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In Memoriam: Activist Poet Dennis Brutus.

During his lifetime, South African poet Dennis Brutus made incredible contributions to the fight against apartheid. Brutus died on December 26, 2009, after successfully battling segregation in athletics with global recognition. Fresh Air remembers the life and achievements of Brutus in this interview from 1986

This interview was originally broadcast on April 22, 1986.


Other segments from the episode on December 30, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 30, 2009: Interview with Russell Brand; Interview with Jane Lynch; Obituary for Dennis Brutus.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Russell Brand: Standing Up To Addiction


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When I tell you that my guest today is a very funny British actor and comic who
sometimes goes too far and can be offensive, but is mostly very funny, a lot of
you will be thinking Russell Brand. On the other hand, some of you may have
never heard of him.

He's quite famous in England and quite controversial. He's been fired from MTV
and resigned from the BBC last year after a huge public outcry over a radio
program he co-hosted. The BBC was fined 150,000 pounds over the incident. His
unpredictability certainly makes him memorable, and that's one of the reasons
we're featuring his interview in our holiday week series of memorable
interviews from 2009.

Brand is starting to become known in the U.S. He played the self-absorbed,
over-sexed rock star in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and is making a sequel. He
twice hosted the MTV Video Music Awards. The first time, he acknowledged his
relatively unknown status here.

(Soundbite of "2008 MTV Video Music Awards")

Mr. RUSSELL BRAND (Actor, Comic, Author): English people present will be able
to testify that I'm famous in England.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BRAND: Admittedly, fame does lose a little of its cachet when you have to
tell people that you have it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: And English people always say to me, ah, I bet you love it in
America, not being famous. It must be a relief. Do you love it? I (censored)
hate it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: My personality doesn't work without fame. Without fame, this haircut
just looks like mental illness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The hairdo that Russell Brand described is long and ratted-up. We'll
talk more about his look later. Brand has a memoir that was a bestseller in
England and the U.S., called "My Booky Wook." It's about his difficult
childhood, his sex and drug addictions and his life in comedy.

Russell Brand, welcome to FRESH AIR. When you're in the United States, and
you're doing standup with a new audience, are you trying to take advantage of
that now and kind of in some ways trying to start from scratch with people who
don't much know who you are, like not totally recreating yourself but asking
yourself if I were starting over again, what would I do, maybe differently?

Mr. BRAND: I think it is a new opportunity to - it gives you the reptilian
opportunity to shed parts of your skin that you don't like, although a reptile
would never do that. I think it's a pretty wholesale skin-shedding that they go
in for, but it does allow me to be a bit selective.

I do think yeah, I won't highlight that aspect of my personality. What I will
highlight is, you know, this particularly quaint part of my English

GROSS: Now in the clip we just heard, you referred to your hair as something
that would just be mentally ill if it wasn't for the fact that you were famous.
Let's talk about your look.

Now, you often wear really tight, hip-hugging leather pants, a shirt that's
unbuttoned to your mid-chest, chains around your neck, mascara under your eyes,
and you have a moustache and beard and long, almost like teased hair. And in
some ways, you look like a pirate with a taste for leather and chains and God
knows what else. So how did this become your look?

Mr. BRAND: The reason I feel that it is an ingenuous way for me to dress is, it
did happen quite organically that – you know, like that Smiths lyric, I wear
black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside – I dress all
kinky because that's generally how I feel.

GROSS: So a lot of Americans know you for your role in "Forgetting Sarah
Marshall," a really funny comedy written by and starring Jason Segel, in which
you play this very self-absorbed, completely narcissistic rock star who's very
sex-obsessed and dresses kind of like exactly the way you do.

And I'd like to play a scene from the movie before we talk about it, and in
this scene, like, you've stolen away Jason Segel's girlfriend, and so you and
that girlfriend have gone to a resort hotel in Hawaii on vacation.

At the same time, he's inadvertently gone to the same hotel to, like, nurse his
wounds, and he runs into you, and mayhem ensues, and it's all horrible, but
then he finds another girlfriend.

So in this scene, you're meeting in the lobby of the hotel. He's had a very
good night with his new girlfriend, and you are in the process of going back
without your new girlfriend, his ex, going back to London. And so here's the

(Soundbite of film, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall")

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. BRAND: (As Aldous Snow) Hey, all right, mate.

Mr. JASON SEGEL (Actor): (As Peter Bretter) How are you today?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Yeah, I'm good, I'm good. Are you okay?

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Am I okay? I'm better than okay, my friend.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) You seem sprightly.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) I had a great time last night.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Congratulations. Well done, well done.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Thank you. What about you? What's with the bag?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Oh right, yeah. I'm off back to England, mate.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Oh, you and Sarah are going to England?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) No, no, no, I'm just going alone.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Did you guys have a fight or something?

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Yeah, it was really – how you served five years under her,
I don't know. You deserve a medal or a holiday or at least a cuddle from

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) You were only here for a week.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Well, I don't know. For me, that one week of it was like –
sort of like going on holiday with, I don't know, I wouldn't say Hitler but
certainly Goebbels. It was like a little holiday with Hitler.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Jesus.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Oh well you know, hey listen. At least it's clear now for
you two to reconnect.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Oh no, no. No, you know what? I have a good thing going
on with Rachel, and I want to see that through.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Or maybe, you know, you could have both of them, Rachel
and Sarah. They got on all right, didn't they, at dinner? So maybe.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) You know what? First of all, I'm not that kind of guy,
and even if I was, I don't think that I have the sexual competency to really
pull that off.

Mr. BRAND: (As Snow) Yeah, it's a gift. Okay, well I think my ride's here. So
I'm going to skedaddle, then, before anything else happens to me, before life
gets any more daft. Is someone going to take that? Listen, don't let them grind
you down. Take it easy, eh? Hey, look at my driver. I'm going to have sex with

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest, Russell Brand, with Jason Segel in a scene from
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which is now out on DVD. Did you feel like you
were playing a satirical version of yourself?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, I was because the process of me getting that part, it came
about thusly. I went for an audition to play the part of Aldous Snow, if that
was indeed the character's name at that time, who was originally intended to be
a nebbish, bookish, you know, Poindexter-type individual, like an English Hugh
Grant, bespectacled character.

I went in there, did the audition. Jason and Nick Stoller, the director, and
everyone, they really liked it, and said but this man is clearly not a
bookworm. We'll just rewrite the part and make it exactly how he is. And so in
a way, it's very flattering because it means they like me. In another way, it
means they think I can't act.

