Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) Talks Ondi Timoner’s Brand: A Second Coming

This doc portrait of a revolutionary, messianic narcissist takes on added resonance if viewed during and juxtaposed with the Pope's recent U.S. visit.

Ondi Timoner’s documentary Brand: A Second Coming could very well be titled A Portrait in Narcissism. As such, it is provocative and entertaining. Supreme narcissist Russell Brand proves to be a talented and motivated individual who is genuinely trying to “figure it out” and “make a difference.”

We live in an age of snark and self-involved social media in which even the most illiterate sweaty teenager can create his or her own “Welcome to Me” podcast or web series. Russell Brand starts as one of those sweaty kids, but does much, much more, and indeed climbs up the food chain via fame, riches, drug addiction, sex addiction, Transcendental Meditation, etc.

What made this writer’s viewing of Brand especially personally relevant, aside from the fact that I myself am a classic narcissist, is that I watched this documentary in the context of Pope Francis’ recent narcissistic visit to the United States. As I saw Brand’s story unfolding against the background of Francis on U.S. media 24/7, I reflected on how interesting and subversive the narcissist can be. In Francis’ case, he goes to the heart of our republic, namely the U.S. Congress, where he receives multiple standing ovations. Yet his very presence there subverts our sacred rule of separation of church and state. Charisma rules! In the case of Brand, he’s so desperate to “become the news” that he dances naked on top of a police van during a mass anti-capitalism protest (an incident he jokingly compares to Malcolm X quelling a street mob in Harlem). Soon after that, Brand informs his mum that he believes he is “The Second Coming.” The Pope never goes quite that far. But both of these individuals hold themselves to be higher than the rest of us. The Pope represents a status quo of the male elite who keep women as a second, lower class, whilst Brand is shown to believe he is even higher than that — a second Jesus. He informs an adoring crowd, “Yes, I am a narcissist, but I am your narcissist!” (Similarly, FDR excused the U.S. supporting the abominable, murderous Nicaraguan dictator Somoza: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”) The same day I watched unending scenes of Francis waving non-stop to adoring crowds on TV, I watched Brand: A Second Coming, in which this actor/comedian/author/celebrity also waves to adoring crowds. Both clearly thrive on all this self-absorbed, self-promoting ocularity.

Since this essay deals with narcissism, I guess, dear reader, you might be wondering why I have not mentioned the uber-narcissist, Donald Trump. This is because Brand and the Pope have evolved and improved themselves, and they are better than what came before them, whilst Trump has stagnated as a self-involved, nasty turd.

For me, the big takeaway from Timoner’s documentary is how skillfully the film shows Brand developing from a goofy teenager into a serious philosopher, trying to devote his comedy to a higher cause. Like Jesus, Gandhi and Malcolm X, Brand says he wants to create a “Utopian revolution, free from the tyranny of materialism…” How can one not respect both the movie and the man?

Anyone who is slightly independently minded will see herself in parts of this film. For example, when a very young Brand is starting out as a comedian, rather than wait to be discovered, he rents venues to present himself… sort of like an independent filmmaker, creating and financing work outside the mainstream producing system.

In the film, we watch Brand develop his universal philosophy as he develops his successful career. Through drug addiction, sex addiction and a horrifying marriage to Katy Perry, we see Brand grow up. What is great is that the film gives us a good window in on how a great, talented artist develops not just his gift, but also great wisdom and generosity of spirit.

Brand is shown as his own best shrink. He concludes that “narcissism and ego are essential components for anyone who is going to change the world.” How both navel-observant and wise is that statement!

I believe that Brand: A Second Coming presents its protagonist very objectively; however the film caused this writer to become much more of a fan of Brand. He makes comedy that is “dangerous, subversive and speaks the truth.” That he does! Also he writes a book in two months, has time for lots of non-males, school kids, and much more! I think my favorite scene is the one where he totally and brilliantly reduces MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski to a helpless deer in the headlights state, totally unable to deal with improvised, unscripted conversation, thereby hilariously proving his point that the people in the mainstream media are dullards and “spew filth.”

My only criticism about Brand: A Second Coming is that I wanted to know more about how Brand got to be the way he is. How did he become such a sophisticated wordsmith? What made him such a shit-disturber? The film shows you his journey, but doesn’t explain it. We don’t see enough of the influences behind the humanoid called Russell Brand. Why do most comedians, like Jay Leno, etc., give us empty-calorie baby food, yet Brand launches good solid healthy tofu? Brand has an epiphany when he is in Africa. You can clearly see what a big soul this guy has. Africa solidifies forever Brand’s intention to make the world a better, fairer place.

Whilst I believe that Brand is incorrect in seemingly blaming only the Corporate Elite (as if it were that simple — the citizens of the world are under the thumb of not just the Corporate Elite, but also the Labor Elite and the Bureaucratic Elite… ), because of this fine, fascinating documentary, I for one will be very interested and excited to see what Brand will accomplish 30 years from now!

Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of 41-year-old Troma Entertainment, directed many of their feature films, including The Toxic AvengerThe Class of Nuke ‘Em HighSgt. Kabukiman NYPDTromeo & Juliet and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Kaufman has written six books and presented his “Make Your Own Damn Movie” masterclasses globally. His latest film, Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1, produced in association with Starz, premiered in 2014 and screened in The Contenders series at MoMA. He is currently working on Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 2 and The Toxic Avenger Part V.