James Corden told the New York Times last week that he would address his “behaving-badly-at-a-restaurant” scandal on his show on Monday. As noted on Friday, he seemed defensive and deflective in that NYT interview but, as we know, people change on camera. Hosting a talk show is a performance. But in this case he would be required to perform an apology. How did he do?
Before we get to that, Amy McCarthy wrote a piece for Eater this week about “Why We Can’t Get Enough of Celebrities Behaving Badly at Restaurants” and the cultural psychology behind the compulsion to share in and savour these stories. Amy points out that if there’s anything we can all agree on in these polarising times, long before the pandemic, being a dick to staff at a restaurant is universally accepted to be a dealbreaker. In these still-COVID times, however, with the pandemic’s effect on the hospitality industry and overwhelming staff shortages, this shared belief has become even more entrenched. On top of all that, every day there are headlines about whether or not we’re heading into a recession. Here in Canada, inflation is a daily conversation. In the UK there’s a cost of living crisis. And then we have James Corden, who hasn’t had to worry about these issues in the immediate, enjoying what is more and more becoming a privileged experience (dining out) and committing multiple infractions against hospitality workers.
Onto his apology then… well…it wasn’t the worst celebrity apology we’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a non-apology, which happens too often with celebrities. And I can defend him on some of his rationalisations because this is television, it’s talk television, so you do have to go into detail when you’re describing a situation – it’s part of the job of making TV: you have to fill the time and provide information. You also can’t assume that the people who watch television have been living online for a week and know all the angles of what happened. That said, there were times where it did sound like he was going right up to the line of justification, like when he explained that they got his wife’s order wrong three times, and his assurance that she’s fine, that she has an allergy but that we needn’t worry, she’s OK, nothing happened to her… which… I mean that’s bringing the hypothetical to the forefront, right? As in – my wife could have been seriously hurt, OK? And you lot are out here yelling at me for yelling at the server?
Only he was also rather pointed about how he didn’t raise his voice, but he was rude. But it would have been ruder if he was shouting. Part of his apology then was a self-lessening of his own breach. That probably doesn’t score well on the apology report card. And then he brought up some tweets that were critical of him, and I suppose you could argue that that was comedy, that it was self-deprecating, that he was inviting people to laugh at him for bringing this heat on himself. And yet… you could also read that as a call for sympathy: look how mean people are being to me, the internet is cruel.
It is cruel. People are cruel. We are too cruel to each other. James could have been kinder to the staff; the internet could have been kinder to him; and maybe the kindest thing for everyone would be to end this here and not give it any more energy.
From a pop culture perspective though, this is an entertainer whose brand was kindness and fun and who’s been in the spotlight for a week for actions that would seem to betray those brand ideals. I’m not sure this is a major dent in James Corden’s reputation. But I do think that from a public relationship perspective, he may need to pay more attention to certain sensitivities that he didn’t have to worry about a week ago.
And, of course, Keith McNally, the owner of Balthazar, who started all this in the first place, has weighed in. He was joking about it on the weekend with this trolling post:
(UPDATE: He has now removed this post)
And now he’s claiming to put it all to bed now, too.