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Friday, December 2, 2022

The Dangers of Being Likeable: James Corden and the Case

Since the story of Humpty Dumpty, an egg has never caused such a chaotic scene.

James Corden went on his talk show last night to do the kind of damage control that was formerly reserved for offensive remarks or acts of adultery. This came after he was reprimanded for annoyingly complaining about an omelette order at the restaurant Balthazar in Manhattan. The incident occurred one week and countless news cycles ago.

You could tell it was serious since he didn’t start out by joking jokes but instead showed two different pictures of his elderly parents sitting in the crowd. This is a classic way to humanise the situation. After that, he got down to the business of confessing, putting on a solemn expression while expressing his sincere remorse about the awful conduct he had shown against the wait staff.

This seems like something a spoiled antagonist from a John Hughes movie would say. It is patently unacceptable conduct. As someone who used to work as a busboy, I well get the boiling anger that it inspires. And despite this, what came next was a touch excessive. Corden’s acts were reported on by a large number of media sites, his sins were explained in length in explainers, and they were called out in think pieces. The internet criticised Corden as if he were a war criminal. After that, the proponents of the devil spoke out. Restaurant owners defended Corden in The New York Post, saying that he had been lovely to them, leaving generous tips and singing with bartenders, and never once pelting a sous chef with a pastry. These statements were made in response to the allegations that Corden had assaulted an employee with a pastry.

It was simply another day in the internet-driven media, when the requirements of algorithms often lead to the meting out of celebrity justice. However, similar to the majority of such kerfuffles, it sheds light on vulnerable areas within the culture as well as on the fragilities that have always been there. The context is that Corden is a part of a late-night environment that is going through a transition or perhaps a crisis at the moment, and he wants to stand aside from his programme sometime in the next year.

Corden is not at all like other people in any way. He is a talented performer who has starred on Broadway for many years. Because of his performance in the hit play “One Man, Two Guvnors,” for which he won a Tony Award, he was able to land the late-night job, and his most recent drama could be seen as a callback to the comic high point of that show, in which his character desperately tries to help an inept waiter. As it so happens, he won the Tony Award for his role in the play. But his talk-show identity, like that of the eternally boyish Jimmy Fallon, did not depend on his comedic and musical abilities; rather, it rested on how he uses them to look like a standard-issue darling. This is similar to how Jimmy Fallon’s persona has remained unchanged throughout his career.

The fact that Corden doesn’t seem to be the type of guy who would embarrass a waiter over an egg on television is one of the reasons why this very little dispute concerning him has gained traction. More like a person who thinks that making a poor joke about eggs is an adorable way to express himself.

It has always been necessary for talk-show presenters to be likeable, but they also need to have other qualities such as inventiveness, funny jokes, political or even journalistic acumen, and the capacity to emotionally connect with their audience. David Letterman gained a reputation for being harsh, which, whether it was merited or not, was part of his attraction to certain viewers. Johnny Carson, on the other hand, was far too removed from his audience to be considered sympathetic. Even Corden’s predecessor, Craig Ferguson, depended on a certain rogue-like appeal in his performance. The hosts who are more politically inclined, such as John Oliver or Seth Meyers, would not benefit from a controversy involving them shouting at a maitre d’, but I highly doubt that it would generate as much of a stir as it has in the past.

This same topic is the subject of a stand-up performance that John Mulaney is now taking on the road. “Likability is a prison,” he argues. Of course, unlikeability is also a factor in the equation. It’s likely that the best course of action for a host of a talk show is to establish a balance between their public and private selves so that the two are as similar as feasible. And if for some reason you are unable to show respect to the persons who are handling your meal, be sure to leave an extraordinarily generous tip.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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