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James Corden on Letterman: ‘He Had This Fearlessness Bordering on Recklessness’

“The Late Late Show With James Corden” is the new kid on the block when it comes to after-midnight TV, but the British-born host says he couldn’t do the program he does if it hadn’t been for the groundbreaking style of David Letterman. We asked Corden, whose show airs directly after “The Late Show With David Letterman,” what it means to follow Letterman — in a bigger sense than just a timeslot.

What impresses you the most about David Letterman’s hosting style?
I’ve watched quite a lot of the early 12:30 Letterman shows. He had this fearlessness, bordering on recklessness, that I thought was incredible. He managed to combine mainstream and alternative comedy. That’s not easy, but he made it look very, very easy.

How did that influence how you approach your show?
Without seeing how bold and brave he was, I don’t know if we would have tried certain things — getting out of the studio, going out talking to people, doing the show from someone’s house in week two, delivering our mystery pizza boxes. He’d take the cameras out of the studio. He turned New York City into part of the show by going out and doing stuff on the street. He found everyday wackiness. He found comedy in the everyman like the guys who ran the shop next door. I think audiences respond to that.

You grew up in the U.K. What did watching Letterman here in the States teach you about U.S. audiences?
He gave me an understanding of what American humor was and what Americans wanted at that hour. I’m a very different host. It’s weird to talk about it in terms of our show and his. He’s been on the telly for 25 years!

What are some of your favorite Letterman moments?
Once he turned the camera 360 degrees so for part of the show he was upside down — and then never mentioned it. Then there’s that classic where he’s in a shop called Just Bulbs. When they don’t have a shade, it just cuts and he’s in a shop called Just Shades. All they sell is lampshades. No bulbs or lamps. Just shades. He held a mirror up to the ridiculous world that we live in. For one of the royal weddings he said, “Let’s go and let’s find out what the royalty in New York think about this.” He’d go to the Mattress King or he’d go to Queens or the King of Hot Dogs.

Have you ever spent time with Letterman?
I’ve been on the show.

Were you nervous?
Ah, not really … it’s just talking, isn’t it? (Laughs)

What’s Letterman’s greatest legacy?
The bravery he had — you’ll never, ever know where the influence of that will end. It certainly won’t stop with me.

You’re sure going full speed with “Late Late.”
So far, it’s been an incredible reaction to the show. We hit the ground running faster than I thought we would. We’re having fun.

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