Russell Brand's VMA hosting gig: Career suicide or star-making turn?

Russellbrandvma_lLet me see if I understand the rules: If you’re an American celebrity, it’s permissible to criticize the president, but not if you do it overseas (see: Dixie Chicks). Now, it appears, there’s a converse rule: It’s also not permitted for a foreign celebrity to come to our shores and criticize our president and tell us how to vote. Judging by the firestorms that have erupted on our comment boards (here and here), that’s the gist of the complaint against VMA host Russell Brand (pictured) for his blunt political advocacy during his opening monologue and throughout last night’s show. In particular, he urged Americans to vote for Barack Obama and called George W. Bush a "retarded cowboy" who, in the U.K., wouldn’t be trusted with even a pair of scissors. (Doesn’t he know that you can’t say "retarded" in this country anymore?) The anti-Brand complaint seems to be: You have no right to come over here from Limeyland to tell us how to vote or to mock our president — that’s our job. Then again, many commenters thought Brand was hilarious and spoke truth to power.

Brand also courted controversy by repeatedly making fun of the Jonas Brothers’ virginity pledges (and using them as an excuse to make teen pregnancy jokes about Bristol Palin and her fiancee). He issued a sort of non-apology apology about that later in the show, as if someone had twisted his arm backstage, but then threw in an R. Kelly joke, as if to say he wasn’t repentant at all. Finally, in stepping on Robert Pattinson’s introductory remarks, he alienated untold numbers of loyal Twilight fans.

Now, while I actually agree with most of what Brand said about politics, even I thought his remarks were tacky. So were his jibes at the Jonas Brothers (though Jordin Sparks’ response, that promise rings are okay because "not every guy and a girl wants to be a slut," was equally tacky). Still, complaining about tackiness at an MTV production is as futile as complaining about lip-synching or product placement. And Brand’s political remarks seemed to play well in the room. Which is why I predict that his controversial emceeing turn may actually have done him more good than harm.

Brand has a history of destroying his career through his own outrageous behavior, and if public sentiment is any guide, he could have done it again last night. But the Hollywood types in attendance on the Paramount lot last night seemed to enjoy him, and their opinion may matter more than ours in terms of his job prospects. Besides, last night’s VMAs were as mediocre as ever, but no one can stop talking about Brand, who two days ago was a virtual unknown in America. He’ll certainly be a solid test case for the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Tell us, PW-ers, did Brand commit career suicide last night, or will his controversial performance serve as the calling card that lands him bigger and better gigs on this side of the pond?

addCredit(“Russell Brand; Kevin Winter/Getty Images”)

Comments (1880 total) Add your comment
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  • Stef

    Quit WHINING Gary! EVERYONE in Hollywood bashes the president. What are you talking about, ‘it’s not allowed’? Who are you kidding? It’s practically the status quo; maybe some people are just sick of it.

  • tj1968

    It’s the MTV VMA’s not CNN or PBS, it’s supposed to be controversial. Maybe if the last 2 ceremonies weren’t such a snooze people wouldn’t be so shocked.
    If you’re offended, then he’s not for you. Oh well, flip the channel and have fun watching something else.
    He actually MC’d the event, rather than just reading boring script, he rolled with the punches and made it interesting.

  • Huffybike
  • Stef

    Sorry, Gary, I think I was a little harsh.

  • karen b

    Not suicide at all. Unlike many of the teenyboppers (who seem to be sensitive about things named Jonas and purity rings), I thought he was an absolute stitch! Better than those so called ‘live performances’. Does anyone else remember Jovi singing with laryngitis 20 years ago? That was a performance!!!

  • Gretchen Weiners

    Russell Brand already has a career in Britain where the general sense of humor is much dryer and lighter than it is here. This will have no effect on him what-so-ever. I’m Switzerland about his performance. The whole show sucked.

  • Matt

    I thought Brand was awesome. It goes to show that Bush is hated all over the world. The whole world wants a change.

  • fab

    There is so many retarded people in the US and in all the other countries in the world!If you are retarded you should be called retarded! And a joke is a joke! How boring would the world be if everybody was PC???no south park no Familly guy no Dave chapelle no chris Rock…no HBO, NO Laughter no FUN!

  • Michael Kauffman

    I could handle a little one-sided humor IF it was funny. What a waste of my time… glad I flipped to Entourage. And where were they filming? The Sheraton Century City ballroom?

  • Rico Bach

    My comment? The VMA’s are irrelevant, MTV is irrelevant, Pop music is irrelevant, and Russell “Jesse Camp of the week” Brand is irrelevant. Most pathetic of all, however… snarky liberal entertainment bloggers who make a living by actually documenting this flash in the pan nonsense.

  • arryana

    free speech isn’t just for US citizens…unless the current administration changed things overnight. we make fun of the royal family all the time so if we can give it, we should be good sports and take it, no? btw, i don’t think it was career suicide.

  • Melissa

    I thought Brand did a great job. He was the only thing interesting on that otherwise insufferable show. Hopefully the backlash won’t harm his career, cause that kind of irreverency is welcome in my livingroom and I want to see more of it. I was cracking up at his subtle sarcasm describing each performance and presenter as fabulous and wonderful and what a great show it was. I don’t even know who the heck the Jonas Brothers are but I was fine with him taking a shot at the Disneyfication of MTV. As for his political comments, I hate to say this but he probably knows more about the election and the candidates than the majority of registered voters in this country. Myself included.

  • katie g

    as a non American, living in a world so completly affected by the American government, I think Brand’s jokes came from desperation.
    PLEASE stop electing these neo-con politicians who only alienate you further from the rest of the world.
    …and I concur with these other comments
    it’s the MTV awards – aren’t they SUPPOSED to be controversial?

  • Em

    I really couldn’t care less about what Russell Brand had to say. In fact, I wasn’t paying attention, because I was trying to figure out his hair. Yuck!

  • Nunnya

    I am a Repub and while I cringed at Brand’s comments…what else is new? What I couldn’t figure is out was MTV having 15 year old performers and artists sitting in the audience…while having an R-rated host.

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