GROSS: Well, funny you should mention that. When Jason Segel was on the show,
he told his version of the story of how he ended up rewriting the part for you.
So let's hear that clip, and then I want to ask you about it. So listen to

You wrote a character that's played by Russell Brand in your film, who's a pop
star, who's deeply in love with himself and has also stolen your girlfriend.

Mr. SEGEL: Yes. Do you want to hear an amazing story about casting Russell


Mr. SEGEL: That part was originally written to be a young British author. Like,
I picture like a Hugh Grant type. And so we're holding the auditions, and
people are coming in and doing these terrible, fake British accents and wearing
suits, you know, three-piece tweed suits and everything.

And so about halfway through the day, we're just exhausted, and we feel like
we're never going to find somebody, and then in walks Russell Brand in his full

He's wearing leather pants. He's wearing a shirt unbuttoned to his navel and
just, like, it must have been three pounds of necklaces and his all teased.
He's wearing eyeliner, I mean just totally wrong for the part.

And he walks in, and he has the nerve to look at me, the writer, and he says
you have to forgive me, mate. I've only had a chance to take a cursory glance
of your little script. Perhaps you should tell me what it is you require.

And I literally went home that night and rewrote the movie for Russell Brand to
be a British rock star. I couldn't imagine anyone to be more jealous of or
intimidated by if they were dating your new girlfriend than Russell Brand.

GROSS: That's Jason Segel, telling the story of how he cast my guest, Russell
Brand, in the film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

So Russell Brand, had you really not read the script when you showed up for the

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, but they'd only just given it to me. It's not like I'd had it
ages. I'd had it about – someone gave it to me about an hour before, and so
like I didn't have a proper chance to read it. I wasn't trying to be
deliberately truculent. It was just, like, that was the truth of the situation.

And it's lovely to hear someone talking about me in that fashion. It's proper
good for egotism, but like you know what, Terry? What happened was that when
Jason told me that story of like, Russell, when you came in, you said I've only
had a chance to have a cursory glance at your script.

He told me that. I said I would not have said that. That is really, really
rude, and I would never say anything like that. I'm an Englishman. I'm a
gentleman. That's unforgivable. I'd never say it.

And of course, it's all been filmed because it's an audition. They showed me
it, and I did say that. I can't believe it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Makes you wonder about the rest of your life, doesn't it, what you think
you're doing, and what you've really done?

Mr. BRAND: To tell you the truth, I'm an unreliable witness of my own
existence. So perhaps my autobiography should be dramatically re-edited by
people who were actually there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So more on the subject of Jason Segel, there's another clip I want to
play for you from Jason Segel, and this is talking about his current film, and
that's the film "I Love You, Man," in which he plays this kind of, you know, a
bachelor who, like, doesn't want to get married.

He wants a series of flings. He doesn't want a committed relationship, and he
lives in this apartment that he set up just with like videogames and
instruments and things just for guys, just for his, like...

Mr. BRAND: Committed man-child type character.

GROSS: Precisely, precisely. So here's Jason Segel, talking about how you
figured into his interpretation of that character.

Mr. SEGEL: Sydney was a late bloomer, and so he's kind of terrified of
monogamy, and you know, he's a bit of a womanizer and really values his guy

He's a little bit mysterious. I don't want to give too much away, but he, you
know, he's got this attitude that I don't possess in life, which is this is who
I am, take it or leave it, which is what really drew me to playing that part.

It sort of reminded me of my friend Russell Brand, who I did Sarah Marshall

GROSS: Oh, he's terrific in your film, yeah.

Mr. SEGEL: Oh thank you. Well, he has that quality in real life, as well, of
this is who I am, you know, accept it. And I've never had that. I'm the kind of
guy who, like, stays up until midnight thinking I wish I hadn't said that thing
to that guy. I hope I didn't hurt his feelings. And then I'll call the next day
and apologize, and they'll have no idea what I'm talking about. That's sort of
how I'm bent, and it was nice to sort of play the opposite.

GROSS: So that's Jason Segel, talking about my guest, Russell Brand, and by the
way, Russell Brand has a new memoir, and it's called "My Booky Wook."

So Russell Brand, do you see yourself the way Jason Segel does, as someone who
really doesn't care what anyone thinks?

Mr. BRAND: No. I think of myself as being utterly tortured by introspection and
self-analysis, burning the midnight oil, reflecting endlessly on traumas, what
the French would call L'esprit de l'escalier, the thing you should have said
but only remember on the stairs after you've left the room. I'm forever
thinking of things that were funny to say just a little too late.

But you know what? It's so lovely to hear how Jason – this is a good format for
a radio show. I wish you would just interview everyone that's ever met me and
get them to say nice things about me, and I'll just sagely nod along, yes I am

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Plus I heard you say something nice about me, that you think I'm
fantastic in that film. That gave me a little twitch, if you don't mind me
saying so, Terry.

So in spite of being deeply flattered by the idea that I could be perceived as
a living-in-the-moment, hedonistic, bacchanalian warrior for truth and beauty,
I'm as neurotic as the next man, and the next man in this case is Jason Segel.

GROSS: But in some ways, comedically, it seems like you don't really care what
other people think, that you will do daring things without worrying about the
consequences, and there's been lots of consequences. You've been fired from,
like, so many broadcasting positions in England.

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, well that's true, Terry. I mean, as a performer, I'm very,
very confident in what I do. As a person, that is, I suppose, where I'm a
little more doubtful, introspective and analytical.

But as a performer, I'm very confident in my work because I feel like I'm in
alignment with something. That's what I feel. I feel that when we're doing
something well - whether it be cooking, making love or performing - I feel that
when it's done well, you get out of the way of nature. You allow nature's
rhythms and frequencies to move you.

What I feel is that the stuff about me that works is not really me at all. It's
just getting out of the way of a kind of frequency that's everywhere.

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand, and he has a new memoir called "My Booky
Wook," and he is a British comic and actor who's recently started to really
make his mark in America through movies like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and
through hosting the "MTV Video Music Awards" ceremony.

Let's take – let's talk about one or two of the really, like, risky things that
you've done that have been really controversial and that ended up getting you
fired, because I'm interested in what you were thinking comedically when you
did it. Let's start with dressing as Osama bin Laden on your TV show the day
after September 11th. This was September 12th, 2001. Tell us what you said on
your broadcast in this bin Laden costume.

Mr. BRAND: What happened, Terry, was that one recalls the horror of that time
and how obviously deeply moved the whole world was by that dramatic trauma of,
you know, the most horrifying act of terrorism in history.

