May I Have Your Attention, Please? by James Corden
Personally, I don’t really like American late night shows, although Craig Ferguson is always fun to watch if I can bother turning it on, but I was thrilled to hear that James Corden will be the new Late, Late Show host following Ferguson’s departure. My first introduction to him was The History Boys movie, but I didn’t start to really take notice of him, as is true of many Americans, until he stole the show from Matt Smith in two Doctor Who episodes. After that, I watched all his shows and even saw him on Broadway in One Man, Two Guvnors…twice. America is only just beginning to know Corden, but if you read his autobiography, May I Have Your Attention, Please?, you’ll see that he’s been building his career in England for a long time now. In fact, he went through the entire celebrity life cycle over there before even beginning over here.
Overall, May I Have Your Attention, Please? is one of the more interesting celebrity bios I’ve read for three reasons: (1) Corden takes the time to put you in the moments that fans most want to know about–the writing sessions on their favorite shows and the wonderful and awful moments they’ve seen him on live television, such as award shows. I’m shocked that other memoirs skip these things, either because they can’t remember or they don’t think it will be interesting to readers looking for sensationalism. (2) Things actually happen in this book. There were a lot of moments, like Corden accidentally getting stuck in some kind of SoHo sex den and threatened by pimps on his way to a TV meeting, where I thought, No way did that actually happen. (3) There’s actually a character arc. You have no idea how important this is until you read books that don’t have it. Rarely have I seen people in the media business set aside their ego and look at themselves so honestly.
I had this book on audio, which, if you’ve got 10 hours to spare, I recommend because Corden is a wonderful, enthusiastic reader. Corden is writing this book while he’s waiting for news from the maternity ward where his fiancee had their first baby. It’s also divided by chapters that are laid out like a playlist, offering best musical accompaniment, film to watch, and food to eat for each chapter.
Like a lot of these books, we start with childhood. James Kimberly Corden desperately wanted attention and fame since childhood, as you can tell from the title. He once phoned up a call-in TV program and made up a story about being bullied just so he could be on television. (His Nan recognized his voice on TV and outed him for playing hookie.) His next endeavor was to be in a boy band called Twice Shy, and eventually a spoof of Take That called Fake That. (Little did he know that, despite never taking off in the music biz, someday Simon Cowell would trick him into making a #2 hit song with hip-hop star Dizzy Rascal.)
In 2004, Corden was given a part in Alan Bennett’s new play, The History Boys. Corden adored Bennett’s work but couldn’t understand the script at all. He, Bennett, and the other boys in the show (including Russell Tovey and Dominic Cooper) worked it out together and they became a gang of friends, albeit a gang that was about to become world famous. They also had the privilege of working with the star Richard Griffiths, who Corden nicknamed Rizzo. Corden was a huge fan of Griffiths because of his love for Withnail and I, so once, when Corden slept through his cue when they were performing the show on Broadway, Griffiths in Uncle Monty character told Corden, “I’m preparing myself to forgive you, boy.”
So, yes, The History Boys was such a success that they took it on tour across the world and make a film starring the stage actors; all the while Corden was working on pitching the script for his TV show with Ruth Jones, Gavin and Stacey; the busy combination of which left his eight-year relationship with Shelly in tatters. The book addresses Shelly in a sappy speech, thanking her for everything, despite that it didn’t work out between them, largely due to his schedule. If you’re looking for the tell-all book that gives you the dirt on your favorite celebs, this isn’t it. While the book is chalk full of celebrities, Corden is immensely (perhaps overly) sweet and gracious to the people who’ve been good to him, whether it’s Shelly–the girl we don’t know–or Lilly Allen–who he befriended but failed to get off with in a moment of ego-fueled derangement.
Gavin & Stacey fans will get everything they ever wanted from this book, including the meeting of Ruth Jones, the initial story idea (which was meant to be the wedding and the wedding alone), the failed pitch to iTV, Stuart Murphy’s leg-up to BBC’s green light, the man-love affair with star Mathew Horne, the charity spin-offs of Corden’s character Smithy hanging out with Paul McCartney (who joked Corden needed to name his first child after him in order to convince him to do the taping) and getting in a bath with David Beckham, and yes, the time Corden joke texted Ruth Jones that his hand had been cut off in an accident while working in New York.
The book takes an unexpected turn once Gavin & Stacey starts to take off. It’s like something you’d seen on a docudrama. Corden, who’s craved attention all his life, lets the fame go to his head. He’s getting plastered every night and regularly waking up in the beds of women he’s never met. He’s lost touch with his friends and family back home. Discussions that aren’t about him bore him. He tries to woo his way into a relationship with Lilly Allen by buying her a lamination kit. He slags off the BAFTA committee for not nominating Gavin & Stacey for best comedy after it’s just won the audience award and he’s won for his role as Smithy. He has fallen down the rabbit hole. Incredibly, because he’d built up such strong relationships in his early life with his family and the friends he’d made in The History Boys, once the press starts ripping him to shreds over the failed sketch show Horne and Corden, he starts getting calls and visits from friends and family looking to cheer him up. He’s been a complete asshole recently, but the people who know him best know that this isn’t who he really is, and as his sister tells him, he can choose who he wants to be and find the strength to change if he doesn’t like who he’s become.
This wisdom and support from his loved ones, mixed with meeting his future wife Julia (their first kiss was in the car on the way to Natalie Imbuglia’s house), brings Corden back to reality in what in fiction would be the denouement. However, even though our hero has his feet back on the ground, things get crazier and crazier. We’re talking performing on Britain’s Got Talent, filming with the England soccer team, riding around with George Michael, introducing Paul McCartney, and creating what many have said is the greatest Comic Relief sketch ever made. How will Corden fair in the new Americanized fame of The Late, Late Show? Hopefully, Julia and their son Max McCartney Kimberly Corden will be enough to keep him grounded.