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Russell Brand controversy

A rundown of every controversy Russell Brand has been involved in throughout his career

He dressed up as Osama bin Laden the day after 9/11


Russell Brand has been involved in lots of controversy from the beginning of his career. He has most recently been accused of sexual assault and rape, allegations which were shown in Channel 4’s Dispatches and an investigation published in The Sunday Times. Throughout the years he has been involved in multiple controversies and allegations, including prank calling a rape helpline in 2008 and dressing up as Osama bin Laden the day after 9/11 occurred.

Here’s a rundown of every controversy Russell Brand has been involved in throughout his career.

2001: Abusive behaviour at The Fringe

During a late-night show at the Edinburgh Fringe, Russell was kicked out of the Gilded Balloon for abusive behaviour after provoking an audience member who threw a glass at him.

Russell later called it a turning point for his career, saying “It probably expedited my journey to not taking drugs any more, to write material, to start taking comedy more seriously.”

2001: Dressing up as Osama bin Laden the day after 9/11

Russell was hired by MTV in 2000 as a video journalist but was fired just one year later after coming into work dressed up as Osama bin Laden the day after 9/11.

During a later interview in 2009, Russell discussed the incident, saying that he was high on drugs at the time, “I challenge any of you to take crack and heroin and see how it affects your personal, private, and professional life,” he said.

2006: Clashing with Bob Geldof

Russell Brand was chosen to present the 2006 NME Awards but appeared to deliberately mispronounce Bob’s last name saying, “Of course, the winner is Live Aid, so please welcome to the stage, Sir Bobby Gandalf.” When Bob took the stage, he said, “Russell Brand, what a c*nt.”

Following Bob’s acceptance speech, Russell returned to the microphone and took another dig at Bob and one of his songs.

“Bob Geldof there, obviously an amazing man to whom we have a lot to be grateful — not him calling me a c*nt, of course. Really, it’s no surprise he’s such an expert on famine; he has, after all, been dining out on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ for 30 years.”

2008: Mocking George Bush and the Jonas Brothers

“Bob Geldof there, obviously an amazing man to whom we have a lot to be grateful — not him calling me a c*nt, of course. Really, it’s no surprise he’s such an expert on famine; he has, after all, been dining out on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ for 30 years.”

2008: Mocking George Bush and the Jonas Brothers

“Some people, I think they’re called racists, say America is not ready for a black President,” he said, referring to Barack Obama, who at the time was the Democratic nominee for president. “But I know America to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise, why would you have let that [r-slur] cowboy fella be president for eight years?”

He also mocked the Jonas Brothers for wearing purity rings. The Jonas Brothers kept things cordial when they responded to Russell’s comments in an interview with the BBC later that month. “For us, it’s cool to see that he recognises we are gentlemen,” Nick, then 15, said.

2008: Sachsgate

In 2008 Russell became embroiled in one of his biggest controversies nicknamed Sachsgate. Sachsgate began during a The Russell Brand Show segment on BBC Radio 2. Russell and his guest, Jonathan Ross, made inappropriate prank phone calls to actor Andrew Sachs.

During the calls, Russell claimed to have had sex with Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie. According to the Daily Mail, Baillie was 23 then, and Russell was 33.

The prank calls prompted widespread criticism from listeners and public figures, including then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Both men were suspended from the BBC following the prank calls, and Russell resigned from his show and the BBC was fined £150,000 over the incident.

Russell later apologised on Sky News saying that the decision to make the prank calls was “really really stupid.”

During an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2013 Russell claimed the scandal had erupted because he had become caught up in an anti-BBC “agenda”, however, he did reiterate his apology for the upset the incident caused, but suggested it was a “dishonest scandal” because it was hijacked by those motivated by a bias against the corporation.

In 2014, Russell is said to have written a letter to Sachs to apologise for the incident and in 2019 he reportedly went to visit Baillie to apologise for the calls he made to her grandfather, who died in 2016.

2008: Russell prank-called an emergency rape line at a gig

One of his most controversial moments was in 2008 when he made a prank call during an onstage gig in Northampton to an emergency rape line set up by the police.

Russell pretended that he had spotted a man wanted for sexual attacks in the local area, there had been three sexual assaults in underpasses in Northampton within a few weeks.

During the phone call, Russell said: “I have got some information for you. I’ve seen a gentleman who fits the description.

“He was wearing a lime green top and polka-dot trousers, and I thought, ‘Well, look at the state of him, I’ve had someone come near my underpass.”

