Sarah Sands: Insult America, Russell, but please make sure it's funny

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The Independent Online

The Americans are the least cynical people on earth, someone remarked to me recently. And so we send over Russell Brand, a comically depraved figure, an MTV Byron, who lewdly insults a virgin boy band and takes on the most powerful figure in the world, the US President.

The response to Brand's performance as master of ceremonies at the MTV awards has divided along party lines. The rednecks in the British press howled that Brand was an unwashed oddball who had no place in polite society, as if that were not exactly his point. Brand's anarchic world view is the foundation of his charm.

Asked by MTV to return in 2009, because there is no such thing as bad publicity, Brand mused about turning down the offer. "I spent a lot of time suppressing the urge to scream a career-ending remark during the show," he said.

Brand should know. He was previously fired from MTV for turning up to work dressed as Osama bin Laden just after the attacks of 11 September. He has indeed been mad, bad and dangerous to know. Of course the MTV awards was an abuse of hospitality. Sympathetic blogs say that the Americans are just as rude about the British but I have found little evidence of this.

Apart from a few weak jokes about George III, they keep their counsel. Maybe some have difficulty locating us, but on the whole I put the reticence down to good manners. US comedians certainly have a degree of humility lacking here. On Mock the Week last week, an American comedian qualified his observations about British-based current affairs with the endearing apology, "I am new in town". The British panellists, by contrast, behave like natives of Capitol Hill.

It is broadly true that a greater sense of graciousness is demanded of powerful nations than smaller ones. It was an abuse of position for President Putin to talk of punching Georgia in the face. Americans must put up with being patronised and insulted by the rest of the world.

Much is written about American arrogance in failing to understand other cultures and political systems but I have experienced a touching and absurd sense of relativism. I remember the American NGO worker in the Horn of Africa telling me about her multicultural women's groups. "Who is to say that divorce is any worse than female circumcision or polygamy?" she asked me, failing to meet my eye.

I work for an American-owned company and last week a group of focused and highly toned women in white shirts and pant suits called in to discuss digital developments, before moving on to Paris. I hope they are not still at St Pancras.

There had been a slight lull in business because, as they said, their eyes modestly lowered in the manner of my NGO worker, their sympathy strained, "Europe was kind of closed during the summer."

Russell Brand is not diplomat Sir Nigel Sheinwald. A comedian's first responsibility is to be funny. My objection to his MTV appearance was that it was not sharp enough. As a New York blogger put it: " We've heard our president is a retard so often it no longer surprises or amuses us." Compare Brand's slow and muffled jokes to those of Jay Leno or David Letterman or Conan O'Brien – or Jimmy Kimmel, who reported, "a sad incident at Toys R Us today – a Sarah Palin doll shot My Little Pony". Funnier than Brand's rambling political broadcast, don't you think?

Sarah Sands is editor-in-chief of British 'Reader's Digest'