Russell Brand: Brit uses wit to raise cancer awareness

Comedy Impact Report 2010: Honoree

As the sole honoree for Variety’s inaugural Power of Comedy event, edgy British comedian Russell Brand is being recognized for using his celebrity for good. And while the star of “Get Him to the Greek” and the upcoming “Arthur” remake says he’s “extremely honored” by the distinction, he also can’t help being funny about it.

“Of course it’s better I’m the only honoree,” he notes. “If they were giving it out willy-nilly like the Oscars, you’ve got to share the limelight with cinematographers, costumiers, confectioners, ninjas. But this is just me, which is a far better way to receive it.”

Though Brand built his reputation on comedy, he’s deadly serious — to a point — discussing his association with cancer issues and why it matters to him personally. “It’s an area that’s affected my life and continues to be important, and it’s given me some latitude to rationalize and justify touching women’s boobs,” he explains. “In a way, it’s the perfect award for me.”

He notes that his own mother had cancer three times during the course of his childhood: “Uterine, lymph and breast cancer, and while thankfully she survived each time, my childhood was affected by all that,” he says. “And I’ve had friends and other family members touched by cancer. It’s incredibly common. Perhaps not uniquely, but significantly, cancer is a disease where awareness can make a huge difference. If the cancer is caught early enough, in a large number of cases it can be prevented and cured, so awareness in this area can be hugely helpful, both for fundraising and prevention.”

Brand is also supportive of the Noreen Fraser Foundation — the beneficiary of Variety’s cause-driven comedy showcase — “which is a particularly interesting organization because it’s about making men aware of their obligations toward women and how helpful men can be in keeping women aware of the need to check their bodies,” he reports. “In fact, I urge every man on the planet who’s hetero-sexual to strike up a pact where his female partner directly checks his testicles for lumps, and in a reciprocal fashion he checks her breasts. Please, though, make sure there’s some sort of consensus before embarking on this relationship — it shouldn’t be carried out on public transport, or in front of the relatives.”

Brand is well aware that his celebrity can help make a difference. “Rightly or wrongly, we live in a culture infatuated with celebrity,” he notes, “and occasionally you can use this ludicrous toxin to highlight something worthwhile, and for me it’s beyond an advantage — it’s an obligation. As long as there are women in the world, and as long as they are important in my life, be it my mother or my wife, I’d like to be involved in a great cause such as this.”

The disease’s horrors have also impacted Brand’s feelings about the role of comedy, he says. “Were it not for all the pain and tragedy, what need would we have for comedy?”

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