“He was dressed absolutely atrociously, he looked like Timmy Mallett.”

He also told the police operator that the sounds of laughter were coming from an episode of The Bill on television, as well as pretending that his name was Sarah.

His actions caused a public uproar at the time with Lynda Yorke, of Leicester Rape Crisis, saying: “I don’t think that’s particularly amusing. It’s in very poor taste.”

Russell apologised at the time, saying: “I appreciate the seriousness of the issue and am devastated by the possibility that I may have offended vulnerable people. I maintain that through discourse we can illuminate these dark behaviours but that ought not to be at the expense of people’s feelings.”

2010: Arrested at LAX

Russell was arrested at LAX in September 2010 while he was with his then-fiancée Katy Perry, and multiple media outlets reported that Russell was arrested after an altercation with paparazzi at the Los Angeles International Airport. Russell and Katy were reportedly attempting to board a flight to Las Vegas when the incident occurred. Russell was reportedly placed under citizen’s arrest and charged with simple battery, resulting in a $20,000 bond.

Katy responded to the arrest on Twitter at the time tweeting “If you cross the line & try an put a lens up my dress, my fiancé will do his job & protect me.”

2011: Deported from Japan 

While accompanying Katy on a tour of Japan, Russell was deported by immigration officials. Katy took to Twitter and claimed that the reason concerned historic legal offences: “It was for priors from over 10 years ago.”

Russell then reacted to the incident in a series of tweets, joking: “Planning escape from Japanese custody. It’s bloody hard to dig a tunnel with a chopstick.”

2012: Katy Perry reveals she learned of the divorce over text

Katy Perry gave her first cover interview to Vogue magazine, in which she opened up about her marriage, and revealed that she learned of the divorce over text, moments before she was about to go onstage and perform.

Talking about Russell she said, “He’s a very smart man, and I was in love with him when I married him, let’s just say I haven’t heard from him since he texted me saying he was divorcing me on 31 December 2011.”

2013: GQ Awards

Russell Brand attended the Hugo-Boss sponsored GQ Awards where he received the Oracle prize. In his acceptance speech, he brought up Hugo Boss’s former business of creating uniforms for the Gestapo. He went on to say “They did look fucking fantastic, let’s face it,” before performing an exaggerated march around the stage.

Russell was later ejected from the event following a confrontation with GQ editor Dylan Jones. Russell later wrote a piece in The Guardian about the event explaining his side of the night saying that it was a “daft joke by a daft comic at a daft event.”

2013: Russell jokes about raping and killing a woman on podcast

In a video of a recording of Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Podcast Russell said “It’s not my extremism that I need to protect, it’s my mundanity. I’m just a bloke from Essex, from a single-parent family, that is a pretty comprehensive show-off. Oh and also I raped someone once, I killed her after, she’ll never tell.”

The audience can be heard laughing, while Richard shakes his head and laughs, the podcast and video have since been deleted from Richard’s YouTube channel.

2014: YouTube beginnings and conspiracy remarks

In 2014 Russell launched his own YouTube series, titled The Trews: True News with Russell Brand. He created videos prolifically, with more than 200 episodes being shared within the first year. Over the next nine years, his YouTube channel would go on to be criticised increasingly for platforming conspiracy theories.

Later that year Russell was interviewed on Newsnight and asked about 9/11 conspiracy theories. Asked whether he believed the terrorist attacks had been orchestrated by the US government, Russell responded “We have to remain open-minded to that kind of possibility.”

After this interview a poll by YouGov named Russell as the celebrity with the most negative influence on political debate, with 46 per cent of respondents stating this.

2021: Russell spreads misinformation on COVID-19 and vaccines

During the pandemic, Russell took to his YouTube channel and promoted medical misinformation. He promoted Ivermectin, a drug several right-wing figures, including Donald Trump, praised as a potential cure to the virus on his YouTube channel.

The CDC and FDA say it is ineffective to treat COVID-19 and warn against its use. Russell later posted an apology, which he has since set to private, and YouTube removed the original video for violating community guidelines.

Russell also posted YouTube videos which were sceptical of the COVID-19 vaccines, promoting misinformation with titles such as “Can We REALLY Trust Vaccine Fact-Checkers???” and claimed there was a “vaccine apartheid” in the United States after CNN anchor Don Lemon criticised those who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you’ve been affected by this story or are the victim of sexual assault, you can access help and resources via www.rapecrisis.org.uk or by calling the national telephone helpline on 0808 802 9999.

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