And what was so – me, at that time, I was a crack addict. I was on heroin. I
was out of my mind. So to see something so genuinely dramatic and awful
happening in the world, it kind of, it really, really moved me, and I didn't
really know how to deal with it.

I didn't have the facility to write a poem or to, you know, think about the
real effects of an event like that on the victims. All I thought was my God,
what is happening in the world?

And I remember I was hanging out with my drug dealer that day, Gritty(ph), and
we were smoking a lot of crack and heroin. I'd been aware of al-Qaida and Osama
bin Laden for a while. So I felt, you know, and this is what was really crazy
of me.

I felt a little bit – you know, like, if you really like a band or a writer,
and then that band becomes the biggest band in the world. I kind of wanted to
go hey, I knew about this for ages, you know. I've known about this for a long

So I had to almost re-pledge my commitment in a ridiculous, drug-induced, you
know, tribute by dressing up that day. That's all – you know, it was an insane
thing to do and not something I would ever try to justify and never would
repeat without, you know, drugs and alcohol.

But I don't know if you've ever taken crack, Terry. It makes you do some very,
very eccentric things, you know. So my point was really, I suppose, just trying
to align myself somehow with all of that chaos, but you know, in retrospect, it
was a very disrespectful and foolish thing to have done.

GROSS: Now you quote in your book something that you actually said that day,
dressed as bin Laden. Do you want me to quote it, or do you want to say it?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, please do. Yeah, please tell me.

GROSS: I hate it when I do other people's routines. This is always so awful.

Mr. BRAND: Come on, Terry. You can't do any worse that I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what you said was come on, guys. Get over it. It was yesterday. We've
got to move on now. We can't grieve forever. And in a way, like years later,
you can look back at that and say that's really kind of funny because it's
taking that kind of advice of, like, you know, you must get over it, you must
move on, and using it in such an incredibly inappropriate way.

Mr. BRAND: Precisely, yes. I mean...

GROSS: When no one could possibly have gotten over it yet. So you're taking
this kind of self-help bromide and really making it seem just absolutely
ludicrous, but it could also be very offensive to people because everything was
– the wound was just...

Mr. BRAND: Absolutely, of course. And I was always – like, I was sort of
obsessed with being original at that time and not a lot else, and I think one
has the privilege of that perspective when you've not been personally affected
by an incident.

Obviously, had I not been on drugs and had stopped to think about the reality
of that situation, and you know, the people that died that day and the effects
it has had and continues to have on people that lost loved ones because of that
terrible event, then that – you know, I would have had a very, very different

But through the haze and crack and heroin, all I saw was an incredible new
spectacle, and look at the way it was presented to us, the iconography of it
and difficult to say sensationalized when it is clearly such a sensational

But subsequent events proved that it kind of, you know, sort of was used as a
mandate for some, you know, terribly destructive foreign policy, and I suppose
that kind of hysteria is what I tuned into.

GROSS: You know, you make it really clear in your memoir, where your fans and
the people who don't like your work already know, which is that, you know, you
– as you said, you've been a heroin addict, a crack addict. You appear to have
a very addictive personality. But I'm wondering, like as a comic, as somebody
whose world is centered around being funny, how is that affected by heroin and
crack? I mean, does being funny matter on a heroin high?

Mr. BRAND: It doesn't seem as important because nothing seems as important when
you've got heroin. One of the key components of opiates is that it diminishes
the significance of all else.

You know, if you've got heroin, nothing else really matters. Everything comes
in second. In fact, I've often thought that opiate addiction, opium addiction
particularly, is like the materialization of the abstract idea of need.

Most of us have an idea that we're missing something from our lives. Some of us
think of it as God. Some of us think of it as a new pair of shoes or the
success of a football team that we follow or the craving of the embrace of an
absent lover.

But with heroin, once you're addicted to it, those needs, those abstract needs,
that hole that I feel is within all of us, doesn't seem to be nameless, some
unknowable entity, but the clearly material, definable, accessible drug of

You don't think oh God, what is it, I wish I had a new girlfriend or a new car.
You think, I've got to get heroin. Once you align that physical addiction with
that kind of psychological need, your life just has a very clear linear
narrative. I want heroin. I want heroin. I want heroin. It's just a tiny,
cyclical loop of futile desires.

You know, and in a way, in the rest of my life and in other people's lives, it
seems we pursue similarly futile endeavors, but just you know, there is just a
bigger carousel. You don't notice it as much. You know, the futility of
consumerism is less obvious than the futility of heroin addiction but still the
same paradigm.

GROSS: So writing comedy when you're doing heroin, is that hard to do?

Mr. BRAND: Yeah...

GROSS: I mean, do jokes come to you? Does humor matter? Do you care?

Mr. BRAND: No, I was an awful comedian...

GROSS: Are you any more or less funny?

Mr. BRAND: Terry, at the time, when I was on crack and heroin, I was a lot, lot
less funny, you know, because I was a self-indulgent maniac up on the stage.
You know, I'd be up using heroin on the stage in front of an audience. I used
to go into butcher shops and buy loads of animal entrails and skulls and offal
and smash up skulls and batter them all up with a hammer and kick them into the

I was much like – you know, like GG Allin, the New York...

GROSS: May I just interrupt you and say ick?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, no, it was crazy days, Terry.

GROSS: That sounds horrible.

Mr. BRAND: It was pretty awful. But I was just interested in the spectacle of
self-destruction. You know, it was so – heroin addiction was so centrifugal to
my life, as it is with all drug addicts, that it overwhelms all of your being,

So to answer your question about humor, I mean, I was occasionally funny by
accident when I was a heroin addict, never knowingly. You know, I mean, it was
– it consumes you to such a degree, it's difficult really to write a well-
constructed joke or to let the part of you that's beautiful and amusing
flourish because, really, you just become a vessel for that addiction.

GROSS: Russell Brand will be back in the second half of the show. His memoir is
called "My Booky Wook." I am Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with British comic and actor
Russell Brand. He's best known in the U.S. for his role in last year's film
comedy, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" as the self-absorbed, sex-obsessed rock
star. And he's known for hosting the MTV Video Music Awards last September. His
memoir, "My Booky Wook" is now an American bestseller. He's more famous in
England than here, and his broadcasting controversies have added to the fame.

I want to get to, like, something else you did that was really controversial
that you resigned over.

And the person who is in this bit with you ended up being suspended for several
months, and it's a prank that was very famous in England, semi-famous in the
United States. And this is when you called Andrew Sachs, who is an actor now in
his 70s, who is best known in America as one of the co-stars of "Fawlty

Mr. BRAND: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the British comedy series. And so he didn't show up for an appearance
on your radio show.

