How About Russell Brand Teaching You English?

Or: The Best of the British Comedian for ESL

By Jacqueline Schaalje

Yeah, he looks like Jesus and talks like Karl Marx and he pretends to be as revolutionary as Che Guevara. If you don’t know British comedian Russell Brand yet, in this article I’ve sampled a representative selection of his hugely popular videos. I’ve also added a few explanations and vocabulary lists, which you might need because he talks like a high-speed train. And where normal people use one difficult word in a sentence, he can have five!

russell brand

Why do I think Russell Brand is important for you to watch?

As you know, I usually send you Newsletters about grammar, writing and vocabulary. Well, Russell Brand has a rich vocabulary and therefore it would be good for you to listen to him. Plus, he’s an engaging speaker (often funny!). His ideas are interesting too, and usually on the right side of being moral, which is good as we don’t want to listen to evil people giving us rotten ideas.

What are some typical Russell Brand subjects? Well, he often warns against unchecked (= unlimited) capitalism, commercial institutions taking over our minds and wallets, and the dangers of pollution. Things really that no one can disagree with. On the funny side, Mr Brand exaggerates unashamedly when he says that institutions, government and companies are responsible for our bad world. He says our current systems should be overthrown (= end). I personally think there are lots of well-meaning people in the world doing fine work every day, besides also a fair number of average and lazy people. The world cannot be changed quickly by any radical revolution. But anyway.

russell brand2

The Videos

So let’s move on to my selection. To make it easier for you to understand Mr Brand, I’m writing a brief introduction for each video, and some key vocabulary that you’d need to follow him.

I suggest that you play the videos a number of times. I’m not expecting you to follow every word when you listen the first time. You might need to listen to each video several times, because boy, does Russell Brand speak fast! He speaks so fast that he should have a warning sticker on each of his videos saying: “NOT FOR ENGLISH LEARNERS.” 🙂

However, if you are able to follow Russell Brand, I promise you that you’ll have no trouble understanding any native English speaker.

  1. 50 Shades – Has Porn Ruined My Chance Of A Happy Marriage?

This lecture is Mr Brand’s take on how porn warps (= distorts) our ideas about loving relationships. He also reads some quotations by experts that argue very convincingly that porn does more harm than good. It’s especially risky for the developing minds of adolescents. The part in the video where Brand argues with himself about how porn affects him will probably make you smile.

Here is a short word list. The numbers show you where the word is mentioned for the first time in the video.

Adolescent = a teen, a young adult

Adolescence = the years of puberty/young adulthood (the years between child and adult)

Phenomenon (Brand says this at 0.34) = an interesting or big thing happening

Bondage = tying your sexual partner as in SM sex (0.39)

Accrue = add up (1.17)

Commodification = turning something into a product (that you can sell); from the word commodity = commercial product

Promiscuity = having sex with different partners (3.39)

Filth = dirt (3.55)

Maturity = adulthood, being fully grown (4.19)

Voyeurism (from the word voyeur = someone who enjoys looking at naked people and/or having sex) = looking at other people being naked and/or having sex for one’s own sexual pleasure (5.37)

Procreate = to get children (6.08)

Masculinity = male (6.16)

  1. Donald Trump the Hungry Hippo

This video presents Mr Brand’s favourite subject, which is that multinational corporations (multinationals) and industry moguls (a mogul = powerful person) are only interested in creating as much profit as possible, thereby forgetting about the common people and the good of all.


Donald Trump

Donald Trump, the American millionaire who made his fortune in real estate, is described as a nice but ignorant man who has not a single interest besides making money. He is as greedy as a hungry hippo in the children’s game Hungry Hungry Hippos. The aim of this game is to feed your hippo the maximum number of marbles. The part where Russell Brand demonstrates how this game is played and his analogy how Hungry Hungry Hippos is like our society’s obsession with money-making is funny!


Are there any hard words in this video? Not too many. Here’s what you need to know to understand this video:

Russell Brand starts off with a list of organs (parts of bodies inside the body): liver, pancreas and such. He mentions them because he was saying that moguls are the same us regular human beings. He closes off this section by saying that Donald Trump , when he met him, was in fact like a normal human being: “He was all right.”

Revere (1:02) = worship, admire

The thread of consciousness is thin (1:36): thread = a strand of wool/yarn. Consciousness is your thinking mind. Mr Brand means to say that Mr Trump’s not very intelligent. He doesn’t spend much time philosophising.

