“Just talk to people, with very direct eye contact. Reach down into inside of them, recognize the part of them what needs something, identify quickly what that thing is, and make sure that they recognize that in you, you can deliver that piece. Whatever it is. Life at a different altitude, adventure, escape, all of this is available here in one easy payment. All I need is your soul.”
That’s the dating advice Russell Brand gave me at the end of this interview for What About Dick?, the new comedy from writer Eric Idle that co-stars Brand, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Tim Curry, Tracey Ullman, Jane Leeves, Jim Piddock and Sophie Winkleman. The film is taken from four live theatrical performances of Idle’s radio play, about the decline of the British Empire from the perspective of a piano (with puns!), and will be available for digital download on November 13.
Billy Connolly is comedy royalty. Russell Brand is one of the most popular stand up comics to come out of the UK in years. Together they are both reverent and irreverent of each other’s careers, the British comedy scene and their co-star, Sophie Winkleman, who thoroughly distracted them by passing by the window during my interview with these comedy stars.
CraveOnline: Do you guys know Eric? How did you end up in What About Dick?
Russell Brand: Well, I’ll answer.
Billy Connolly: You do it this time.
Russell Brand: You seem to be busy picking the label off that bottle. Well, I know Eric Idle on account of “Monty Python” and the like, and when I received the summons, it’s like a call to duty. Such as you might feel as an American on seeing that Star-Spangled Banner and hearing that racket, you know.
That’s not how I feel, but fair enough.
Russell Brand: You’re one of them, are you? Well, that’s fine. Welcome. Well, for me, the clarion call was sounded and I felt very honored to be involved in this thing, this What About Dick? I think I thought, “Oh, that will be a pun,” and I was not wrong. It was the first of very many puns. [Laughs]
Billy, did you know Eric before this?
Billy Connolly: I’ve known him for many years. Many, many years, since Python time. He came to see me in a theater and we had a good laugh. He came backstage and we remained for pals. We discovered that we like the same music. He plays guitar and I play banjo and we rinky-tink a few nights, and we’ve gone on holiday together. We’re thinking of running away together. [Laughs] We’ll have big fat babies.
So many, many puns. You brought this up yourself. There’s more puns in What About Dick? than practically every we’ve seen in the last two years. That seems to be the sort of comedy you get when you put a bunch of British guys together.
Billy Connolly: Yeah, British humor, especially stage humor is very vulgar, and has a history of being so, and it’s all the better for it. Yeah, it’s a wonderful situation. A great, great history of very dirty, funny double entendre people.
Russell Brand: Why is that? Because it’s for a working class entertainment, or…?
Billy Connolly: Yes, it was essentially for a variety theater for working class people on holiday, or working class people on the night they got their wages. And it’s just vulgar and bawdy and… If you go right back to Chaucer and Milton it’s all like that.
Russell, you’ve done Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is absolute filth if you translate it.
Russell Band: That’s my review of MacBeth: “Absolute Filth!” [Laughs]
Billy Connolly: How dare you?! [Laughs]
Russell Brand: Refund, please!
Billy Connolly: Filth-monger! I’ve been called that so many times…
Billy Connolly: A filth-monger. A vulgarian and filth-monger.
I love that they come up with these frou-frou ways of describing it.
Billy Connolly: Yeah. That name, “Vulgarian.” Essentially you get a passport from Vulgaria.
One of the cool things about watching What About Dick? isthat it feels very extemporaneous. Did you guys do a lot of rehearsals, or was that the rehearsal…?
Billy Connolly: That was it. There was virtually no rehearsals.
Billy Connolly: No, I swear. There was a sort of dress rehearsal thing. He remembers our rehearsal. I don’t.
Russell Brand: Yeah, and this isn’t because you are losing your memory, it’s because you refused to attend. I imagine you in some other nation.
Billy Connolly: I must have been away somewhere… Oh yes! Because I came in from New Zealand.
Russell Brand: Billy came in from New Zealand. So there was this thing where someone pretended to be Billy… Look at me. I’m not going to concentrate on you. Look what’s happening down that corridor.
[I turn my head and see Sophie Winkleman passing by the window, looking fabulous.]
Billy Connolly: Oh… my… God…!
Russell Brand: [Calling to Sophie Winkleman] – Move along! No time-wasters, please! We’re doing an interview! For a website!
Billy Connolly: Whatever that might be…!
Russell Brand: That catastrophe in a cream dress.
You idiots! You scared her away!
Russell Brand: She’ll be back! They’ll all be back, in droves.
Billy Connolly: Precious few webs that I can see…
Russell Brand: There’s not a web anywhere to be seen, just this device. [Holds up my audio recorder]
This is a weird project, because it seems like a radio play, but then it’s been performed and then it’s been filmed. Did they record that over a bunch of different days and pick the best parts?
