Why you should care
In Los Angeles, celebrity encounters are often weird, but when they happen twice and from the business end of a car crash? Stranger than fiction.
Back in the days when people occasionally read words printed on paper, I spent a few years pretending to be a film critic for Alternative Press magazine. In that capacity, I was asked to interview Brit funnyman Russell Brand just prior to the release of his 2010 slapstick turkey Get Him to the Greek. In it, Brand plays drug-addled rock star Aldous Snow — and sings on the movie’s soundtrack. At the time, he had just announced his engagement to pop star Katy Perry. I apparently felt it was my duty to wind up my interviewees whenever possible, so I concluded our conversation by asking Brand if he planned to record a duet with his fiancée.
His verbatim reply: “Never! Never, ever will I do that. Never. If it happens, what I’m gonna do is … OK, I’ve got some allergies. I’ll give you the compound to which I am allergic, and if ever I record that duet with my fiancée, then I would like you to run up to me with a syringe loaded with said compound and inject it right in my eye. And I’ll sign a legal waiver saying that J. Bennett was doing God’s sweet work that day.”
Fast-forward two years: I’m getting rear-ended in West Hollywood. In my car, I mean. A traffic accident in which I was not at fault. I know you were hoping for buggery, but this is not that kind of story.
It all began, as these things do, on Sunset Boulevard. I was on my way to see a friend’s band play a matinee at the Roxy. I was stopped at a light, minding my own business — as usual, I might add — when BAM! I was jolted from my reverie concerning … well, who knows? This happened in early 2012 when Obama was president and most of us didn’t live in a constant state of duress. I was probably daydreaming about rainbows and puppies as opposed to, say, the imminent demise of humanity.
He gave me one of those six-way handshakes … bad enough when it’s two White dudes blocking traffic on Sunset Boulevard but definitely worse when one is a British millionaire.
In any event, I was just a few months post-spinal surgery — spinal surgery No. 2, sadly — so getting rammed from behind wasn’t exactly high on my to-do list. I checked the rearview mirror and saw a black Range Rover smashed up against my bumper.
I’m sure everyone has different strategies for this type of situation, but I employed the one I foolishly used in the mid-’90s when a small-town cop pulled up behind my disabled jalopy, which contained a small but not insignificant amount of contraband and a half-naked woman: I immediately got out of the car and marched over to the vehicle behind mine. Somehow, I lived to tell the tale, which only emboldened me in 2012.
But the point, I think, is this: The driver was mildly terrified. I could see it on his face as he slithered out of the Rover. I’m 6-foot-5 and was walking briskly in his direction. For all he knew he was about to be beaten to death in the middle of the road. But he also knew he was completely at fault and began stammering out an apology.
The first thing I noticed was that he was tall — almost as tall as I am. The next thing I noticed was that his shirt was open, almost down to his navel, and that he was barefoot. Then came the English accent.
Turned out I’d been rear-ended by Russell Brand. Only I didn’t realize it at the time.
“Uh … sorry, mate. Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I think so. You?”
“Well, I feel like a bit of an arsehole for hitting your car.”
“You’re not wearing any shoes.”
“Uh, no. I guess not. Makes this look a bit worse, I reckon. But, uh, it seems like there’s no damage. What do you reckon? Should we just go our separate ways?”
I looked at my car. He was right. I was thinking about my rotten spine — which didn’t seem to hurt any more than usual — but I was also trying to figure out why the guy looked so familiar.
I let a few moments pass before I acquiesced. At which point he gave me one of those six-way handshakes like we’re both from Hollis, Queens. Which is bad enough when it’s two White dudes blocking traffic on Sunset Boulevard but definitely worse when one is a British millionaire who’s not wearing shoes.
I was cringing my way through the handshake when it dawned on me: It’s that comedian. For a hot second, it occurred to me to feign injury and milk his insurance for a tidy, undisclosed sum. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even though nobody would be the wiser — including him, probably — the thought of all the paperwork and lawyers was enough to dissuade me.
So I set off toward the Roxy and hit a side street to find parking. I banged a U-turn and nabbed a spot across the road when I saw the black Land Rover pulling up next to me. Brand rolled down his window and said, “You sure you’re OK, mate?”
Which was thoughtful of him, I have to admit.
The next day, I found out that Brand had finalized his divorce from Katy Perry just five days before the accident. True to his word, he never recorded that duet.