Mr. BRAND: It was actually a phone interview, but he didn't answer the phone

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. BRAND: ...just to give the situation a little more context...

GROSS: Thank you.

Mr. BRAND: Yeah. I loved "Fawlty Towers" growing up, thought it was like the
best comedy. I loved Monty Python. I loved John Cleese. I loved "Fawlty Towers"
so much, and I grew up listening to the audio cassettes of that show. Now
Andrew Sachs was due to come on our show as a phone-in guest, booked by our
producers because the previous week, an anecdote, during which it was revealed
I'd had relations with one of his granddaughters who was a member of the
Satanic Sluts burlesque dance group had come out on my show.

It had been mentioned, oh, yeah, didn't it - like, you know, another guest on
the show said, Russell, did you have sex with that – Andrew Sachs'
granddaughter who happens to be in the burlesque dance group, the Satanic
Sluts? I said, yes. As a matter of fact, I did. Now one of the producers
subsequently booked Andrew Sachs to come on and guest the next week. So there
would be a kind of elephant-in-the-room interview in which we would subtly
allude, perhaps, to these ideas - or not mention them at all, but the listeners
would know, thus providing a kind of a bit of cheeky, naughty comedy.

But what actually happened is we, Jonathan Ross - who's the best broadcaster in
our country - and I ended up leaving accidentally a kind of ridiculous answer
phone message, very much – and then very much in the vein of the film
"Swingers," left subsequent answer phone messages trying to retract to the
original one, but actually hugely exacerbating the situation.

GROSS: And in those messages, there were references to this relationship that
you had with his granddaughter, whose stage name, by the way, is Voluptua.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Voluptua, no less. Yes.

GROSS: So, anyways, he was very offended. She was offended. Go ahead, yeah.

Mr. BRAND: He was. Yes. It was accidental. You see the thing was that – the
distinction I always feel compelled to make is between a deliberate prank with
intention and sort of a mad, giddy accident. It wasn't like, okay, let's call
up Andrew Sachs when and then - and only then - we shall announce that I had
sex with his granddaughter. The intention was not to mention that at all. And
then in a crazy moment - actually not even myself, Jonathan, as I say, the best
broadcaster in our country, blurting out - he - I was on the phone leaving the
message. Oh, hello, Andrew Sachs. I respect you. I respect your lineage. You're
a great actor - all things I truly believe. Then in the background, Jonathan
blurted out: He effed your granddaughter, right, you know, in a sort of giddy
adolescent whirling moment of irresponsibility. And then we were like, oh, no.
Hang up. Hang up. Oh, no. What have we done? What have we done?

So it was already on the answer phone and everything. And I said, right, okay.
The only way we can make the situation better is by leaving another answer
phone message. And in the subsequent ones, all we did was apologize, but, you
know, in a kind of, I guess, frivolous way. And thus – I suppose what happened
is because, like, you know, if any - the people that are aware of Andrew Sachs
in your country will know him as Manuel, the waiter from "Fawlty Towers."

I loved that show so much. I only thought of it - I sort of thought, that's
Manuel from "Fawlty Towers" I'm leaving a message for. And that in the end,
listening to that answer phone would just be Manuel from "Fawlty Towers." I
didn't think, oh yeah, that was 30 years ago. This is his granddaughter. I just
thought, oh, it's Manuel from "Fawlty Towers" and just thought of the whole
thing as kind of a frivolous jape, you know, and - but really, it would have
been upsetting for Andrew Sachs, which I obviously apologized for. But what
then ensued was media hysteria where the privately owned English media used it
as an opportunity to destroy the publicly funded BBC, an ongoing campaign that
continues to this day and will continue until the BBC is destroyed. So I got
caught up in a massive storm.

GROSS: Well, let me say, according to what I read in The New York Times, after
the show – after your radio broadcast happened, there were two complaints to
the BBC. But then one of the tabloids wrote an article about it, and as a
result of that article, there were tens of thousands of complaints.

Mr. BRAND: Yes. Because the...

GROSS: And that's what you're referring to.

Mr. BRAND: Precisely, The Daily Mail, the newspaper in question, this is – this
newspaper has a huge agenda to undermine the BBC and, in fact, undermine any
organization that it sees as liberal. Now I'm not suggesting that the case of
me and Jonathan Ross leaving that silly, silly answer phone message is any
great liberal cause. But what I am saying is that The Daily Mail took that
opportunity to attack a very beautiful and brilliant institution, the BBC, and
that they won't – they don't care – The Daily Mail don't care about morality.
All they care about is conformity, you know.

And I've got a career that's somehow representative of kind of libertine values
of sex. The radio show that, you know, that I used to make here at the BBC was
always kind of anarchic and a little bit crazy. Now we crossed the line in that
particular incident, but the ensuing publicity and furor was never about the
incident itself. It's more about conformity and making sure people don't have
the kind of liberty to express themselves, and that the BBC and publicly funded
media and the ethics implied within the nationalism are destroyed.

GROSS: Now, I want to talk to you a little bit about what it's like to get that
level of anger directed at you, as well as the BBC. Now you said after hosting
the Video Music Awards in the U.S. that you got death threats because you said
some things about the - you said that you made fun of the Jonas Brothers for
their purity rings, and you called – I'm trying to remember what you called
President Bush.

Mr. BRAND: George W. Bush. I said - what the joke was, right, because here's
how this it makes sense. I said, you know, I'd like to - hello, on behalf of
the rest of the world, I'd like to urge the people of America to vote for
Barack Obama. Now, I know a lot of people - racists, I think they're called -
say America is not ready for a black president. But I know America to be a
free-thinking, forward-thinking, liberal country. After all, you've had that
retarded cowboy fellow in the White House for eight years. We all think that's
very liberal over in Europe, because in my country, he wouldn't be trusted with
a pair of scissors. Right? So a frivolous, daft little joke about it. But, you
know, some people - supporters of George Bush and people of that political
persuasion, did send death threats. But for me, you know, a death threat, you
know, I'm aware that I'm not immortal. Death is going to come regardless of the
death threats.

GROSS: So what's the difference between the American way of expressing anger at
you and the British way of expressing anger? Like, did you get death threats in
England? You know, like, when you become a public target like what - would you
make a comparison for us?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, I would. I mean, in England I think any actual death threats -
I think because of our English system of politeness, I think a death threat
would be considered rude. But some people did roll their eyes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: A death threat would be considered rude, I like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest Russell Brand and his new memoir is called "My Booky
Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-up." You write in your book that your
father use to listen to self help tapes in the car, and the message you took

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, Anthony Robbins and all that.

