Not everyone was amused by former press secretary Sean Spicer’s appearance at the Emmy Awards or the warm reception he received at the afterparty, with critics complaining that embracing Spicer was hypocritical coming from an industry that, on the whole, has been vocal about condemning the Trump administration. In the case of James Corden, “embracing Spicer” meant quite literally embracing him, and a photo of the Late Late Show host kissing Spicer on the cheek quickly went viral, turning him into a symbol of the controversy.
Corden addressed the kiss in his Late Late Show monologue on Monday night, jokingly pretending he hadn’t really been involved in the incident in the first place, Spicer-style. (CBS has not posted the monologue on YouTube, but you can watch it on their website.) “I think people are forgetting that this man lied to the American people and should not be embraced,” Corden said of the fomer White House Press Secretary, and when the now-infamous photo then flashed onscreen, he added, “I know you think that is a picture of me kissing Sean Spicer, but in the spirit of Sean Spicer: No, it isn’t.”
The jokes kept coming. “Anyone ever have that feeling when you get a little drunk and you wake up the next morning and you think, ‘Oh God, who did I kiss last night?’ It’s a bit like that,” said Corden. “To be fair, everyone was kissing ass last night at the Emmys. I just happened to kiss the biggest one there.”
Corden did finally get around to acknowledging that by cozying up to Spicer, he had disappointed a lot of people. “In truth, I’m disappointed by [the photo] as well,” he told the audience. “I have been reading a lot of harsh comments on Twitter today, and I hear you loud and clear. Truly, I do.” But he then undermined his message by continuing to joke about it, saying that he now regrets taping a segment of Carpool Karaoke with Steve Bannon and showing photos of himself kissing other, non-Spicer celebrities—as if it was the kiss, rather than the principle, that was the issue. “Basically what I’m saying is, I need to learn how to shake hands,” he concluded.
The incident between Corden and Spicer is comparable to when Jimmy Fallon mussed Donald Trump’s hair on The Tonight Show at a time when Trump was running a campaign steeped in bigotry and dishonesty—and Corden’s backpedaling is similar to the way Stephen Colbert invited Spicer onto the Emmys stage for a good-natured ribbing, then zinged him with a Wizard of Lies joke in the next segment. It’s worth noting that Corden defended Fallon over that moment, calling the outrage “really unfair.” His decision to address his own “hair-mussing” incident on the air suggests that Corden recognizes that getting chummy with Spicer, a man who repeatedly lied for and defended the Trump administration, was a mistake—or at the very least, that being seen on camera doing so was bad publicity. But while his monologue was funny, it was not an apology, and it will probably do little to stem the backlash.