THE BLOG

Russell Brand in the Middle East... Or Not?

07/12/2013 20:07 GMT | Updated 06/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Standing outside a mental health clinic in Israel, with a Jesus costume in one hand and a camera in the other, I'm struck by a thought: if the burly security guards patrolling the perimeter find me, will they call the cops or have me committed?

"Why are you here?" they'd ask.

"Because of Russell Brand" I'd say.

Even I'm beginning to question my sanity.

I'm standing outside the Kfar Sha'ul Mental Health Center in Jerusalem. It specialises in treating people with messiah complex. That's when people believe they are the son of God. It's also the name of Russell Brand's latest stand-up show.

Brand has been touring the world with Messiah Complex. He even announced a string of dates in the Middle East which, for a show about religion and revolution, seems a rather apt location.

So why am I here? First in line for tickets? Unfortunately, I never got the chance. Shortly after promoting these shows to the world's media, he cancelled them. The reason given? "Security concerns." That doesn't mean he's worried someone might nick his wallet.

In a BBC radio interview, Brand explained that owing to the controversial nature of the show, the venues had received threats from extremists and his "safety could no longer be guaranteed."

So, then, why am I here hanging around hospitals in the Holy Lands? Because I'm about to do something very very stupid. Russell Brand won't perform his show in the Middle East. So I've decided to do it for him.

In a few hours I'll be on stage in Palestine - Bethlehem in the West Bank to be precise - performing the Messiah Complex live to a room full of Palestinians, and anyone else who's interested in seeing a comedy show that Russell Brand has deemed too dangerous for the Middle East.

So perhaps the burly health centre security guards in Jerusalem have a point. Maybe I am a little bit crazy.

But I'd like to think that, wherever you are in the world, humour is a universal human trait. When it comes from a place of love, not the offensive 'Ahmed The Terrorist' nonsense of people like Jeff Dunham, comedy can be a powerful way to examine our beliefs - not cynically or narrow-mindedly oppose them. Fundamentalism is a story we've become so accustomed to hearing in 'Western' media, we've stopped questioning it. Even when we're told that celebrity comedy shows are the target.

This is the beginning of a tour which will take me to Beirut and Abu Dhabi - the other cities Brand cancelled - to discover the meaning of free speech and our perceptions of each other.

I'm just hoping I don't die on stage tonight - literally...