The Trews: Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about comedian's web show
Russell Brand was hardly an unknown entity on 27 February 2014, when he casually uploaded a new video to his YouTube channel.
There were already hundreds of clips on it, starting two years earlier with a trailer for one of his chat shows. But after a hiatus of several months, he tried something new – a resolutely amateurish review of that day's Daily Mail – and called it The Trews (that's "true news" in Brand-speak).
Even those of us who tuned in out of curiosity – and have since become aware of Brand's schtick and the bare bricks of his Shoreditch flat – might be surprised to learn that today's exchange with Ed Miliband, which included more glottal stops than a Tony Blair Cool Britannia tea par'y, was the show's 309th episode. That's a hell of a lot of Brand.
And people appear to love it, even without the free advertising provided yesterday by the right-wing press, whose fear and loathing of Brand is a joy to behold. The channel has more than a million subscribers and more than 90 million views. The most popular clip, a takedown of a Fox News debate about Israel's foreign policy, has 3.2 million hits.
With each burst of Brand and his revolutionary rants and interviews, The Trews has become more sophisticated – but barely. The addition of better lighting and editing has not stopped it feeling like a teenager's makeup vlog. But the aesthetic is key to its success: the videos can be turned around quickly and cheaply; often, they don't even require Brand to get out of bed.
Yet there is method and professionalism behind the one-man Trews brand, with its wobbly camera and provocative titles ("Tony Blair Not In Jail? I Literally Don't Understand"; " Is the establishment riddled with paedophiles? "; "Who's F*cking Us Over – HSBC Or Immigrants?"). They are all made by a guy with cool hair.
A Brand collaborator for almost a decade, Gareth Roy started as a comedy producer at T4, Channel 4's youth strand, before joining MTV after Brand had been sacked from the channel. The pair worked together in 2007 on a stand-up show, before joining forces at Brand's own production company.
Vanity Projects made the Radio 2 show that ended Brand's and Jonathan Ross's BBC careers, when they prank-called the Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs, among other comedy shows and DVDs. But the partnership survived and Roy has followed Brand through his YouTube rehabilitation via a stint on TalkSport, XFM and Brand's The Messiah Complex, a world tour and film.
Roy could not be reached yesterday. Nor could the small team of young women who reportedly make up the Brand entourage. They were, presumably, busy editing the "Milibrand" video that launched at lunchtime, taking a popular but, to many would-be viewers, obscure channel into the mainstream.
At the time of writing, YouTube still showed that the video had "301+" views, the number the site gives while it struggles to take account of a viral sensation. It may well be heading towards the million mark.
By aligning himself with The Trews, Miliband may yet have the last laugh by reaching an audience for whom Newsnight is anathema. One young woman noted in the comments below the clip: "This interview told me more than the propaganda tripe that has come through my door recently." Next, Brand and Roy are due to take their camera outside to meet the Green Party's Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett. He may even honour them by getting dressed.
The success of The Trews, which is as divisive as Brand himself, has produced spinoffs including a cafe at the New Era Housing Estate in East London, which Brand helped to rescue from developers.
But most pleasing for fans of satire is the Trews parody created by the comedian Morgana Robinson as part of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe programme. Her sign-off (Google the full clip – it's great): "Anyway that's it for Truevolution for now. Till next time, stay authentic, inquisitristic, and never stop shouting, 'WHHYYY'. Hare Krishna, peace out."
Independent News Service