Brand’s rise in Britain only began to stall in October 2008 when he recorded an episode of his radio show that included a series of prank phone calls to Andrew Sachs, the veteran actor known for playing Manuel the Spanish waiter in the 1970s comedy “Fawlty Towers.” In the calls, Brand and his co-host Jonathan Ross referred repeatedly to Brand’s having sex with Sachs’s granddaughter, and made other lewd remarks.
The show only attracted two formal complaints when broadcast. But after The Mail on Sunday newspaper wrote about the calls, thousands of irate callers flooded the BBC switchboard and the incident became a political storm. Brand was forced into an apology, but Greenslade said that incident didn’t affect Brand’s popularity among fans as it played into his “bad boy” image. “It enhanced his reputation for some,” Greenslade said. But broadcasters became “wary” of working with such a loose cannon.
Brand had a brief moment of crossover movie stardom in the United States, starring in 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and its 2010 spinoff “Get Him to the Greek.” He became a major figure in Britain again when he made a surprise move into politics. In 2013, Brand guest-edited an issue of a British political magazine. Then, in a television interview to promote it, the comedian admitted he’d never voted and called for the creation of a new political system that focused on the needs of ordinary people and didn’t “destroy the planet” or “create massive economic disparity.” Soon, he was a left-wing figurehead.
George Monbiot, a prominent British environmentalist, said that Brand’s “extraordinary” interview shook up a political scene that had previously lacked “vision and inspiration.” The comedian continued to make an impact by embracing a new platform and setting up a YouTube channel, The Trews, that discussed ideas such as how corporations and the news media were influencing political events. With those videos, Monbiot said, Brand engaged young and disenfranchised voters in a way that actual politicians had struggled to do. Brand wielded enough influence to host Ed Milliband, then the leader of the opposition Labour Party, in the middle of an election campaign.
Over time, the tenor of the Brand’s videos changed, and became filled with conspiracies and conservative talking points, including vaccine skepticism. “It’s hard to put a finger on when he exactly changed, but there was a point when he stopping talking about Rupert Murdoch and started talking about far less powerful figures and demonizing people like Anthony Fauci,” Monbiot said.
Throughout his career, Brand — a self-described narcissist — had sought attention and on YouTube, it was right-wing talking points that got the most likes and shares. Brand now has over 6.6 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, to hear his commentaries on world political events and interview conservative figureheads such as Ron DeSantis in earnest. “It could scarcely be a more extreme or surprising shift,” Monbiot added.