GROSS: So, the message you took away from of all this was, you can do anything
you want. Can you talk a little bit more about the impact of growing up with
self-help tapes?

Mr. BRAND: Well, yeah, I think...

GROSS: Because this is a very self-help country. Yeah.

Mr. BRAND: Yeah, it's like, the Mecca, right, of self help. I mean like, you
know, so self-help as in Scott M. Peck and Anthony Robbins and those kinds of
guys. Yeah, he was always – my dad was involved in (unintelligible) weekends
and stuff, and from time to time he was very much into success and self
improvement, like an entrepreneurial child of Thatcher's Britain. And he would
listen to these tapes – they were all about yeah, you can do it. You want – you
can achieve what you want, don't take no for an answer type stuff, you know.
And I was used to always hearing that from probably when I was like, five years
old - that and "Fawlty Towers" cassettes ironically. So like, it made me sort
of feel like, you know... My dad also had this belief, which is a curious way
to view the world - he said it in this way, not so articulately, perhaps, as
this, not so unnecessarily loquacious and verbose, but the message was the
same. This is what my dad believed.

The world and existence itself is a malevolent force that wants to destroy you.
Every day, you're going to be attacked, undermined and antipathy will shroud
you and the world's going to bring you down and destroy you. Only if you fight
from your core, with every ounce of your being, to succeed, would life stand
back and go, right, well this one's serious, let him through. The only way you
can be successful is by waging war against being. And that's kind of the
opposite of Buddhism, but in a way, it does show you that you can, you know,
you can achieve stuff with fervor.

GROSS: Boy, are you fighting that influence now, to see the world as this
antagonistic thing that you're in constant opposition to?

Mr. BRAND: I do try to, I mean, because sometimes there seems evidence that the
world is, you know, oppositional and antagonistic. But yeah, I don't want to
see the world like that. I want to see the world as beautiful.

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand. His autobiography is called "My Booky Wook."
More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Russell Brand and he has a new memoir called "My Booky
Wook." As we record this, the G-20 is still meeting in London. You participated
in the G-20 protests. You weren't there like, breaking windows of banks or
anything, but you were out there protesting what?

Mr. BRAND: The protest was aimed towards change in ecological and economic
policy. I don't think there's a strong contra-argument for what's happening
economically. There aren't many people saying, well, this was working well or
the bankers are doing a fine job. So I was just there, as I've often been, in
public protests, because kind of - I enjoy the energy and I like to believe in
change and I believe in people's right to protest and voice their opinions.
It's kind of different for me now that I'm, you know, famous in this country,
it's difficult to become part of a crowd so effortlessly.

GROSS: At an earlier protest, in 1997, you got arrested for pulling down your
pants in public. What was the point?

Mr. BRAND: Oh, showing off really. I mean, I was just a proper little show-off
when I was growing up and I was on drugs, so those two things together - just
meant like, you know. I - again, it was a May Day protest. It was anti-
capitalistic, people smashing stuff up, there was loads of craziness, if you
will - which I always found kind of exciting. And I would just like to get
involved with it and be a part of it. And I think the stripping was – I just
didn't have any better ideas. So, it was really quite an unimaginative way to
show off and there were some awful photographs that recorded that incident.

It was around the Statue of Eros in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, one of the
busiest part of London and a focal point for the protest for that day. I was
surrounded by members of the metropolitan police force. I stripped myself
naked, and as I took off the final layer of clothing, they folded in around me
like dough, dragged me off. I pretended to have an epileptic fit because, you
know, I was told to do that - it's a good way of, if you're ever being
harangued by the police, of getting them to release you, is to say you're
epileptic, that you've lost your bracelet, pretend to have a fit and, you know.
As I did that, they released me. I sprung once more to my feet, only in time to
be cuffed and arrested.

GROSS: Do you think of yourself as an exhibitionist?

Mr. BRAND: Yes, I do, I suppose, but at least now I've got some art.

GROSS: Right, right. So is that the kind of thing you'd ever do again? Like
strip in public, I mean like...

Mr. BRAND: Never.

GROSS: Never because...

Mr. BRAND: No way, there's no need for it. It's ridiculous. I'm just, you know,
making another film with Judd Apatow at the moment, and the director of that
movie, Nick Stoller, who directed "Sarah Marshall," called me the other day and
asked if I would mind showing my bottom. And I have to think twice about it. I
mean, I think I'm going to have to do it. I think it's necessary for the story,
and also it'll give people a laugh. But it's not, you know, stripping off
naked, oh dear, it makes me feel embarrassed.

GROSS: Embarrassed. Now there's something that I wasn't sure you'd feel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...given all the things you've done in your life and career, I wasn't
sure embarrassment was necessarily part of the repertoire.

Mr. BRAND: I think you have to feel embarrassment to vanquish it, you know. I
mean like, often my material is written by virtue of this process. What'll
happen is I'll think, like, something embarrassing will happen to me. Like
I'll, for example, give Dame Helen Mirren a pair of dirty underpants. And then
as I walk away from there, I think, Oh my god, what you've just done? You've
just given Dame Helen Mirren your dirty underpants as a finish - a wrap gift on
"The Tempest," that I've just been making with Julie Tamor. Then only as I walk
away, do I realize that's a really inappropriate and stupid present and I
think, right, never tell anyone about that. You've done a very stupid thing,
the less people know about it, the better. If you can inhibit the number of
folk that know, less people know how daft you truly are. And then the next
impulse is, that means it's funny, tell everyone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right, like you just said why in the world did you give her a pair, a
gift-wrapped pair of your dirty underwear? Like what, what is like remotely...

Mr. BRAND: They weren't even wrapped, Terry.

GROSS: ...funny about that? What's that?

Mr. BRAND: I tell you, it wasn't meant to be funny and they weren't gift
wrapped. I was holding them in my hand as I was leaving the set, I was rushing
to get a plane. I'd been wearing these underpants all day long. Thankfully as I
left the set there was a clean pair of underpants in my dressing room. I had to
rush, rush, rush to get this plane. I took off the dirty underpants I was
wearing and I put on the clean, spic and span ones, rushed out of my dressing
room, didn't even have time to pack the dirty underpants I'd been wearing,
rushed in the corridor.

