.” Brzezinski gulped nervously from a plastic bottle of presumably a soft beverage and made faces, Kay plopped her head on the desk, and Shactman squirmed. No one ever accused members of the US media of having comedic potential—and the media often assume comedians have only one channel, one speed. Brand was perplexed by the manner in which Mika and her cohosts questioned him, with them basically demanding he “be funny,” and showing dismay when he didn’t perform according to their expectations.
The episode was reminiscent of when John Stewart went on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004 and got into it with host Tucker Carlson, calling him a “partisan hack.” Carlson slammed Stewart for a Daily Show interview with John Kerry, in which he thought Stewart did not ask tough questions. Stewart was beside himself. “I didn’t realize that . . . news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity,” he responded. Crossfire was canceled the next year.
Brand’s bemused-bordering-on-insulted reaction to Brzezinski reminded me of a personal moment several years ago when I was seated with a well-known comedian and a well-known Washington journalist, who were meeting for the first time. They were happy to meet each other. The comedian, not onstage, not performing, attempted to have a normal conversation with the journalist, addressing Washington issues with an informed intelligence and asking some pertinent questions about the coverage of a particular story. The journalist reared back in surprise, almost offended. He said, “Be funny. Why aren’t you being funny? You’re a comedian. Do some jokes.” The comedian just shook his head. “So that’s it? That’s how you see me? Just be funny on demand?” he said. The journalist, in all seriousness, replied, “Isn’t that what you do?”
Brand implored Brzezinski, Kay, and Shactman to call him by his name and not “he.” He called out the media in general for manipulating information and said that’s why he likes to do standup and communicate directly with an audience. “People, they are very intelligent,” he said. Brzezinski and crew never got the best of Brand, who continued to roll over them until the 8½-minute segment ended.
It’s no surprise that Twitter became the soapbox for comment, including from Brand himself (“This is me on a mad American program. Quite funny”) and MSNBC (“Russell Brand mocked our newsroom. We’d be hurt but we’re still laughing”). Brzezinski, too: “you WON’T believe what Russell Brand said to me...!! Watch the absolutely wild interview.”
Here are some other tweets, reflecting the majority:
“I disliked Russell Brand until this brilliant, thorough and utterly eviscerating takedown of ‘news’ bobble heads . . .”
“Russell Brand shatters mainstream media with hilarious, high-IQ domination of dumbfounded MSNBC hosts”
“‘This is what you all do for a living?’ That Russell Brand quote will live forever.”
“If only Russell Brand could use his cleverness for more than humiliation - @CommentisFree”
“Russell Brand Hijacks Morning Joe, Skewers Brzezinski & Guests: ‘Is This What You All Do For A Living?’”
“Via too many to name. Comedian Russell Brand freaks out the cast of Morning Joe . . . by not playing by the rules.”
“Russell Brand on MSNBC -TAKING OVER-. They were indeed nervous and unprofessional #Epic @russelbrand”
“Car-crash on Morning Joe with @rustyrockets Watch only if deep embarrassment your thing”
“fan of Morning Joe, but the only outrageous thing about the Russell Brand interview was Mika’s unwarranted hostility”
“@morningmika What was unbelievable was how you spoke to him. Or spoke about him. You were rude, ignorant, unprofessional and talentless”
“Russell Brand does something I’ve wanted to do for years. Wreak havoc on the set of ‘Morning Joe.’”
“Russell Brand to Mika #MSNBC: Youre a powerful woman, youve got a lovely job and hair like Princess Diana—whats the problem”
“Got to hand it to Russell Brand for clowning Mika and the two nobodies”
“You know you’ve been watching cable news too long when you sat through that Russel Brand vs. Mika thing live and didn’t even flinch.”