Over the weekend, The Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed a joint report of the alleged abuses of comedian and actor Russell Brand. The article, which was accompanied by a 90-minute TV special, is comprehensive and haunting. In it, five women came forward to allege that Brand had raped and abused them. One said she was 16 when she started being groomed by Brand. Another said she was raped by him while his friends and team stood outside his house and listened to her screams. The portrait painted of Brand is one of a calculating and callous abuser who routinely used his privileges as a celebrity to get to women and adolescent girls. He was reportedly aided in his hunts by aides and runners who he would demand get the phone numbers of audience members for his use.
“We are basically acting like pimps to Russell Brand’s needs.”— Channel 4 Dispatches (@C4Dispatches) September 17, 2023
Serious allegations about Brand’s behaviour in the workplace have been uncovered.
Several women share their shocking stories with @C4Dispatches and @thetimes. #C4Dispatches
Brand denies all allegations. pic.twitter.com/r2nvA3mYjM
It feels sort of glib to say that nobody was surprised by the news about Brand, although it is true that many of us had known about one of the comedy world’s biggest open secrets for many years. When it was revealed that this report was about to drop, Brand tried to get ahead of things by posting a video on his YouTube account wherein he alleged that the ‘establishment’ powers of British media were essentially out to get him. Brand has reinvented himself in recent years as a crunchy new age-esque political guru with heavy leanings towards alt-right conspiracies. Nowadays, he spends a lot of time on the world’s biggest and most corporatized video platform ranting about the establishment and how he is in absolute opposition to it. It’s a well-worn routine and a common career pivot for creeps who think their garden variety bigotries make them some sort of radical truth-teller.
In hindsight, it was always going to be a major part of Brand’s career once Hollywood roles dried up and he made himself unemployable in mainstream British media. He may have tried with sweaty panic to pre-empt the accusations of abuse by insisting they’re part of a coven intended to bring down modern-day soothsayers like himself, but there’s one thing that report emphasized so wholly that rendered Brand’s claims a total joke: it reminded us all that he is the establishment.
When I was a teenager, Russell Brand was everywhere. He was the host of the Big Brother spin-off show, Big Brother’s Big Mouth, he appeared on endless comedy series across the major terrestrial channels, and he was breaking out in America with a series of film roles. He even married Katy Perry (whom he later dumped via text message, as heartbreakingly shown in her tour documentary.) His image as a wild-haired libertine of high eloquence and even higher sex drive was welcomed by fans and the press alike. The Sun named him ‘shagger of the year’ thanks to his extensively documented love life. He faced numerous setbacks, including several rehab visits, being sacked from big jobs for bad behaviour, and harassing a British TV star by sending him voicemails letting him know that he’d had sex with the man’s granddaughter. Yet he always found a way back to the A-List. He wove this image of himself as a smart guy, one whose silly image concealed a sharp intellect and candour that people seemed to love. As he moved towards political commentary, that image only strengthened and more opportunities came his way. He’s not as prominent now as he was when I was younger, but he still sells out shows. The weekend that these reports came out, he received standing ovations at his latest gig.
Why was a women’s charity working with Russell Brand in the first place. https://t.co/cW9i8FeQkm— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) September 17, 2023
In the documentary, several comedians were asked to talk about the open secret of Brand being a sexual predator. Only one, Scottish comic Daniel Sloss, would go on record (although I don’t blame anyone for sitting it out given how astonishingly cruel social media has been to any woman who has ever talked about dealing with sexual harassment and abuse.) Sloss noted that everyone in the business talked about it. Former Big Brother employees echoed that sentiment, saying that women who went home with Brand would call up the channel in tears after he ghosted them. Brand’s bosses seemed acutely aware of his conduct, with contracts including agreements that he behave himself. While hosting a show on BBC Radio 2, Brand regularly made overtly sexual comments about a newsreader on-air, then doubled down when she asked the network to make him stop. Watch YEARS of his work on TV and you’ll see a man consistently making sexual advances towards unsuspecting women, removing his clothes in front of them, and talking about his wild sex life as casually as a request for a glass of water. The documentary plays a clip of him interviewing Jimmy Savile and offering up his assistant to the serial rapist. Open secret? It was his entire image.
Two women interviewed also accused Brand of raping them in his home. In 2007 Brand called the late Jimmy Savile, who has since been exposed for rampant child sexual abuse, and offered to bring Savile his naked assistant. pic.twitter.com/zKcZ128XN4— Kat Tenbarge (@kattenbarge) September 16, 2023
The establishment let Brand run rampant because it offered them a mutually beneficial and highly profitable relationship to do so. That image they helped him to cultivate was one of aggressive sexual coercion and they loved it. In the mid-2000s, the media revelled in a seemingly contradictory concoction of intense sexualization and total shaming, although the latter was almost exclusively applied to women and not the likes of Brand. It was seen as funny when he would grab women interviewing him and kiss them on the lips. It was ‘candid.’ Behaviour like that can only go unchecked when there are several layers of power above you willing to let it happen. One of his alleged victims, known as Alice, detailed how, when she went to work on a show for Channel 4, concerns were raised when Brand was proposed as a host for it. She said that the solution the team gave was that ‘we would take the female staff off the crew.’ Rather than punish the abuser, the channel was ready to take maybe dozens of women away from their jobs to keep him safe.
We’ve heard stories like this before, sadly, too many times. Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Jimmy Saville, Bill Cosby… all of these men were aided and abetted in their abuses by multi-level corporate permission. No matter how credible the accusations became or how loudly whispered they were among the ranks, nothing changed. Complaints were levelled against all of them before their respective downfalls and nothing happened. Some of them are doing just fine, like Brand. They too have leaned into their faux-anti-establishment credentials to empower the worst voices as part of a rebellion against those who were always their allies until it became too embarrassing to do so.
Brand never stopped being part of the establishment, no matter how much he railed against the shadowy forces on his YouTube channel. He was in a Kenneth Branagh film only last year, as well as a Lena Dunham one. He released a stand-up special this year. He still has agencies representing him and venues putting him on the calendar. There is nothing about him that could honestly be referred to as anti-establishment. One gets the feeling that phrase is mostly a cheap shield for creeps and bigots to wield when they need a new dog-whistle defence against their crimes and stupidity.
It’s certainly working for some. Accused rapist Andrew Tate is siding with Brand, as is Elon Musk, who faced his own allegations of sexual harassment. Many online have decided to overlook the extensively researched reports (which must have gone through multiple lawyers given England’s tough libel laws) and jump straight to defending Brand as a truth-teller being punished for his brilliance. Truly anti-establishment figures don’t spend decades making millions from Hollywood studios, British networks, and the well-oiled machine of celebrity. You can’t really be anti-establishment when you’re being widely supported by said establishment, even after a swarm of credible and detailed accusations are leveled against you. It doesn’t get more establishment than the world’s richest man.
As channel 4 dispatches aired tonight showing allegations of grooming and abuse against a 16 year old girl who Russell Brand called “the child” — he turned up at his sold out show at Wembley. In a woman hating society, these allegations won’t harm his career, it might help it. pic.twitter.com/aA7cnarPpq— Dr Charlotte Proudman (@DrProudman) September 16, 2023
One hopes that Russell Brand will face some true consequences for what he is accused of. It would be a rare exception to the rule. There’s another reason Brand will never fully abandon being an establishment figure: it’s a hell of a lot easier to bully and undermine victims when you have that kind of money and power on your side.