Why Russell Brand is right… Comic Relief is a futile gesture

Another day, another article about dear ol’ Russ in the right-wing press.

From the Daily Express: Russell Brand in foul-mouthed rant AGAINST Comic Relief just days after appearing on show. CONTROVERSIAL comedian Russell Brand launched into a bizarre rant against Comic Relief just two days after appearing on the charity show himself.

From the Daily Mail: Comic Relief frontman Russell Brand attacks charity for being ‘part of the problem’ — just two days after he co-hosted telethon that raised more than £1billion. Comedian Russell Brand has attacked Comic Relief two days after hosting; Launched an astonishing attack on charity branding it part of the problem; Brand, 39, told an East London show he felt ‘compromised’ by the gig; He added that ordinary people were forced to ‘carry the burden of charity’

As with all articles about Russell Brand in the Express or Mail — actually, scratch the record off. As with all articles about ANYTHING in the right-wing media — this deserves closer scrutiny. Lets do that.

Comic Relief was founded in 1985 in response to the Ethiopian famine. During it’s 30 year run, through annual television marathons we’ve seen tireless campaigning by wonderful people, and donations of time, money, passion, energy, dedication and love.

None of the above resources are in limitless supply.

Over that 30 year period Comic Relief has raised over one billion pounds for charities both home and abroad…

So why does Russell Brand feel the need to speak out against it?


Russell Brand is so fucking right on this topic, it’s embarrassing.

Comic Relief needs to be considered and appreciated in a wider context to see what he’s saying. And don’t rely on the Express or Mail to educate you on why he’s right.

Their agenda is to focus on the guy doing the pointing and distract you from what it is he’s pointing at

Don’t let your inner-voice discourage you from reading this. It’s fine to question Comic Relief and our approach to solving global problems around poverty, child neglect and homelessness without feeling somewhat guilty.

I am not writing a word against anyone that campaigns or volunteers for charities. I’m not speaking out against anyone who collected at work or came in fancy dress. I won’t say bad things about anyone that felt motivated enough to pick up the phone and donate a fiver.

Sincerely — well done and thanks to all of you.

But we can challenge what is possible and point to other solutions to global problems and we’re right to ask why nothing is being done outside of an annual charitable ritual.

When your inner-voice makes you feel bad for questioning such charitable and well intentioned work ask yourself this.

  • Do we still have poverty in 2015?
  • Are people still homeless on the streets of the United Kingdom?
  • Has Comic Relief succeeded after 30 years of fundraising?

Are you happy with things the way they are? Do you think things could be better?


So what did Russell actually say…

Brand said he felt “compromised” after taking part in the annual BBC fundraiser last Friday.
He told an East London audience: “Is it right to do Comic Relief? Plus is any f***er watching it?
“Those were the questions I was asking myself as I walked out confidently on to the Palladium stage. And the answer is, ‘no, not really’.”
The comic activist — who has been labelled a champagne socialist — then launched into a bizarre diatribe suggesting that charity is a “burden” on “ordinary people”.
He said: “Is charity part of the problem?
“Ultimately taking responsibility away from the centralised powers of created government, corporations and alleviating that stress and tension by placing the burden once more on ordinary people.”

What Russell appears to be saying is that Comic Relief is a notional gesture towards some of the most shameful problems of our time. Poverty, disease, famine, homelessness and a lack of the basic human needs, experienced by millions of people.

This is in Africa and abroad, and it’s on our own doorstep in the United Kingdom.

To compare Comic Relief and how it solves these problems against our slowly unfolding, looming climate change disaster; it’s like trading in your diesel car for a Prius and then driving to work as a safety supervisor at a smoke billowing, coal-burning, power plant.

Comic Relief is a pressure-release valve on a steam cooker, to get rid of some of the build-up of pressure to prevent an explosion. It’s allows the public to convert some angst about the issues we all know about, but expertly ignore in the pursuit of doing-what-we-do-every-day.

By making a donation to Comic Relief we make ourselves feel better by nominally helping awful situations…

..and at the same time let our social and political leaders off of the hook.

In the same way that recycling your sandwich wrapper and installing a solar panel in your roof won’t prevent the impending rising sea levels through climate change. Donating a fiver to Comic Relief won’t solve the problems of disease and famine in the world.


Money exists to radically solve these problems, and it isn’t in the Comic Relief bank account. Quoting from Russell's book Revolution:

“Due to the mainstream media, the average person has no understanding of this unprecedented increase in wealth. Imagine if the average American understood that US millionaires now have $50 trillion wealth.
$1 trillion is 1,000 billion. For an estimated $30 billion you can end world hunger. You can wipe out the entire national debt of the US with just 25 per cent of that wealth.”

Just Google “how much does it take to end world hunger”. I just did..

We could overtake 30 years of Comic Relief fundraising and go straight to ending World Hunger… today. The money is available in the bank accounts of the 1% and by unravelling the obscene spending on military hardware and equipment.

Consider Russell Brands words in a context where 30 continuous years of campaigning for great causes has resulted in £1bn and in one year the US will spend $737bn on defence. Yes, yes, yes. We’d need to do the currency conversion — I am sure the point will still stand.

This logic is clear enough even without going to the point that the endless pursuits of the 1% is a major cause of the global issues that Comic Relief is trying to solve.

To keep this rambling blog post short I’ll skip straight to world debt (and ignore American colonialism, hegemonic economic policies, oil wars on the premise of WMDs and so on)

I will quote economist and Occupy Wall Street member David Graeber from his book Debt: The First 5,000 years

But debt is not just victors justice; it can also be a way of punishing winners who weren’t supposed to win. The most spectacular example of this is the history of the Republic of Haiti — the first poor country to be placed in permanent debt peonage.
Haiti was a nation founded by former plantation slaves who had the temerity not only to rise up in rebellion amidst grand declarations of universal rights and freedoms, but to defeat Napoleon’s armies sent to return them to bondage.
France immediately insisted that the new republic owed it 150 million francs in damages for the expropriated plantations, as well as the expense of outfitting the failed military expeditions, and all other nations, including the United States, agreed to impose an embargo on the country until it was paid.
The sum was intentionally impossible (equivalent to about 18 billion dollars) and the resultant embargo ensured that the name “Haiti” has been a synonym for debt, poverty, and human misery ever since

Haiti is one inglorious example of third world debt causing poverty and issues that we — the public donating to Comic Relief — try and resolve through charity.

Does our government have a responsibility to resolve these unfair legacy debts. Could we, the people, do more outside of a televised orgy of comedy and celebrity do more to force this to happen?

Haiti is one example — the others follow a pattern of financial institutions making huge, risky loans to third world dictators that squirrel the money away for themselves. The IMF enforcing austerity measures that only punish the poor in those countries and stimulate conditions for poverty and disease

Third World loans that have already been paid back many times over.

This is the scandal we should be reading about on our front pages. Not about Russell Brand


The Third World seems a long way away. Lets come closer to home and look at what’s happening today to drive people further into poverty.

Everything above is happening around us today because of a war of austerity being waged against the poor. Don’t worry though — because George Osbourne has taken a penny off the cost of a pint.

The point I believe Russell Brand was trying to make is that Comic Relief is a gesture towards issues that we have the power to fix ourselves through pressuring our government.

Let us sit in the streets outside Parliament, occupy, disobey, have fun and refuse to move until we see radical change.

Fixing the worlds issues isn’t down to the general public when the money, power and influence to end poverty and third world debt has been harvested by the 1%

Don’t believe the bullshit in the Daily Mail.