Billy Connolly: Four.
This is all four?
Billy Connolly: Yes.
Do you feel like they missed the perfect “Billy Connolly Moment” or the perfect “Russell Brand Moment?”
Russell Brand: There is nothing but perfect Billy Connolly moments.
Billy Connolly: Thank you. A shilling will be winging its way to you, sir. A postal order.
Russell Brand: At last.
Were you given specific directions, or did they just say “Be Billy Connolly” or “Be Russell Brand?”
Billy Connolly: They weren’t specific about it. They’d just say “do this” and “do that,” but you know, your clothes kind of dictate what you’re going to do.
Russell Brand: How?
Billy Connolly: You know, when you’re tarted up like I was, you tend to start being… You know when you put on a dinner suit, you start becoming Cary Grant.
You feel differently about yourself. That’s how I feel whenever I wear boots. That half-inch taller…
Billy Connolly: Because he [Russell Brand] had a suit on, a kind of shiny suit, and backstage he was saying the trousers are too baggy. Then he appeared with these very, very tight pants on and he was moving different, and I went, oh, I see. I’ve got it. I get it, I get what he meant about why he thought they were too baggy, because his legs operate in a beautiful way on stage.
They are very dominant legs.
Russell Brand: They are dominating me right now.
You must have had them lengthened. They go all the way up now.
Russell Brand: I have the side of my testicles guarding them. Ever vigilant.
No one’s going to flank those.
Russell Brand: They’re like the pillars of Samson. They pulled him down, in the end, didn’t they? Got all worked up about a haircut or something.
Billy’s here in jeans and a t-shirt. You always have a very distinctive look. Is that just you, or do you think, you’re a celebrity now, you have to have a consistent style.
Russell Brand: I always looked strange. When I was a little boy, I looked strange. It was always strange. And please, Billy Connolly, when I watched Billy Connolly when I was growing up, used to wear zebra suits and ridiculous costumes. [He’d] come on dressed as a banana and things.
Billy Connolly: Yeah, for many years I was the only comedian who dressed to go on stage, who wore his stage clothes. And really, I still am in Britain, the only one… Yeah, I don’t know why. I think it was, when I was doing the clubs, folk music clubs, I would turn up in my jeans and t-shirt and somebody would say, “Who’s the guest,” and I would say, “Me,” and they’d say, “Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry about that.” So I said, screw this, when I come in through that door they’re going to know who the guest is. So I did the deck chair trousers and the gaudy t-shirts and the…
You’re the British comedy equivalent of KISS.
Billy Connolly: Exactly!
But without Peter Kriss.
Billy Connolly: But without those big, silly boots.
I like the boots, but that’s me.
Billy Connolly: A matter of taste.
A matter of very poor taste.
Billy Connolly: I don’t like to give the impression that there was no discipline in the play. Well, there was precious little, but when there’s a great many people having little discipline, it can make one discipline. One discipline can come out of all these half-disciplines. In the middle of it all you’ve got Tim Curry, who’s extremely disciplined, classically trained and extremely talented, and very, very funny. There was all different kinds of funny going on the stage at the same time, which made me very, very, very, very happy and very comfortable.
Was there anyone you hadn’t worked with before, and were fascinated to watch them work? Or do you guys all know each other by now.
Billy Connolly: Just Russell. I’d worked with all the others before. Oh no! Oh no, Sophie Winkleperson. I hadn’t worked with her.
She’s delightful in it.
Billy Connolly: She’s an absolutely delightful person.
I think people are going to be surprised by her. She’s not as well known over here as you guys.
Russell Brand: With good reason. She’s wretched. The sooner that woman disappears back into obscurity, where she belongs, the better we’ll all be. It’s bad enough that she’s besmirched our royal family! [Editor’s Note: Sophie Winkleman is married to Lord Frederick Windsor.]
Billy Connolly: A third-rate nuisance!
Russell Brand: Absolutely, from top to bottom. From the tips of her perfect toes to the top of her delightful head. Nothing but redundant nonsense.
Billy Connolly: Absolutely. Give her a florin and send her on her way.
Russell Brand: Post-haste!
Would you be down for doing something like this again?
Billy Connolly: I don’t know. There wasn’t much planning. This wasn’t supposed to be the outcome of the first endeavor, so God knows where it’s headed. I would be happy to do anything, although someone mentioned earlier that they would like to do a film of it, and I don’t think I would be happy doing that. They would have to get another MacGuffin.
I don’t know if that would play. It might just be too strange.
Billy Connolly: No, I think it would work, but I think it’s become such a big happy animal. It should remain a big, happy animal, and don’t be so ambitious. You know, film isn’t the be-all and end-all of everything.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg