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Why we shouldn't accept James Corden's weak, empty apology

Don't joke about these things, and don't come through with pathetic non-apologies when you do

Why we shouldn't accept James Corden's weak, empty apology
16 October 2017

When allegations were made – and corroborated – against Harvey Weinstein, movie producer and de facto overlord of modern independent cinema, you knew what would follow. You couldn’t help it; a creeping feeling down your spine; one that makes you slump forward and knead your brow. Sure as night follows day, the jokes were coming.

James Corden duly obliged at an A-list, black-tie charity event in Los Angeles for amfAR – an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS and HIV research, prevention, and treatment – with several gags that made light of sexual abuse that spans three decades and two continents.

“This is a beautiful room,” said Corden addressing a room full of millionaires. “It’s a beautiful night here in L.A. So beautiful, Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage.”

The list of allegations against Weinstein grows steadily, including inappropriate requests and comments, sexual coercion, sexual assault and rape, as well as claims the producer either paid-off victims or threatened them with never working in this town again if they talked. His time post-allegation has been spent wildly veering between victim blaming and cowering, blaming everything from industry vendettas to claims of his struggles with sexual addiction in a bid to lessen his role in news that has led to police investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. 

James Corden sucking Sean Spicer’s eyes out of his head (Rex)

Now, James Corden is - for whatever you may think of him, his shtick, his braying laughter, his pleading eyes and begging chumminess - technically a comedian. When he made the move from obnoxious panel show host in Britain to unctuous talk show host in America, Stewart Lee said: “Britain’s loss is America’s loss also.”

His oily flattering of egos - from ex-Trump mouthpiece Sean Spicer to whoever would give him selfie-room - aside, his Stateside transition has seen him try to take up the mantle of Ricky Gervais, a comedian who prides himself on prickling the sensibilities of ‘snowflakes’ only he and his minions can see. “IT’S A JOKE!” says Gervais, when he’s made a joke in bad taste. “LIGHTEN UP!” But in Corden’s case, when he makes a joke like he did at this weekend’s gala, with ink barely dried on dozens of heartfelt admissions from victims of a Hollywood predator, it’s “IT’S A JOKE! PLEASE STILL LOVE ME!”

Corden’s apology is a textbook non-apology from a man who wants to play both sides: appeal to the crass and gleeful men who revel in spiteful humour about things they are not affected by, and the liberal elites and moral arbiters who invite him in good faith to host a charity event raising money for an epidemic which has killed more than 35 million people to date.

In case Corden deletes the above embedded tweets, here’s the script:

“To be clear, sexual assault is no laughing matter. I was not trying to make light of Harvey’s inexcusable behavior, but to shame him, the abuser, not his victims. I am truly sorry for anyone offended, that was never my intention.”

If we break that down:

“To be clear, sexual assault is no laughing matter” implies that the jokes he made were not intended to be funny. In the equation of popular comedy, it is joke + audience = laughter, and one could give Corden the benefit of the doubt on not knowing how comedy works if he didn’t practically beg the audience to not boo him after. “Come on!” he shouts as the crowd groan at gags that will never stop being ‘too soon’. 

“I was not trying to make light of Harvey’s inexcusable behavior, but to shame him, the abuser, not his victims” implies that by eking humour out of the horrifying incidents which will likely traumatise the victims forever, he was somehow empowering them. That is a right which only the victims hold; a lad from Buckinghamshire wholly unaffected by the systematic sexual abuse in an industry he covets (I am not saying don’t go to see James Corden in Peter Rabbit but I am heavily implying it) holds no right to use victims of sexual abuse as a means to dropkick some low-hanging fruit.

“I am truly sorry for anyone offended, that was never my intention” is outright passive-aggression. According to Corden: it is your fault that you were offended, not his, because you have misunderstood the nuance of his joke about luring impressionable young women into very dangerous situations. That his audience - affluent, connected, and very Los Angeles - could have easily contained such victims was clearly not something he was interested in.

Situations like the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein are a chance for men to engage in introspection, a chance to think about how they may have behaved in the past or how their peers behave in the present, the consequences of those actions, and what they are going to do to stop it. It is a chance to support women in the face of powerful men who have little-to-no regard for consent. It is not - categorically fucking not - a chance to knock together hacky jokes aiming to trivialise sexual assault and absolve the wider industry of blame. It is not OK to make jokes about these things just because you tell us - proudly, publically - that you have never done anything like that, that you are not like those bad men. Even if you are innocent, just shut up and let other people talk.

Listen, learn, and reflect: just please… please shut up. 

(Main Image: James Corden at the 2017 Emmy Awards; Rex Features)