The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri compares this to Jon Stewart’s game-changing takedown of Crossfire nine years ago, and there’s no doubt that this is hardly Morning Joe’s finest hour. The problem starts immediately with the introduction of Russell Brand, in which Mika Brzezinski admits to knowing little about her guest, but the tone stays friendly and frothy until about the 4:45 mark. At that point, it really goes off the rails, and Brand shreds his hosts into near-incoherence:
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.”
Ah, the excitement of live broadcasting! This is what happens when a show doesn’t do adequate preparation for a guest, and then tries to cover that with snark. Most guests might not challenge their hosts under those circumstances, but Brand clearly reached his limit midway through this segment. (Ironically, Brand himself hilariously demonstrated what happens when a guest is unprepared for a television interview in the film Get Him to the Greek.)
However, two factors separate this from the Stewart confrontation on Crossfire in 2004. Crossfire suffered from self-righteousness and self-importance, posing as informed debate when it was often little more than a shoutfest. Morning talk shows are supposed to be rather frothy. They’re chatty and snarky by design, even those that tackle more serious issues. More so than evening talking-head shows, they’re primarily intended to entertain rather than present a Buckleyesque debate on philosophy, which might be sorely missing from broadcast these days (and was also missing from Crossfire, which was Stewart’s point) but wouldn’t work as morning TV in any case. Fox and Friends and probably hundreds of local talk shows take the same approach, covering the news stories but selling the sense of community and kaffeeklatsch.
Second, no offense to Russell Brand, but what did he expect? Certainly better manners, and perhaps not to be confused with Willy Brandt, but his comedy show isn’t exactly a pressing world issue, either. Perhaps his expounding on religious and cultural icons like Jesus, Gandhi, and Che Guevara might come to the level of a doctoral dissertation, but I somehow doubt it — and from his description, I’m not sure how Christians, Hindus, and peace activists will be anxious to hear from a comedian how they’ve gotten the message wrong from their central figures all their lives. If he’s taking himself this seriously on a morning talk show, it probably doesn’t take a Buckley to figure out how sanctimonious the “Messiah Complex” tour will be.