There was Dame Helen Mirren in all her substantial glory. Hello Russell, you're
leaving us, she said, kissed me full on the lips as she always does. Well, I
shall miss you, you're wonderful to work with, not as bad as everyone said, ha,
ha, ha. It's been lovely working with you, Dame Helen Mirren. In your eyes, I
silently reflect, does the Oedipus Complex seem bizarrely logical...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: ...this powerful matriarch, this goddess, this reason to align
maternity with sexuality. Then as I noticed I was holding the dirty underpants
at head height for some, you know... I had my hand like a clothesline - where I
was nervous. I was sort of, I guess, trying to hold them far away from the
conversation so that they didn't intrude upon us. But, you know, it made them
more obvious. I saw, just as I was departing, just as I'd got out of that
situation without embarrassing myself, I noticed, for a moment, her eyes flick
towards the underpants. Then a voice said - and I recognized that voice, for it
was my own - oh, Dame Helen, would you like these underpants? And she looked
terrified, but then said oh, thank you, because she's polite, because she is a

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: ...because a dame has an obligation to be polite. You cannot play
the queen of England if you don't have impeccable manners. She did not have the
option of throwing these underpants in my face. So she took them and as far as
I know, Terry, she has them to this day.

GROSS: I will ask again, why in the world did you think she would want them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: I didn't think it, I panicked, I panicked. I saw her look at them
and I couldn't think of anything to say. It's not like I thought, oh, this is a
good idea. It's like some other part of me took over. I saw her look at the
underpants, you know, there was like a voice of madness. You know, sometimes
you think things that are a little bit mad like, you know, wedding ceremony,
you can always - at the point that goes, do you think these two people should
get married, if not speak now or forever hold your peace. Every person in the
world always thinks that you should shout something at that moment, you know,
and sometimes I do.

GROSS: So did you talk to her about this after the fact?

Mr. BRAND: No, she gave me a copy of her book, though. She sent a copy of her
book to my house and it said, to a genius, love from a mere mortal - signed
Helen. But then I checked and she had meant to send it to Sacha Baron Cohen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I want to ask you about the title of your book "My Booky Wook."

Mr. BRAND: Yes.

GROSS: Don't take this is the wrong way, there's something so cutesy-poo about
the title, and it's so, it's so - like you're not at all a cutesy-poo person.
So I keep trying to figure out why is it called "My Booky Wook."

Mr. BRAND: It's paradoxical, right, because it is so much harrowing material
and darkly humorous material in the book, I thought if I call it "My Booky
Wook" it somehow castrates the potency of some of the darkness and why not do
that. Also it's a tribute to the brilliant writing of Anthony Burgess,
specifically in "Clockwork Orange." Alex is always saying "oh my guttiwuts" and
using made-up words and mangled grammar. And I think through this dissonance it
makes you acknowledge that you take on board a lot of information without
questioning it. So a daft word like "My Booky Wook," it a kind of registers in
a way that "My Struggle" or "My Life Till Now" doesn't, you know? "My Booky
Wook," it sounds funny to me.

And I like the capacity of language to interrupt the way we think, to make us
address, through poetry, how beautiful the mundane can be, and how mundane that
which seems slick and appealing actually is. So there is a hugely intelligent
argument for calling a book "My Booky Wook" that is somehow menacing and dark,
but also I just thought it was, to use your phrase, cutesy-poo.

GROSS: Well, Russell Brand, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you very

Mr. BRAND: Thank you very much, Terry. It's been a joy to be on your show. I
really appreciate it. I particularly like it when you play compliments that
have been paid to me by colleagues.

GROSS: We'll collect some more and have you back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAND: Thank you, thank you very much. It's been lovely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Russell Brand recorded last April, after his memoir, "My Booky Wook,"
was published in the U.S.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Many Roles Of "Glee" Meanie Jane Lynch


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This year, Jane Lynch started to get the
recognition she deserves in her role on the Fox TV series "Glee" as the coach
of the cheerleading squad. As part of our holiday week series of memorable
interviews from 2009, we're going to hear an excerpt of the interview we
recorded in November. Before "Glee," she was best known for her comic
performances in the mockumentary "Best in Show" and "The 40 Year Old Virgin"
and her roles in "The L Word," and the Starz TV series "Party Down." In last
summer's film "Julie and Julia," she played Julia Child's sister.

In case you missed the first year of "Glee," it's about a high school teacher
trying to put together a winning glee club with a group of students who are
mostly losers. The glee club coach tries to be sensitive to the needs and
insecurities of his students, but the cheerleading coach, played by Jane Lynch,
is mean to her girls and never satisfied with their performance. She sees the
glee club as her rival and at one point tries to take it over. Here she is
confronting the glee club coach, played by Matthew Morrison.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Glee")

Ms. JANE LYNCH (Actor): (as Sue Sylvester) So I had a little chat with
Principal Figgins, and said that if your group doesn't place at regionals, he's
cutting the program. Ouch.

Mr. MATTHEW MORRISON (Actor): (as Will Schuester) You know, you don't have to
worry about glee club. We're going to be fine.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Sue Sylvester) Really? Because I was at the local library where
I read Cheerleading Today aloud to blind geriatrics, and I came across this
little page turner: the show choir rule book. And it turns out you need 12 kids
to qualify for regionals. Last time I looked, you only had five and a half.
Here, cripple in the wheelchair. I also took the liberty of highlighting some
special ed classes for you. Maybe you could find some recruits, because I'm not
sure there's anybody else who's going to want to swim over to your island of
misfit toys.

Mr. MORRISON: (as Will Schuester) Are you threatening me, Sue?

Ms. LYNCH: (as Sue Sylvester) Threatening you? Oh, no, no, no. Presenting you
with an opportunity to compromise yourself? You bet you.

GROSS: Jane Lynch, welcome to FRESH AIR. I want you to describe your character
in "Glee."

Ms. LYNCH: Well, she's kind of that inner mean girl that a lot of us have, that
she's kind of right out in front. She doesn't have a filter. She doesn't have
that socially acceptable way that we, you know, put how we might really feel,
we'll put them into terms that, you know, are softer than what Sue would do.
She's kind of right out there, and she takes great delight in her heinousness
and her political incorrectness. And so that's where she gets her glee from.

GROSS: Now, you've almost developed a catch phrase. You think that's hard…

Ms. LYNCH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: …try fill in the blank.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah. Right.

GROSS: What have been your favorite, you think, that's-hard retorts?

Ms. LYNCH: My favorite one was you think this is hard, try launching a fall
show in May. That's hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: We did that for a promo. But the first one I came up with was the…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: The first one I came up with was the waterboarding one. If you think
this is hard, try being waterboarded. That's hard. And then, Ian Brennan - our
writer - came up with a ton more. And I think, in the pilot, I say you think
this is hard, I'm living with hepatitis. That's hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you came up with the waterboarding one?

