But that all could change Sunday, when Brand hosts the MTV Video Music Awards - the TV institution that lured millions of viewers with Britney Spears' fumbled comeback last year and her fabled kiss with Madonna before that. Brand said he has no intentions to hijack the awards for his own promotional purposes, but he knows the show will serve as his introduction to a broad American audience.
"It's amazing, because obviously I'm not known in this country, so it's a really unusual situation to be in," said the 33-year-old, noting that past hosts have been "really, really famous." "I think I'd be insane if I wasn't anxious, although I've clinically been declared insane on several occasions. Perhaps my slight apprehension is a mark of my return to sanity."
Brand might not be exaggerating about his diagnosis. At home he's known for his hedonistic tendencies and drug-addled past, and he sought treatment for drug addiction and sex addiction. He detailed his storied history in "My Booky Wook," a memoir that was a best-seller in Britain and is due to be published in the U.S. in February.
A movie version of his story has already been greenlit, but the film has been put on hold while Brand juggles other projects, including shaping his American image.
"I was just advised that this is not the right time to do that due to the content," he said. "Also, because really I'm getting a lot of offers to play a lot of other people and I play myself" in the movie. "Maybe that isn't the best way for the people in America to get to know me because that book is kind of candid in some places."
Besides, Brand's schedule is packed. He'll appear with Adam Sandler and Keri Russell in the Christmas family film "Bedtime Stories." He's also co-writing and starring in a film Sandler will produce next year, Brand said. He's reprising his "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" role in "Get Him to the Greek," a film based on his rock-star character, Aldous Snow. He's got another book in the works, and he's keeping up with his weekly newspaper column, radio show and standup gigs back home.
"My entire life is utterly defined by work and activity," he said. "Luckily I work with really talented and well-organized people, otherwise I think I would become ill.
This week, though, his focus is on the MTV Video Music Awards, where he hopes to create a "celebratory" vibe that keeps the spotlight on the performers and winners.
"The focus will only come on to me if spontaneity ensues," he said. "It would be shortsighted and narcissistic for me to make it about me, although inevitably I will a bit."
It's Brand's undeniable charm and knack for spontaneous comedy that inspired MTV to tap the relative unknown as host of its banner awards show, said MTV Networks Music Group President Van Toffler.
"He is both cerebral and straight-ahead lowbrow in the same sense, and he's really got a great take on American culture," Toffler said. "For us it's similar to the first year we had Chris Rock and Arsenio Hall. They were kind of about to bust wide open. (They) weren't huge household names, but they definitely brought the edge and the unpredictability."
Rihanna, the Jonas Brothers, T.I. and Pink are among the performers set to appear on the live show, which begins at 9 p.m. EDT. Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Phelps are set to present awards. Spears will make an appearance, and other surprises are planned, though Brand won't offer any hints.
"I'm hoping that spontaneity will play a part," he said. "When you hear some of the performances that they've got planned, there's so much technical precision required. How on Earth are they going to do that? Surely something is going to catch fire."
It might just be Brand's American image.