Mike Tyson and Piers Morgan (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Why do the worst Brits move to the US?

Obnoxious Anglos clutter American cultural life

Artillery Row

It’s been a great few weeks for people who dislike James Corden. The mystifyingly successful host of The Late Late Show with James Corden was banned from a fashionable New York restaurant for rude and bullying behaviour (the ban was overturned after he apologised). Now, he has been charged with stealing a joke from Ricky Gervais.

The US seems to attract our most obnoxious egotists

To be fair, I’m sure that one of Corden’s writers nabbed the joke rather than Corden himself — though it is not the first time he has been accused of joke theft. Being rude to waiters, meanwhile, is very bad — but in the ranks of celebrity sins it doesn’t quite compare to, say, being a frequent flyer on the Lolita Express. But it’s difficult to be fair to James Corden when he’s such a monumentally annoying public figure: a braying, gurning, gyrating attention-seeker who spouts modish cliches like a fire hydrant inexplicably emitting treacle, and whose ebullient image is about as convincing as Liberace’s heterosexuality.

Corden is returning to the UK next year, after seven years of working in the US, where I hope he will turn full heel, unload all his pent-up frustrations on bandwagon-hopping haters and redeem himself. Still, what is it about British people who go to the US? Not all British people, of course. Not PG Wodehouse, or Craig Ferguson, or your uncle Tim. But in general the US seems to attract our most obnoxious egotists. It feels like you couldn’t turn on the TV in the US without seeing a British bloke inadvertently enacting the revenge of George III.

Take Piers Morgan, who hosted Piers Morgan Live on CNN (thankfully, Piers Morgan Live soon died — just as one hopes that The Late Late Show with James Corden will soon be the late Late Late Show with James Corden). Morgan was an even more embarrassing example of a Brit in the US. Say what you like about Mr Corden but Gavin and Stacey was a fun sitcom. Piers Morgan’s greatest cultural achievement is being punched by Jeremy Clarkson. The blancmange-like provocateur had a whale of a time yelling at Americans about how their country should be run, before his ratings tanked and, tragically, he returned to England. A petition to deport him had already gained almost 50,000 signatures, and you have to wonder what the other 209 million adult Americans were doing.

Take Prince Harry. How Americans fought to separate themselves from the Royal Family only to tolerate Meghan Markle’s husband moping about in public life is beyond me. He too is the sort of chap who moves into someone’s spare room and starts criticising the wallpaper. The Duke of Sussex had barely set foot in the United States when he began to talk about the “bonkers” First Amendment and the “rolling back of constitutional rights” supposedly represented by the end of Roe v. Wade. What’s going on, Yanks? Didn’t you have a revolution because you didn’t like British royals bossing you around?

Such people treat America as a stage more than a home

The sort of entitlement that encourages expats to tell other people what to do with their own nations is chronic among Brits in the US. The likes of Mehdi Hasan and John Oliver rocked up in America and started holding forth from massive platforms about how it should be governed (Oliver and Hasan, in fairness, have since earned citizenship). It’s not just left-wingers. Milo Yiannopoulos swanned around the USA in 2016 telling people to vote for Donald Trump without being American or having lived in America. It was just the biggest game in town.

Even impressive British expats in America have displayed a sad excess of hubris. Christopher Hitchens, for example, loved the USA and contributed a great deal to its cultural life. But there was at least a sense in which he loved the USA as an idea, and as a means of promoting that idea, and this encouraged his attachment to idealistic goals that were unhinged from the realities of US interests and institutions. 

I don’t think this is a reflection on the British as much as on a certain kind of Briton. British expats are too often motivated by the sense that Britain is too small for them — too small in terms of its career possibilities and too small in terms of its soul. One thinks of Martin Amis griping about “the rage, the dissatisfaction, the bitterness” of Britain, where you “can have no talent, no ambition, and you win all the same”. (Amis moved to the US, where nobody is angry, and the rich and famous always succeed on their own merits.)

Such people admire the scale and glamour of America, but that can make them treat it as a platform rather than a home. Who, most darkly of all, did Jeffrey Epstein choose as an accomplice in his nation-hopping exploits? The British Ghislaine Maxwell. I rest my case.

As for Americans, well — they have only themselves to blame. It is Americans who watch The Late Late Show with James Corden. It is Americans who follow gossip about Prince Harry. It is Americans who I-love-your-accent eager British sociopaths into positions of cultural and political influence. Somehow, despite inhabiting what was for decades the world’s unrivalled superpower, Americans remain fantastically easy to impress. A kind of insecurity about their cultural status makes them vulnerable to an exotic accent and a salesman’s charm. (God knows, if I finagled a career in New York or Washington D.C. I would be glad of it, but I might have now killed off all chances of that.)

Immigration is sure to be a major issue in the midterm elections. As the New York Times reports, “language from Republican candidates in ads and speeches is clear and negative, using the 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico as a stark partisan dividing line.” But perhaps Republicans, and Democrats, should take a moment to look east. I’m not saying that there should be a ban on British immigration — but they might want to take a more careful look at potential TV hosts and political commentators.

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