Credit: MTV/PictureGroup

When the curtains parted on the giant Flight of the Navigator Laser Vagina on last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, the first thing anybody saw was a figure in a plain white T-shirt frantically smoking a cigarette.

The crowd immediately recognized it as Lady Gaga’s somewhat Italian alter-ego Jo Calderone. Everyone cheered, and why wouldn’t they? Lady Gaga has made a career out of being surprising and unpredictable, and though all Calderone seemed to want to do was recite lines from what appeared to be a one-(wo)man theater show s/he was workshopping, everybody wanted to know what would happen next.

And then it just kept going.

By the time her monologue entered the fourth minute, she had lost the crowd inside the venue, though she won everybody right back with her stout performance of “Yoü and I” (featuring a thrilling cameo on guitar care of Brian May).

But Calderone’s presence didn’t end there. In fact, there were two other segments dedicated to the character: Gaga’s win for (ironically) Best Female Video and the tribute to Britney Spears. What did we learn? A little Jo Calderone goes a long way.

When the opening performance wrapped up, everybody expected Gaga to re-emerge wearing some sort of crazy, ante-upping outfit, perhaps a dress made entirely out of cheese, or just a series of live ferrets stapled together. On the one hand, it’s pretty sly of her to subvert expectations like that. On the other hand, it would have been better had she found a way to subvert those expectations in a way that didn’t involve an inconsistent, low-rent accent.

It was most problematic during the Britney tribute. That whole sequence was relatively underwhelming (the dancing was good, but you couldn’t get anybody to sing a Britney song or two?), but it got especially bad when Spears actually went on stage to collect her Moonman.

As EW’s Adam B. Vary pointed out, there was only one way to describe what Gaga was doing: mugging. Spears herself barely had time to talk, and Gaga’s speech beforehand about masturbating to posters of Britney came across as strangely insincere, if only because it was difficult to tell which persona was actually talking to us. The confused crowd just sort of tuned out.

The people sitting in the Nokia Theater didn’t exactly hate Jo Calderone, but they didn’t really know what to do with her either.

What did you think? Did it work for you, or should she have shifted back to Lady Gaga (or, dare we say it, to Stefani Germanotta) during the Spears tribute? Sound off on Jo Calderone in the comments!

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