Brow Beat

James Corden Has No Time for Bill Maher’s Fat Shaming

James Corden sitting at his desk on the Late Late Show, with a picture of Bill Maher behind him.
“Fun fact—if you shame obese children, Whole Foods will give them free salads.”
CBS

On the Sept. 6 episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, the host took some time out of his busy schedule interviewing the celebrities of Gamergate to yell about fat people for a bit. The segment was a bog-standard bit of libertarian blame-shifting, in which Maher reassured the audience that the country’s ruinous health care system should not be approached as a systemic problem, because the real cause is individual choices made by individual fat people. “We can all keep pretending that health care is an issue between you and the government, but it’s really between you and the waitress,” said Maher, shortly after encouraging the nation to “aim higher as a country” by shaming fat people more. Really!

Maher’s fellow late night host James Corden, who has some personal experience with being shamed for his weight, did not take kindly to the idea that making fat people feel bad about themselves was a positive social good, and so devoted a segment of The Late Late Show on Friday to explaining in detail why Maher’s argument was bullshit. :

Corden covers a lot of ground here, starting with coming to the not-entirely-welcome realization that his platform and personal experience gave him a responsibility to rebut Maher’s nonsense, which he very ably does. He makes two basic but related points: Obesity has many causes, some of which are systemic, none of which can be addressed by shaming people; and even granting the dubious proposition that Bill Maher has a genuine interest in public health rather than, say, an interest in identifying groups of people he can safely make fun of, his approach here is counterproductive and hurtful. But there’s one important issue Corden didn’t have time to cover: Whether or not there’s a German trailer for Lesbian Vampire Killers, the 2009 film Corden mentions appearing in. It turns out there is!

Here are James Corden’s complete remarks on the closely-related issues of fat shaming, public health, and whether or not Bill Maher is being a dick:

Now, I want to talk to you about something. Last week, I was watching the television, and Bill Maher sat at a host desk like this one, he looked into the camera like I’m doing now, and he talked, on his show, about fat shaming. And he argued that it had gone away and needed to make a comeback. Take a look.

Bill Maher (clip): Being fat isn’t a birth defect. Nobody comes out of the womb needing to buy two seats on the airplane. … We have gone to this weird place where fat is good. It’s pointing out that fat is unhealthy, that’s what’s bad. … Fat shaming doesn’t need to end, it needs to make a comeback. Some amount of shame is good.

James Corden: Thanks for that, Bill. So I sat at home, I was watching this, and all I could think as I was watching, I was like, “Oh, man! Somebody needs to say something about this. If only there were someone with a platform who knew what it was actually like to be overweight …” and then I realized, “Oh, that would be me! Oh no!”

Now here’s the thing. I actually have a lot in common with Bill Maher. I do. We shoot, we both shoot our shows here in the same building, we both host the second-most-popular talk shows on our network, and we both made, shall we say, questionable choices in our film careers. Bill was in a movie called Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, which is about—true—about an all-female tribe of cannibalistic avocado farmers, and I appeared in the classic film The Lesbian Vampire Killers, which is about lesbian vampire killers—no, don’t you dare clap it! No, it’s exactly as bad as you think it is. I’ve gotta say, right, that any time I’ve met Bill Maher in person, he’s been nothing but pleasant and kind and nice. Which is why I find it so surprising that he or anybody thinks that fat shaming needs to make a comeback, because fat shaming never went anywhere. I mean, ask literally any fat person. We are reminded of it all the time. On airplanes. On Instagram. When someone leaves a pie on the windowsill to cool, and they give us a look like, “Don’t you dare!”

Now there’s a common and insulting misconception that fat people are stupid and lazy and we’re not. Right? We get it. We know. We know that being overweight isn’t good for us. And I’ve struggled my entire life trying to manage my weight and I suck at it. Right? I have had good days and bad months. I’ve basically been off and on diets since as long as I can remember, and, well, this is how it’s going. Right? But we’re not—here’s the thing. We’re not all as lucky as Bill Maher. You know? We don’t all have a sense of superiority that burns 35,000 calories a day. I kid because I love!

Bill, I sincerely believe that what you think you’re offering here is tough love, and you’re just trying to help by not sugarcoating reality for fat people, even though you know how much fat people love sugarcoating things. Right? But the truth is, you’re working against your own cause. It’s proven that fat shaming only does one thing: It makes people feel ashamed. And shame leads to depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. Self-destructive behavior like overeating. When I watched that clip, I got up, walked to the freezer, and grabbed a pint of ice cream. I’m kidding—I was already halfway through the pint when I started watching, but Bill may have made me finish it. He might have done. And this term, we’re using this term “fat shaming,” we’ve come up with a name for it. Let’s be honest, “fat shaming” is just bullying. That’s what it is, it’s bullying. And bullying only makes the problem worse, okay? I don’t think stuff like this is going to solve the obesity epidemic:

Bill Maher (clip): It’s not just about being able to see a doctor. It’s also about being able to see your dick.

James Corden: Believe me, I can see a dick. Bill Maher makes some interesting points, if you go back and watch it all, but there’s a lot that he got wrong in this piece, including making the claim that Europe doesn’t really have fat people.

Bill Maher (clip): Europe doesn’t look like this, because Europe’s not always eating for two.

James Corden: Your honor, I’d like to present Exhibit A. Now I know that Britain’s relationship with Europe is strange right now, but I lived there for 37 years and trust me, there are fat people in Europe. Maybe not as many as in America, but the reasons for that are complex. In fact, this entire issue is a lot more complex than he’s making it out to be.

Now Bill is right about one thing—he really, really is—this is a health problem. It’s an issue that needs to be discussed clearly and honestly. It’s an epidemic, and when you look at the numbers, it’s terrifying. But there are numerous reasons why people live their lives at an unhealthy weight. Junk food, portion control, a lack of exercise, these are all major contributing factors. But poverty is also an issue. A study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System found that childhood obesity is directly linked to poverty. But—fun fact—if you shame obese children, Whole Foods will give them free salads. I’m kidding, that’s not how Whole Foods works.

Sometimes genetics plays a role. You know, there’s a molecular geneticist named Jeffery Friedman who discovered a hormone called leptin. Defects in the leptin gene are linked directly to obesity. And here’s a fun fact: If you shame the gene, it actually fixes itself. I’m kidding, that’s not how science works.

A lack of shame is not the issue here. If making fun of fat people made them lose weight, there’d be no fat kids in schools and I’d have a six pack by now. Right? Until, until we make healthy food and health care more accessible and we properly educate people on nutrition and exercise, maybe we can hold back on the whole “call fat people virgins until they lose weight” strategy. All right? And I believe that Bill’s heart is in the right place, and I truly like that he cares about the condition of my heart. And I will, I will keep trying. All the time. I am aware today that this is going to be a struggle that I will face for the rest of my life. Right? But in the meantime, Bill, please hear me when I say this: While you’re encouraging people to think about what goes into their mouths, just think a little harder about what comes out of yours. We’ll be right back.