Earlier this week British comedian Russell Brand utterly laid to waste the panel on MSNBC’s early-morning program, Morning Joe, leaving host Mika Brzezinski awkwardly trying to regain composure after entirely losing control of the program to the Brit.
In what will likely be remembered as the best comedian-to-news-anchor smackdown since Jon Stewart took on Tucker Carlson on Crossfire in 2004, British comedian Russell Brand asked a question of the MSNBC anchors earlier this week that resounded with millions: “Is this what you people do for a living?”
Brand’s question may seem smug, condescending, and hostile, but if you watch the entire segment, it was actually a valid question on a segment that encapsulated what is wrong with TV news: a proclivity for superficiality.
Brand went on the program to promote his Messiah Complex tour. The comedian likely thought he was walking into any other promotional media stop. But what he encountered was the most unprofessional, vapid, awkward, and indirectly insulting media hit that I’ve seen in ages.
The awkward eight-minute segment features the “professional” news anchors repeatedly commenting on Brand’s wardrobe and appearance, discussing his accent as if they’ve never heard a Brit before — despite Katty Kay being on the panel — and repeated mentions of Brand as if he weren’t sitting in the room.
It’s very apparent from the interview that Morning Joe panel seriously underestimated Brand, mentally writing him off as a hipstered-out Englishman who was good for a joke but nothing of substance.
When asked to describe his tour, Brand explains, “It’s a really good tour, I’m talking about Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Ghandi and Jesus Christ, and how these figures are significant culturally and how icons are appropriated and used to designate consciousness and meaning.”
Mika then asked the comedian what all the figures had in common, to which Russell replied with a terrific answer that certainly warranted follow up questions:
“They’re all people who died for a cause, they’re all people whose icons are used to designate meaning perhaps not in the manner in which they intended.”
But instead of engaging Brand, Brzezinski replied condescendingly, “I kind of like that, that sounded dead serious.”
Then, Katty Kay, anchor of BBC World News, prodded Brand to do a bit from his comedy routine as if he were a pet being asked to do a trick.
Realizing his interview was going nowhere worthwhile, Brand finally took control of the segment, making a profound point about the state of network news programs today.
“Look beyond the superficial,” he instructed the hosts. “That’s what’s wrong with current affairs, you forget about what’s important. You allow the agenda to be set by superficial information. ‘What am I saying, what am I talking about?’ What am I wearing? That’s superficial.”
Brand’s point applies more broadly to network news programs as a whole which are enslaved to ratings and keeping up with the ever-competitive 24-hour news cycle. Sadly, as Brand seems aware, many programs sacrifice substance and depth of content for the most superficial pithy, sound-bite segments that they can get.
Morning Joe is a prime example of the spread-too-thin news commentary programs that dominate the airwaves these days. Rather than offer broader insight and coverage, these programs allow every last Tom, Dick and Harry with some sort of political or media affiliation to have their sound-bite moment of snark.
One would hope Brand’s segment was eye-opening for Mika and crew — as well as their counterparts on other channels.