James Corden’s segment taking on Bill Maher and the fat shaming comments he made on his HBO show Real Time have garnered enormous attention in recent days, and justifiably so. Corden’s criticism is brilliant. He’s hilarious, honest, vulnerable, compelling, and utterly convincing.
As a bit of rhetoric, it has almost everything.
But the best part of Corden’s piece has gone glaringly unnoticed:
Corden is kind. Rather than attacking Bill Maher, he makes a genuine attempt to reach out to the man and change his mind. Corden assumes good intentions. He credits Maher for wanting to help. He doesn’t portray Maher as a deliberate, judgmental monster but as a human being who has missed the point.
He argues that Bill Maher was egregiously incorrect in this instance, but he doesn’t argue that Maher is a bad person.
Yes, Corden lands some comedic punches in the process, but those are clearly made in jest, and I suspect that Maher will recognize them for what they are:
Jokes. Jokes made at his expense, but not the kind of jokes meant to really hurt.
Corden’s commentary is brilliant for all the reasons people have stated, but its genius comes his ability to attack Bill Maher’s opinion while simultaneously being a kind and decent to Maher himself.
We need more of this in today’s world.
The sad thing is that much of the reaction to Corden’s commentary has been the opposite of kindness and decency. On social media, people have responded with scathing ad hominem attacks directed at Maher. They tweet vile, incendiary comments about Bill Maher and demand that HBO terminate his employment. They are doing exactly what Corden so skillfully avoids, which is unfortunate and also ridiculous because here is the truth about Bill Maher’s commentary on obesity:
Until James Corden spoke out - six full days after Bill Maher’s comments - not a word was spoken about Maher’s bit.
Until Corden pointed out Maher’s egregious commentary on his own show, no one had any problem with Maher’s segment, myself included. I listened to the show the next morning via podcast, thought he made an amusing but unoriginal point about obesity in America, and moved on, never thinking about how that segment might impact an obese person and how wrongheaded it was.
Corden opened my eyes, and perhaps with the kindness and decency embedded in his commentary, he will open Maher’s, too.
But for every person on the Internet who is attacking Maher for his comments, I will remind them that they were silent for six days. They had no issue with Bill Maher’s comments. They had moved on in complicit silence - like me - until James Corden came along so brilliantly and gracefully.
So do us all a favor, Internet denizens who so gleefully pile on whenever possible:
Take a lesson from the grace and decency of James Corden and shut the hell up.