A comedian is being criticized for things he said on stage? Couldn’t be. You say that comic is Russell Brand? But that’s just not like him! Oh, but it’s true. Over the weekend the notoriously wild English funnyman found himself facing media scrutiny over remarks he made about the Paralympics during a stand-up show in London, referring to the games as having “novelty value.”
“I don’t give a fuck about the Olympics. It’s boring Blue Peter sport and a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Brand said, followed by, ”At least the Paralympics have some kind of novelty value or something.”
The comments came just 48 hours before International Paralympic Day and British papers Daily Mail and The People picked up on the story. Top Paralympian Natasha Baker, 21, said, “We’ve worked harder than anyone to get here. We’ve suffered life-threatening illnesses. It’s both patronizing and upsetting for Russell Brand to describe us as a novelty.”
At face value, casually using a word like ‘novelty’ to describe the Paralympic games or its athletes does seem condescending and offensive, but there are a few things to consider. First, we’re talking about Russell Brand. He’s a man who was once fired from an MTV UK hosting gig when he came to work dressed as Osama Bin Laden the day after September 11th. That fact might demonize him more, but it also puts into perspective the kind of character we’re dealing with. That and a series of other controversies have only served to help his career; in short, the man pushes the boundaries of decency, and people like him for it.
Next we have to look at what he’s actually saying — the intent — and not just the printed word. The statement was actually a critique of the Olympic games, saying that it’s a huge undertaking and a waste of money for nothing more than petty fodder. In his own way, he’s saying that at least the Paralympics have the added bonus of seeing athletes who had monumental obstacles to overcome, and did, at the highest level. Only, he’s comedian, and comedians are loose with words, and for obvious reasons.
This is all tied to a larger trend that we’ve seen recently of comedians being scrutinized for what they say on stage– Tracy Morgan, Katt Williams, et al. These stories are easy for big media outlets to pick up on and criticize, but most comedians have thousands of off-the-cuff, improvised moments on stage, and they don’t feel they should be held accountable — to the degree of say, a politician — for what they say. Part of a stand-up comedians’ job is to push boundaries and social conventions. But in this case, did Brand push too hard?
Let us know what you think in the comments.