Ms. LYNCH: I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How did you come up with that? What was the context?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, the cheerleaders are in this pyramid and their muscles are
shaking and I'm making them hold it and I'm standing there with a stopwatch.
And on my way to work that day, I was thinking, you know, how can I mock them
and shame them while they're in that horrible, stressful position?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I started thinking about stress positions, which is what they
do, you know, that's part of torture. And then I thought, oh, you know,
waterboarding is much harder than this.

GROSS: Now you got what I think was your big break in movies in the
mockumentary "Best in Show" about…

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: …people who bring their purebred dogs to compete in a dog show.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah.

GROSS: And you play a trainer who's working with a standard poodle and the
owner's trophy wife, his over-the-hill…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: …trophy wife who's had, like, a lot of cosmetic surgery has become your
significant other.

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: And so here's a scene from "Best in Show," in which you're basically
talking to the camera with the trophy wife, who has become very close to you.

(Soundbite of movie, "Best in Show")

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) With Sherri Ann, we have this fantastic
friendship, too. It's really great. And we have a little bit of a family
dynamic going here, and it pretty much mirrors what I grew up with. You know,
my father was the taskmaster.

Ms. JENNIFER COOLIDGE (Actress): (as Sherri Ann Cabot) Which is…

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) The disciplinarian, which is what I do. I'm
the mommy/daddy.

Ms. COOLIDGE: (as Sherri Ann Cabot) Total disciplinarian. Like, Mr. Punishment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) Oh, well, you know, and I also reward. But
Sherri's responsible for the unconditional love, you know, just…

Ms. COOLIDGE: (as Sherri Ann Cabot) And the decorative ability.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) Exactly. The heart and the soul, you know,
which is what my mother did, and that was her job. You know, she was there for
the unconditional love. And it worked for my family, you know, until my mom
committed suicide in '81.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My guest Jane Lynch in a scene from "Best in Show." Was that improvised?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes. Well, yeah. I mean, I remember I was riding in the van on the
way to the location, and that's when I thought of that - about the suicide
thing. Yes.

GROSS: Now, "Best in Show" was directed by Christopher Guest. How did you meet

Ms. LYNCH: I was doing a commercial for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, and he
directed it. I did a lot of commercials like in the, you know, the '90s in Los
Angeles, and I got lucky enough to get into one of his. And he directs
commercials all the time. He loves doing that. And we did it a la Guffman -
"Waiting for Guffman." It was improvised and everything.

And then about three months later, I ran into him at a restaurant, and he was
in the process of casting "Best in Show." And, you know, he said, hey, come to
my office today and, you know, by the end of the day I was, you know, had plans
to go to Vancouver to shoot this. And I was thrilled, because when I saw
"Waiting for Guffman," I about fell out of my seat and, you know, and down on
my knees, please, please let me work this way. This is how I want to work. This
is the way to do it, and this guy's got it down. So I was - it was really a
dream come true - a ridiculous, preposterous dream come true.

GROSS: So what was the Frosted Flakes commercial like?

Ms. LYNCH: We were stalking Tony the Tiger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Myself and my husband, we're standing out in Battle Creek, Michigan
- of course, we shot in Los Angeles, but it was in Battle Creek, Michigan
waiting for Tony to go by. It wasn't a very successful campaign.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: But it was fun to do.

GROSS: And what other commercials did you do?

Ms. LYNCH: I'm best known, Terry, for my work in the Nexium commercial, where
I'm standing on a cliff saying, I am every woman who's ever suffered from acid

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I stopped it before it destroyed the lining of my esophagus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: So that's - I'm best know for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I always wonder if you worry if you do a commercial like that that
people will see you and think acid reflux. What a tragedy. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And then associate my face with it?

GROSS: Exactly. Yeah.

Ms. LYNCH: You know, I was so happy to have the job and to be able to pay my
rent that month. You know, it's, you know, people say why did you that stint on
"Married with Children"? I was like, I jumped up and down when I got that job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: That paid my rent.

GROSS: Now since you played a lesbian in "Best in Show," did people – in that
sense that was the movie that people really noticed you in, in terms of movies.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah.

GROSS: So did people assume that you were lesbian because you played one?

Ms. LYNCH: No, no, not at all. No, no, I don't - you know, I don't think so. I
don't think that happens so much. I think you can play a character and people
don't confuse you that – perhaps you're that way in real life. I mean, nobody
asked Jennifer Coolidge if she was one either. I don't think.

GROSS: But in this case you are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MS. LYNCH: But in this case I am, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, was it an, kind of, inadvertent coming out for you? Were you already
out in the industry?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, I wasn't really known in the industry before "Best in Show,"
and I didn't think twice about portraying a lesbian. Again, I jumped up and
down when I got that job. Yeah - you know what? I didn't think too much about
that at all. I never hid who I was. I also didn't lead with it. I don't feel
like the need to walk into a room and say, you know, as a gay person, I need to
have this, this and this. So, it – and nobody really seemed to care. And if I
lost work or if I lost opportunities because I was gay, it happened behind my
back and I didn't know about it. I've had it really easily - easy, you know.
It's been just very accepted and nobody seems to care.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You said that you had your first gay relationship when you were 20, but
it took 11 or 12 years to actually come out to your family.

Ms. LYNCH: Right, right.

GROSS: Were you out to yourself before you turned 20?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes, yeah. It was reluctant - it was the last thing in the world I
wanted to deal with. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to be. I'm one
of those people who like to tow the line. I don't – as much as I, you know,
love being an actress, I don't like calling attention to myself in that way. I
don't want to be different. I'm not a rebel. I just want to be like everybody
else. So, it was, you know, kind of a reluctant realization in a: Oh, God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: So, yeah. And it took me - you know, I think if I came out to my
parents when I was 18, it would have been a different story. It might have been
harder. But when I was 31 and finally came out, you know, via a letter I wrote
them, it was great. It was wonderful because we were starting to be estranged
to each other because they didn't know about a very fundamental part of who I
was. And so, it was a good thing and it - you know, there was no drama around
it. It was really kind of a lovely moment where we all came together and said,
you know, of course this doesn't mean anything, you know, we still love you.
And it was, you know, it was actually a wonderful moment.

GROSS: Was it helpful to you when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her show?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes, yeah. I think it was helpful for all of us. And I think that's
one of the reasons that I walk such an easy path. She, you know, blazed it for
us. And I know she was kind of reluctant to do that, too. I think it was a big
deal when she came out and it really kind of, you know, it rocked the world and
- I mean, look where she is now. She's got this great show and all these
Midwestern ladies are there, dancing with her. I just - I think it's a great
thing that she did.