  1. Marijuana Vs Sugar – Which Drug Is Most Dangerous? 

Here we have a clear example of a video in which Russell Brand is chatting his head off about subjects and then draws a wrong conclusion, but it’s still entertaining. In the first part of the video he explains why he doesn’t believe marihuana should be illegal. Even after he’s said there is a real danger about smoking modified marihuana because it amplifies the psychotic effect, he then cheerfully continues to say that there are lots of health benefits to be gained from smoking marihuana. That may be, but as far as I know that is only true about unmodified marihuana. And even with unmodified marihuana some harmful effects have been identified, especially for developing brains.

In the second part of his video, the subject switches to whether sugar should be made illegal or taken out of products that you can buy in the shop. That may sound like a good idea, seeing as sugar is responsible for making a lot of people obese (= fat). In fact, people are so obese that there is talk of cutting health benefits for people who weigh more than they should. On the other hand, sugar can’t be blamed for everything. As one politician says in the video: sugar is a substance that is needed by the body. Russell Brand however discredits his opinion because this man used to work for a private health provider.

What is fun about this video is to see Russell Brand get worked up about the subject. But it is frustrating to see that, out of a pile of confusing facts, Brand pulls his favourite conclusion: that the big corporations, plus the government, which is too friendly with those corporations, are out to trick us, the common people. I think that Brand is fighting a lot of straw men (a straw man means something else instead of the real aim): He fights the big organizations whereas he should be fighting bad ideas. It doesn’t make sense to say opinions are bad just because they come from people or organizations Mr Brand doesn’t like.

Or what do you think?

This video doesn’t have that many hard words as the others, but you do need to know this:

skunk = modified marihuana (chemically changed).

  1. Paxman vs Brand – full interview – BBC News

This interview by former Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman is a classic. Brand rejects modern society and politics that create inequality and “massive disparity (with this he means too big of a gap between rich and poor)” and destroy our environment. Traditional politics is nothing but a bunch of liars and cheaters, says Brand, and the time has come to replace all that with a new system. What is this new system? Well, don’t hold your breath. It’s not new at all. What he wants is socialism: an egalitarian system redistributing wealth more equally among all people in society. (“Massive redistribution” says Brand in 4:34). Egalitarian means that everybody is equal. How would this system be financed? Simple: corporations would be taxed heavily.

In this video Brand still makes a call not to vote. He has since changed his mind, due to a discussion he had with Labour Party’s Ed Milibrand. In the recent election he voted for Labour, which indeed should be a natural home for his ideas (more equality, more equal distribution of resources, caring for our planet).

This video swarms (= is full of) difficult words.

This should cover most of them:

Economic disparity (0:57) = a gap between rich and poor

Hierarchic systems (1:09) = hierarchy = a system where people at the bottom of the pyramid are ruled by other people, and the few people at the top rule all the people under them.


Apathy (1:39) = indifference

Weariness (1:43) = exhaustion (1:44) = tiredness

Treachery (1:45) = deceit (1:46) = cheating, telling lies

Disenfranchised (1:52) = rights taken away from people

Despondent (1:54) = desperate

“Voting is tacit complicity” to the system, says Brand at 1:59. Tacit = silent, and complicity means involvement in something bad or secret, such as a crime.

Exacerbate (2:23) = make more serious. Here Brand talks about his drug addiction that he had in his young years that, he says, is kind of the fault of the “social conditions that were exacerbated by an indifferent system [= the government] that really administrates for large corporations and ignores the population that…”

Deficit (4:51) = a shortage (= not enough) (of money or goods)

Levy taxes (4:58): levy means raise, get people to pay taxes

Facetious (6:09) = funny, not serious

Berating and haranguing politicians (6:30) = criticising and complaining heavily about politicians

Current politicians are attempting (= trying) to placate the people, says Brand at 7:06. Placate means to make someone calm by offering them compromises.

Erroneous (7:40) = (from error = mistake) mistaken

Duplicitous (7:43) = cheating, lying

Peripheral (9:46) = these are not peripheral issues, says Brand. Peripheral = not central

Enter to Win

Question: Why do you think Russell Brand’s YouTube show is called The Trews?

Send in your answer and this is what you could win:

A luxury edition of the Disney Book: “Beauty & the Beast.” beauty

The winner will be chosen randomly from the correct answers.

Send your answer before 30 May 2015 to jackie@englishwithasmile.net or enter your name on Facebook.

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