When it comes to trends, forecasts and fashions, it is widely accepted that where the US leads, the rest of the world follows. In one area, however, it can be said with some confidence that Britain has always been ahead of the pack. For years in the US, James Corden was regarded as a fun personality, a late-night host with a cheeky, undemanding appeal. If David Letterman was creepy, and Jimmy Kimmel was smug, good old Corden, with his giggly persona and wide-eyed interview technique, was a charming presence in an unappetising field. This week, however, he repaired to celebrity jail for being rude to waiters at a restaurant – and there are lots of Brits, with the superiority of a people with literally nothing else to boast about, who could say, we knew. We always knew.
The restaurant in question didn’t emerge from the episode exactly covered in glory, either. To recap for those busy having a meaningful life: on Monday, the owner of Balthazar, a New York brasserie beloved by media people, celebrities and tourists, posted a tirade on his Instagram feed detailing two instances of Corden being rude in his restaurant. In June, wrote Keith McNally, Corden was “extremely nasty” to the manager after demanding his round of drinks be comped because he’d found a hair in his food.
Then, earlier this month, Corden revisited the restaurant. The star of Gavin & Stacey and Peter Rabbit sent back a dish to the kitchen because, per McNally’s account, his wife’s “egg yolk omelette” had “a little bit of egg white” in it. When the replacement dish appeared, the wrong side dish – fries, not salad – was served to Corden’s wife, triggering an epic meltdown by the comedian which is said to have included the lines, “You can’t do your job! You can’t do your job!” and, “Maybe I should go into the kitchen and cook the omelette myself.” In retelling the story, McNally described Corden as “a hugely gifted comedian, but a tiny cretin of a man. And the most abusive customer to my Balthazar servers since the restaurant opened 25 years ago.” He banned him from ever using the restaurant again. (Corden hasn’t yet commented on any of this in public.)
Put aside, for a moment, the question of what’s the deal with an egg yolk omelette; if Corden’s outburst was anything like described, it was clearly deeply unpleasant, with behavioural roots going all the way back to his ungracious acceptance speech for Gavin & Stacey at the Baftas in 2008. British people remember this, as we remember what the French did in 1066. Freshly famous, Corden jumped up on stage and rather than thanking his agent and co-stars, said, “How can what is apparently the best comedy performance and the television programme of the year not even be nominated as a comedy?” He later apologised, in his memoir and elsewhere, writing, ruefully, that “rather than using my speech to thank everyone who’d helped on the show, I’d ruined the moment and belittled myself in the process”.
He apologised this time, too. And here we reach the part of the story where I feel if not exactly sorry for Corden, then sorry for all of us for being privy to a sordid exchange that should never have been made public in the first place. A day after his Insta post, McNally posted again. His staff had been “very shaken” he’d written on Monday, but now, he reported, “James Corden just called me and apologised profusely. Having fucked up myself more than most people, I strongly believe in second chances.” He went on, “Anyone magnanimous enough to apologise to a deadbeat layabout like me (and my staff) doesn’t deserve to be banned from anywhere. Especially Balthazar. So Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Corden, Jimmy Corden. All is Forgiven. Xx”
Ugh. Hard to call who’s worse, the spoilt celebrity or the craven restaurateur – although the kisses at the end of that post really make one have to fight to keep down one’s egg yolk omelette. To my amazement I find myself vaguely sympathising with Corden, but only because, to paraphrase Nora Ephron, you can make anyone seem stupid by asking them a stupid question or quoting what they say to a waiter. One might suspect Balthazar of a sophisticated ploy for publicity, but that probably overestimates them. There’s no moral to the story, here, other than that celebrity corrupts, celebrity-adjacence also corrupts, and does anyone have a list of punitively improving novels to cleanse the whole episode from our minds?
Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist
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