GROSS: So, at what phase of your career were you in when Ellen came out?

Ms. LYNCH: I was – it was when I was doing voiceovers in commercials. You know,
I was just a work-a-day actor making a nice living in a, you know, nobody-knew-
my-name type of place, you know. I hadn't done "Best in Show" yet.

GROSS: Voiceovers, what were you doing?

Ms. LYNCH: I did lot of commercial voiceovers. I did, you know, for like
Safeway. I would do – I did announcer copy and then I would do stuff for radio,
you know, with, you know, with a partner - partner reads, as we call them. I
made my living in voiceover for about five or six years and I would do the
occasional on-camera commercial or the occasional guest spot on a sitcom. But
mostly I did - I was, you know, making my living as a voiceover person. I loved
it. It's a great gig. It's a great job.

GROSS: So, what kind of characters were you supposed to represent?

Ms. LYNCH: I kind of have a stock old lady voice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: I have kind of a stock Midwestern mom voice.

GROSS: Can you give us a taste of them?

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah. Make sure you put some tomatoes on the sandwich.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: That's kind of a south side - and then I always did this with my
voice, kind of, like - kind of, an old lady kind of thing and I use it even - I
repeat it even in, you know, when I do guest spots on sitcoms. I have like two
tricks, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I just roll them out.

GROSS: Well, Jane Lynch, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. LYNCH: Sure, thank you.

GROSS: I wish you continued success.

Ms. LYNCH Thank you. I appreciate it.

GROSS: Jane Lynch recorded in November. She co-stars in the Fox TV series
"Glee" as the mean-spirited coach of the cheerleading squad.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
In Memoriam: Activist Poet Dennis Brutus


In the era of South African apartheid, poet Dennis Brutus was a leader of the
movement that succeeded in getting South Africa expelled from the Olympics. He
served 18 months in South Africa’s notorious prison on Robben Island. Nelson
Mandela was one of his fellow prisoners.

Brutus died Saturday at the age of 85. We’re going to listen back to a 1986
interview with him. Here’s a poem he read then called “Sirens, Knuckles,

Mr. DENNIS BRUTUS (Activist; Poet): (Reading) The sounds begin again; the siren
in the night, the thunder at the door, the shriek of nerves in pain. Then the
keening crescendo of faces split by pain, the wordless, endless wail only the
unfree know. Importunate as rain, the wraiths exhale their woe over the sirens,
knuckles, boots, my sounds begin again.

GROSS: Dennis Brutus barely survived the consequences of his anti-apartheid
activism. The government fired him from his job teaching high school English
and banned him from participating in any political or social activities.

In 1963, he was arrested for breaking the ban. When he was released on bail, he
fled to Mozambique. That country’s government returned him to South African
custody. Since no one knew that he had been forcibly returned, he felt the only
way to let people know was to stage an escape in a public place, which is what
he did. During that escape attempt, he was shot in the back by the police.
After he was patched up, he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 months, then
served a year under house arrest.

He signed an exit visa allowing him to leave the country. He moved to the U.S.
in 1970. When I spoke with him, he told me about the aftermath of being shot
during his attempted escape. The bullet went straight through his body.

Mr. BRUTUS: It entered my back and came out of my chest, and had penetrated the
intestines and just missed the heart, which was very serious. I wasn’t sure I
was going to survive. I remember the man who shot me Sergeant Helberg(ph)
saying to me as I lay on the sidewalk on the Main Street in Johannesburg, just
outside the Anglo-American Corporation, which is the great mining conglomerate.
And I lay on the sidewalk and Sergeant Helberg said to me, anyway, Brutus, I
hope you survive. And I say, well, I hope so too. And, in fact, I was taken to
a hospital and then operated on after that.

GROSS: It’s almost surprising that you were given good enough medical treatment
to survive after that.

Mr. BRUTUS: Yes. In fact, it’s just possible that they lost control of the
situation at that time. And so settled into the normal routine, yeah, here’s a
man who was shot, you take him to a hospital, you operate on him and that’s it.
You know, you try and save his life.

There are some complications. The ambulance that came for me, for instance,
this was so macabre that men got out in uniform and they took out a stretcher
and they looked at me and they put their stretcher back and they got back in
the ambulance and they drove off. And I said to Helberg who was beside me, why
are they leaving? I was very alarmed. And he said, well, Brutus, you wouldn’t
want them to lose their job, would you? This is an ambulance for whites, and so
you’ll have to wait for the black ambulance to come along.

And then when it did come, six members of the police got into the ambulance
with me and sat there with notebooks poised and started questioning me about
people that they should contact on my behalf. But clearly, this was in an
effort to get leads. And then perhaps the most Kafkaesque part of it was when
the doctors started operating, the police insisted on being in the operating

And the doctors protested and said, well, look, you’re covered with germs, you
got to be sterile. We can’t have you here. So they said, well, hold it and they
went off and came back all masked and in gloves and covered boots and whatnot,
and they stood there at the table. And the doctors then said, well, we can’t
work with you standing around us. It’s impossible. And they refuse to leave.
And so, I sat up and said that I think these men are hoping to get a statement
out of me perhaps under anesthetic.

So perhaps I should make a statement now and then they would leave you to get
on with the work. So they agreed. And they took out their notebooks. And I
said, well, I regret nothing. I would do this again if necessary because I
think this is an unjust system and that’s all I intend to say. And then they
withdrew to the doorway of the theater and stood there. But I think they gave
up at that point.

GROSS: You were later taken to Robben Island, which is considered the most
hellish of all the prisons in South Africa and it’s supposedly unescapable.
It’s supposed to be escape-proof.

Mr. BRUTUS: Yes. Well, no one has ever escaped. That’s true. Those who manage
to get off the island were usually found dead. Their corpses will be washed up
on the beach of Cape Town subsequently. No one, as far as I know, has succeeded
in escaping and living. And, of course, I spent time there with people like
Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, GovanMbeki, Ahmed Kathrada. We broke stones
together. We were given rocks every day and a hammer and we broke rocks.

GROSS: Could you describe the prison a little bit and why it is so unescapable.

Mr. BRUTUS: Well, it’s heavily guarded, heavily fortified. The wardens were all
white, the prisoners are all black. Automatic rifles, barbed wire, sentry
posts, and helicopters would circle the island. And in fact when I got there, I
was part of a span(ph), this colored team that had to carry rocks out of the
sea and up the beach to build a wall around the island.

And, in fact, one of my poems deals with that because I was so covered with
bruises and I was beaten while I was working that I became a kind of spectacle.
And every evening when we strip, we were required to stand naked outside the

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