James Corden burst onto the TV scene with his take on the late-night skein in March 2015. His “Late Late Show” nabbed four Emmy nods — included a coveted Variety Talk Series nod — and captured the zeitgeist with his buzzy star-studded “Carpool Karaoke” videos.
Congratulations on the Emmy nominations.
Thanks very much. We’re thrilled. It’s like you’re always hopeful, but you know, history speaks for itself so many times with a show that airs at 12:37 on CBS. You hope that we would be able to find a voice and a lane which people would see the show that we’re doing. To have one (nomination) would have been amazing. Four is mind-blowing to us.
You’ve come a long way since the show launched just over a year ago.
Man, it’s crazy. We just knew that we had to hit the ground running. There was just no room, because we just didn’t have that benefit of a history with an audience who will give you time to figure stuff out. No one knew who I was, and no one knew what this show really was, so we just knew that we had to come out of the gates fast, and big, and in a way that lets people know that there’s a show here. This is a show that you can watch when it’s on. You can watch it the next day at your desk. You can watch it on your phone on the way to work. Normally people who do these jobs are like coming off Saturday Night Live for ten years, or have been in a big sitcom, or coming from Comedy Central, and we had none of that luxury.
“Carpool Karaoke” really helped audiences discover the show. Did you expect that to take off the way it did?
That comes back to that thing of, “What are the bits that will define our show?” You want people to be able to define your show in the first few sentences when they talk about it. If you talk about David Letterman, you talk about Top Ten lists, Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks. If you think of Jay Leno, you think of Jaywalking. If you think of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, it’s Thank You notes and Lip Sync Battles. We had to find those. On our first show we did this bit with Tom Hanks where we recapped his film career in seven minutes, and that’s been viewed eighteen million times on YouTube. Then, the next night, we put out “Carpool Karaoke.” Who could have ever predicted that that would become just this thing where millions of people would just watch these segments. It’s madness to us.
I’m sure you won’t reveal a favorite or least favorite, but can you reveal who surprised you the most?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers I was really surprised by. I’m a huge fan of theirs, and I was really looking forward to it, but they were so together and connected as a band. They were the first band we’ve ever done. They were so free in their discussion, and they were so open, and they had no care or time for thinking, “Oh, how are people going to perceive it?” It was just they were exactly who they were, from start to finish, and I have to say the truth is I just found being in their company completely thrilling. I felt very, very lucky to have experienced such an intimacy with a band who I think have such a rich history and an incredible catalog of music.
What have you learned over the course of doing the show?
I hope I’ve learned to let things go a little more. I used to be really passionate about whether people would come on the show. Maybe it’s just as we’ve got a bit more established, but now I feel a bit more relaxed if certain things or moments don’t go our way. I hope I’m a better interviewer today. That’s the thing that I’ve learned most from the “Carpools” really. That’s the thing I think ultimately within them that I’m proudest of is the interview in them. The songs are the glue that hold it all together, but the truth is the interview is the meat of it. I’m very proud of the fact that so often after they drop, people will say that they have seen people in a different light, and that the interview is a more interesting interview. Even people who are huge fans of someone would say, “Oh, I’ve never seen them like that before.” Ultimately, that’s all you want as an interviewer, is that reaction from people.
We’re in the midst of an interesting election that certainly a fodder for late-night. Have you gotten comfortable with American politics?
Yes. I have to say, I found the whole thing fascinating to watch, if I’m honest, in the way it’s unfolded. We always want to just find our lane with those things. Where is our show? On a recent show Hillary Clinton had been on “60 Minutes” (the night before). We said, “What could we do that is interesting?” We sort of did a mock interview, as if I was the interviewer on “60 Minutes.” It’s all those little bits and moments. I really enjoy talking about it. As an outsider looking in, it’s fascinating.
And have you settled into L.A.?
Oh, man, I love it. I’ve got to say, it’s just a wonderful place to be. It’s just a wonderful place to have a young family. It’s just not lost on me how lucky we are. I never got to come here until “The History Boys” came to Broadway. To be here now, making a TV show, all I really want to do is enjoy it. The biggest travesty would be to look back on this moment of our lives and go, “Oh, I wish I’d have enjoyed that more.”
It’s been rumored that your show will switch timeslots with Stephen Colbert. Any truth to those reports?
I just think it’s silly. I think it’s mostly just people trying to drum up something that doesn’t exist. The reason it doesn’t exist is that I know my boss [CBS CEO Leslie Moonves], and I know that when he makes a decision, that’s the decision he’s going to make. He’s going to stick by that and so should he. Have you watched Stephen’s show in the last two weeks? It’s incredible. It’s fantastic. It’s been just awesome to watch. I’m incredibly proud to be the show on after his. I think he is an incredible talent and a host and a broadcaster and a voice. That show, I feel like it’s finding its feet every single day.
Also, I just find the very notion of talking about time slots to be something archaic really. It kind of feels like telling the time with a sundial. My son when he grows up, he’s not going to have any notion of scheduling or something being on at a certain time. Our show’s on 24 hours a day as far as I’m concerned. We just launch it at 12:37. I couldn’t tell you how many people watch our show. I couldn’t tell you when it’s on, because I just don’t make a show that’s about time slot in any way.
What has the Internet meant to you?
If you make a show like our show, which is on at 12:37 at night — the great thing about the internet is it’s a completely level playing field. It’s 100% fair. There’s no big 10 o’clock drama. There’s no big sports game. There’s no lead in, no commercial, no this, no that, no nothing. It’s just there and everyone puts your content out. A good show will rise to the top. That’s the greatest thing about making a late night television show right now. Our competition is no other show. Our competition is everything on the internet. It’s thrilling when you put something out and you see it grow. You put out a segment like “Drop the Mic” and you just see it catch fire.