Russell Brand seemed a little out of place as the host at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Not because he's British or relatively unknown in America, as most of the chatter was about before Sunday night's show from Los Angeles.
It was because Brand injected the VMAs with blunt politics, self deprecation, unabashed sexuality, and, yes, plenty of off-color remarks.
Didn't he know where he was? The VMAs? In La-La Land?
No, this was no place to voice anything like an opinion on world affairs or joke about young Christian pop stars. This is a place to look cool and thank the almighty for the honor of little moon man statuettes.
Early in his opening monologue, Brand pleaded: "Please, America, elect Barack Obama. On behalf of the world."
Most of the crowd, seemingly caught off guard, cheered, though at least a few pop stars didn't. The camera caught Britney Spears — who in 2003 said citizens should "just trust our president" — sitting quietly.
Partisanship, of course, can hurt sales. But Brand was refreshingly ignorant of many of the concerns that keep the lips of American pop stars zipped. For good measure — and surely stepping over the line — Brand referred to President Bush as "that retarded cowboy fellow."
After all, Brand has built his image on his candor and edginess. He's well-known across the pond as a standup comic, TV show host and radio DJ — but more so as an outlandish and hedonistic figure who speaks unabashedly about his prior drug and sex addictions.
"I'm famous in the United Kingdom," he insisted, as a way to help explain himself and his rock star hairstyle. "My persona don't really work without fame. Without fame, this haircut could be mistaken for mental illness."
Jokes about abstinence upset some
Sashaying around the stage in black leather, heeled shoes and snake skin scarf, Brand seemed to censor himself even less as the night wore on.
He frequently seemed baffled by young America pop culture. Introducing the stars of the upcoming film "Twilight," based on the vampire books, Brand exclaimed, "These books are bloody popular, these `Twilight' books."
Again and again, Brand — a confessed former sex addict — poked fun at young sex and abstinence. Speaking of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter's boyfriend and would-be father, Levi Johnston, Brand sympathized with him: "That is the safe sex message of all time. Use a condom or become a Republican!
"American Idol" champ Jordin Sparks defended them: "I just wanna say, it's not bad to wear a promise ring because not every guy and a girl wants to be a slut, OK?"
Brand responded by apologizing, before slyly offending again by alluding to R. Kelly in an unprintable joke (like many of his).
Perhaps summing up his perspective, he explained, "A bit of sex occasionally never hurt anybody."
Brand surely won at least as many enemies as fans on Sunday night. But in contrast to some of the personality-less pop stars this "American Idol"-crazy country has been producing lately, an import was a welcome change.