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In Defence of James Corden

Greg Halliwell discusses the nature of the contention behind James Corden and whether it is really deserved.

I fear this may not be a popular article, but here goes. Such is the scale of the bitterness of the internet and media against James Corden, that a naïve observer might wonder just how many ungodly atrocities the London-born comedian had committed in order to emerge as such a beacon of revulsion and loathing. Upon the announcement this month of his departure from a very successful stint as host of the US talk show ‘The Late Late Show,’ congratulations were sparsely hidden amid a slew of derogatory remarks, ‘praise the lords’, and Brits encouraging America to ‘keep him.’ The internet has long campaigned against Corden, including a petition to ban him from appearing in the film adaptation of ‘Wicked,’ attracting 60,000 signatures. Social media is equally spiteful; Twitter user DirtbikeCollins goes as far as to say he has ‘all the appeal of a dog fart in a pub.’ Bold.

So what crimes has Corden committed since he crossed the pond to foster this level of hate? Well, on the surface, his stint in the US has been stunningly successful. Corden refined the format and scope of his show, adopting a more British layout, and very energetic interview style. He refined the art of the US talk show to suit his own brand of entertainment, and found himself able to attract a quality of guests more commonly routed to the bigger late-night slots. But, like Jimmy Fallon, it is his shift of focus to features and games tailor-made for the internet that has brought him the most success. It is easy to forget that for a time, a few years back, the ‘Carpool Karaoke’ series of videos was perhaps the biggest thing on the internet; the edition with Adele as guest has amassed over 250 million views on YouTube. The success of the format was driven not just by the presence of big stars but the personality, energy, and amiability of Corden, which allowed the stars to express themselves in ways most talk shows struggle to achieve.

So where did it go so wrong? Well, there is no disputing his most incredible talent of worming his way into just about every corner of popular culture. His forays into musical theatre and film draw particular attention. On the face of it again, he has been very successful, winning Olivier and Tony awards for his role in the straight play ‘One man, Two Guv’nors’, and a Golden Globe nomination for his role in musical film ‘The Prom’. But his involvement in 2019’s unintentional horror movie ‘Cats’ was beyond a low point and has, more than anything, earned him a reputation as a cheap fallback option for directors looking to bolster the number of celebrities in a picture.

But perhaps part of the deeper problem is Corden’s style of comedy. He has become a sort of ‘comedic Coldplay’; a figure who everyone loves to hate in spite of continued popularity and success. Corden’s brand of humour can often be low brow, based on his general air of silliness, extraversion, and preparedness to embarrass himself in front of his audience. The inflated version of ourselves we present to others on the internet wants to believe we are above that – that we have a more mature and refined taste in entertainment than the Corden-consuming masses. Comparable perhaps is the continued success of the even lower-brow sitcom ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’, which attracts more hate than a Tory boy in Wadham, yet continues to draw massive viewing figures. Though we deny it, most of us are not above silliness and wacky humour and old Irish women saying ‘Feck!’ every 5 seconds. Nor are we above a middle-aged cockney man masquerading as Cinderella in traffic on a crosswalk. Perhaps we should stop pretending we are for the sake of massaging our internet egos.

Corden is certainly a victim of the cynicism of the uptight modern media consumer, fighting an unending battle against the armchair cynics and cultured critics. But he is effortlessly entertaining and an excellent Maître D of late-night TV, and that surely should count for something. I hope, on his inevitable return to the UK, we drop the pessimism and enjoy the energy and fun that Corden brings. 

Image credit: iDominick / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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