“People of America, we’re going to be okay.”
This video of Russell Brand laying waste to the cast of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC has been making the rounds, and it’s devastating. They start by oddly baiting him (“He’s a really big deal… I’m told this. I’m not very pop cultured, I’m sorry”) addressing him in the third person, and at some point calling him Willy? I think? It’s unclear what they think they’re doing. And about six minutes in, he commandeers the show and marches off with it, leaving no survivors. (“Is this what you all do for a living?” he asks, later adding, “These people, I’m sure, are typically very good at their jobs. You’re conveying news to the people of America? People of America, we’re going to be okay.”) I would liken the hosts to a kitten pouncing on what it assumes is a dazed snake and discovering it has latched onto the tail end of a dragon. It’s cringe-inducing. “You’re talking about me as if I’m not here and as if I’m an extraterrestrial,” he observes. Never mock someone with a British accent.
“Thank you for your casual objectification,” Brand says, after one of the hosts starts talking about him and his accent in the third person. Another of the hosts, after Brand suggests more serious topics for discussion, goes back to riffing on the comic’s attire, and Brand cuts in, “That’s the problem with current affairs. You forget about what’s important and you allow the agenda to be decided by superficial information.”
“Russell Brand Takes Over, Dominating The MJ Set” the chyron beneath him reads.
This is like a morning-show equivalent of the time Jon Stewart showed up on Crossfire (and showed everyone else up too). “Stop,” Stewart said. “Stop, stop, stop hurting America.” He went on to comment, “You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.”
Sometimes it helps to have someone visit and point out what the Emperor is wearing.
It’s not the hardest thing in the world to say. Comedians are often in the best position to say it. “You are supposed to be serious,” Brand and Stewart said. “At least, compared to me. Here’s what being serious would look like. And instead you’re — doing whatever this is. What is this?”
It is not difficult to say but it still bears saying.
But sometimes I wonder about the alternative. “What we really need is substantive discussion of the actual issues” is one of those things that people say instead of having a substantive discussion. Say it, and you will seldom be wrong. There are very, very few public conversations that you cannot stop dead by asking, “Why are we sitting here babbling inanely? Why don’t we talk responsibly about [whatever Large Issues are going on]?” It’s one of those remarks that you can make with total assurance whenever you haven’t done the reading, just like saying, “I don’t think we can look at this outside of the historical context” or “But surely this whole thing is a perverse valentine to the author’s mother.”
I hope this performance teaches hosts not to talk around a guest as though he were some sort of decorative alien plant. They were certainly rude, in a weird TV-only way that we’ve gotten accustomed to, and it was refreshing to have someone notice and call it out, for once. Usually the conduct of morning-show hosts is one of those mildly obnoxious facts of daily life, like the sensation of your shoe against your foot, that you have to ignore in order to go about your day.
As a lot of commenters on the video have said that Brand can rub you the wrong way (“shaft-grasper”?), but in this exchange, you can’t imagine rooting for anyone else. He points out the special awfulness of the morning talk-show news format, neither entertainment flesh nor hard-news fowl, trying to talk frivolously about serious things and seriously about frivolous things. Their whole banter around him seems so forced, awkward and just downright weird, that you want someone to take charge and reassure you that “People of America, we’re going to be okay.”