It came as Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asked him to repeat the part of the oath where he essentially says he knows what he's getting himself in to. And the 39th governor of the state (who was also the 34th), couldn't help himself.
"I take this obligation freely," said Brown, who then slowed down in the next phrase: "Without. Any. Mental Reservation." The crowd picked up on it and laughed.
"Really!" he said. "No mental reservations!" They ate it up.
And yet, there was no mistaking that Governor Brown was serious: he wants the job. I asked him about that afterwards as a horde of media and well-wishers watched him and First Lady Anne Gust Brown dash through midday traffic as they crossed from the site of the event to their new weeknight studio loft in downtown Sacramento.
"Daunting, but exhilarating," said the governor in his quick assessment of the challenges that lie ahead.
Brown's inauguration was short and to the point; a choir, the Pledge of Allegiance, the oath, and a brief speech. It stood in stark contrast to the 2007 inauguration of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same building.
In a sense, the changing of the guard felt like switching the channel from a Hollywood blockbuster to reality TV. No more fantastic special effects; just a guy at a podium and the gritty truth.
"No more empty promises," the governor pledged when it comes to the state's ailing finances.
Brown also made many references to his family's long Golden State lineage, so many that at times it felt as though he was giving a history lecture. But the 72-year-old Democrat, scion of the state's most well-known political family, found a way to take that history and make it relevant to the here and now.
"We can overcome the sharp divisions that leave our politics in perpetual gridlock," said Brown. "But only if we reach into our heart and find that loyalty, that devotion to California above and beyond our narrow perspectives."
And that, more than anything, seems to symbolize what's in store for the governor's early days back inside the state Capitol. Democrats reacted, not surprisingly, warmly to Brown's ascension and his call for unity. Republicans also applauded the plea for compromise, but instantly lashed out at any talk of t-xes as part of the way forward.
Perhaps the best thought I heard today came from journalist Peter Schrag, the longtime observer of California politics who knew Jerry Brown back at the very beginning. Schrag said that Brown may have finally found the perfect time to be governor -- the perfect time to preach both his long-held belief in an era of limits as well as the endless possibility of the California of innovation and dreams... as Brown himself called it today, "the great exception."
And the new governor is, himself, a great exception... to the protocol of being governor. This afternoon, he was seen scarfing down a free hot dog on the Capitol lawn.