'We're horrified': James Corden tackles US gun control on late-night talkshow

Edward Helmore in New York

Not content with singing karaoke with pop and movie stars, James Corden has bitten off a much gristlier and indigestible subject for his late-night US TV audience: gun control.

After the most recent school shooting on Thursday at Saugus high school in Santa Clarita, California, which left two students dead and several injured, Corden took to the airwaves. While not known for political engagement – a range more typical of late-night rival Seth Meyers – the British host of CBS’ The Late Late Show with James Corden dedicated a portion of his usually fizzy talkshow to the incident.

Related: ‘America can do better’: the New Yorker on a hunger strike for gun control

“We were so saddened to hear of the shooting,” he said with feeling. “We’re horrified that another place of innocence, learning and education has become instead a site of violence and trauma. Our hearts break for the families, they really do.”

He then took on the nation’s politicians for their consistent inaction over the issue, no matter how horrific or grotesque the numbers involved.

“Whilst we continue to elect politicians without the moral courage to address gun laws, these tragedies are destined to keep repeating themselves,” he said. “Tonight, we grieve for the families of the victims and the community that’s been shattered. Tonight, we send our love to Santa Clarita.”

But whereas Piers Morgan, the former CNN anchor whose outspoken gun control views made him a polarizing public figure in the US when he told viewers “something inside of me just exploded” after a series of deadly mass shootings. His stance, and the supercilious manner of its delivery, ultimately cost Morgan his job. With his appealing sense of inclusiveness, Corden runs no such risk.

It’s not the first time Corden has spoken out on the subject. From the outset, Corden who now has 20.9 million YouTube subscribers in addition to his 1.35 million nightly TV audience, has told US late-night viewers he’s speaking out because he has children being educated in the US.

“When I first came to America I never thought as a late night host I’d be talking about mass shootings, and so many of them,” he said after 17 students were murdered in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida in 2016.

“I was told it was not my place and maybe they’re right. I still don’t understand the rules of American football. But I have children in America and I want my kids to be safe.”

While he understood the need for earthquake drills, preparation drills for what to do if a gunman enters your school, “In my opinion, not an unavoidable phenomena of nature but sadly way more common than major earthquakes,” he said.

Following the November 2018 mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, he broadcast a moment of silence as the images and names of the victims appeared on the screen. Since then Corden has spoken out after several school shootings as well as the massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in August.

“It seems heartfelt with him, and it’s not as if he’s never spoken out about political issues,” said James Poniewozik, TV critic of the New York Times. “It doesn’t strike anyone as weird or alienating. He’s still generally a guy who lip-syncs with celebrities, so it just seems like another facet of things.”

Other late-night hosts have come unstuck by getting too far out of their lane. Jimmy Fallon was criticised by some for getting political when he messed up Donald Trump’s hair, and also criticised by some when he said he would stay out of politics in the Trump era.

Jimmy Kimmel also stepped out too far when took on the interminable subject of healthcare. But unlike hosts of old who used to be mild-mannered about politics today’s hosts have more freedom. The popularization began with John Stewart’s Daily Show, who begat John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert.

“It used to be that you’d stand out being too political on late-night, now it’s the opposite,” said Poniewozik. “Unless he went really hardcore in a particular direction, he has such a cuddly, inoffensive persona it’s hard to image him getting too much backlash.”

But, Poniewozik cautioned, “that’s not to say he’s going to be any more influential than any other celebrity speaking out about gun control”.