The eggs are a problem again, but this time not for James Corden. The comic actor and host of The Late Late Show on CBS in the United States is having breakfast in the Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges in Manhattan when he overhears another patron at a nearby table curtly rebuking a waiter about the meal she had ordered. The eggs, it seems, are not to her liking.
Corden shoots a conspiratorial glance across his own table to a New York Times reporter he is dining with and quietly says: “Happens every day. It’s happening in 55,000 restaurants as we speak. It’s always about eggs.”
More archly, he adds, “Can you imagine now, if we just blasted her on Twitter? Would that be fair? This is my point. It’s insane.”
I feel so Zen about the whole thing. Because I think it’s so silly. I just think it’s beneath all of us
The original goal of this conversation, to which Corden and his press representatives had agreed at the start of the month, had been to talk about a new Amazon Prime Video miniseries, called Mammals, that he is starring in, and his coming departure from The Late Late Show, which he will leave next year after a tenure of more than eight years.
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But that agenda was largely blown up when Keith McNally, the powerful American restaurateur who prolifically shares his often controversial opinions on social media, wrote in an Instagram post that he had banned Corden as a customer. Citing reports from his managers, McNally said that Corden had berated the staff at his New York restaurant, in SoHo, for errors with his meals, including one in which Corden’s wife had ordered an egg-yolk omelette that arrived with some egg white.
McNally wrote that Corden “is 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”.
McNally wrote in a later Instagram post that Corden had apologised to him. “All is Forgiven,” McNally said, adding, “I strongly believe in second chances.” He wrote that “anyone magnanimous enough to apologize to a deadbeat layabout like me (and my staff) doesn’t deserve to be banned from anywhere”.
But his initial post had already been widely circulated, puncturing the British entertainer’s image as a genial master of ceremonies and encouraging other social-media users to resurface past accusations of rude public behaviour by Corden.
At breakfast, after a long interview in which Corden variously says that the debate about him is not worth acknowledging and that he is likely to address it in Monday’s broadcast of The Late Late Show, he defiantly declares that he does not want credit for going ahead with what could have been — and often is — an awkward conversation.
“I haven’t done anything wrong, on any level,” he says. “So why would I ever cancel this? I was there. I get it. I feel so Zen about the whole thing. Because I think it’s so silly. I just think it’s beneath all of us. It’s beneath you. It’s certainly beneath your publication.”
To American viewers who largely became aware of Corden when he took over as the Late Late Show host in March 2015, he has come to be seen as an aggressively affable star. He has helped to reinvigorate his laid-back late-night franchise with signature segments such as Carpool Karaoke, and he has handled hosting duties for the Grammy Awards and Tony Awards. Even his onscreen misfires, such as a role in the abhorred 2019 film adaptation of Cats, did little to impede his career trajectory.
Mammals, which makes its debut in November, is a prestige TV project and a pivot away from Corden’s good-natured Late Late Show persona. This miniseries, written by Jez Butterworth (the author of acclaimed plays such as Jerusalem and The Ferryman), is a darkly comic exploration of marital fidelity that also stars Melia Kreiling, Sally Hawkins and Colin Morgan. (Corden’s character, as it happens, is a chef — one who has a moment of personal revelation when, as a lowly subordinate cook, he tells off a superior chef who has been cruel to him and his kitchen staff.)
Corden first gained attention in Britain for his performances in plays such as The History Boys and for helping to create the hit TV comedy Gavin & Stacey, in which he also costarred. He has grappled with accusations of rude behaviour before.
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In a 2011 memoir titled Can I Have Your Attention, Please? Corden wrote candidly of a period surrounding the runaway success of Gavin & Stacey when he was failing with other follow-up projects, behaving rudely to colleagues and being called out by one of his sisters for his boorishness. Corden recounted that she had told him there were quite a few times when he had “nearly squandered everything” he had “strived so hard for” because of his behaviour.
Corden also wrote of an incident at a 2008 awards show when, after he received a comedy acting trophy and Gavin & Stacey won an audience award, he had used an acceptance speech to complain that the show had not been nominated in the best sitcom category. Castigating himself after the fact for his “huge sense of entitlement”, Corden wrote, “I can see why and how it must have looked — ungracious, ungrateful and brattish.”
McNally’s Instagram post painted a picture of a privileged celebrity who had not changed much in the intervening years. In one manager’s report, Corden was described as being “extremely nasty” after he said he had found a hair in his food, demanding free drinks to be placated. A second report on the egg-yolk-omelette meal said that Corden “began yelling like crazy” after the restaurant tried to remedy its initial mistake on his wife’s order with a replacement dish that included home fries instead of the salad she had requested.
At breakfast Corden does not give his own account of what had happened in these incidents or discuss whether he had apologised. At first he parries any discussion of McNally’s posts or the reaction to them. Asked if he is feeling all right, Corden cagily says: “About what? What do you mean?”
When asked directly if he is aware of the conversation about him that McNally’s posts has initiated, Corden says: “I haven’t really read anything. It’s strange. It’s strange when you were there. I think I’m probably going to have to talk about it on Monday’s show. My feeling, often, is, never explain, never complain. But I’ll probably have to talk about it.”
I promise you, ask around this restaurant. They don’t know about this. Maybe 15% of people
He adds, as he says several times in the conversation, that “it feels like such a silly thing to talk about”.
Corden says that any online criticism of him likely reflects the awareness and opinions of a small part of the overall population.
“Should we not all be a little grown-up about this?” he says. “I promise you, ask around this restaurant. They don’t know about this. Maybe 15 per cent of people. I’ve been here, been walking around New York, not one person’s come up to me. We’re dealing in two worlds here.”
He adds, “If I lived on Twitter, Hillary Clinton is the president of the United States and Jeremy Corbyn won by a landslide.”
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While Corden says that he is not denying anyone’s right to criticise him online, he compares the news media’s amplification of negative social-media posts to a school principal offering aid to classroom bullies.
“The principal makes the decision to stand up and say, ‘I’d like all of those bullies to come up on to the stage and say, into the microphone, what they’ve just been saying in the hallway over there,’” he says.
At the breakfast’s conclusion, Corden offers a cordial goodbye and leaves the restaurant. The server who had served him says she is only vaguely aware of who he is. “I know he’s famous,” she says. “I think he’s British.” — This article originally appeared in The New York Times