James Corden... who?

British funnyman, who is little known outside England, has silenced his critics as The Late Late Show host

Unlike the boorish and obnoxious characters James Corden typically played in Britain, he is now an unassuming nice guy with his guests on the talk show.
Unlike the boorish and obnoxious characters James Corden typically played in Britain, he is now an unassuming nice guy with his guests on the talk show.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hosting your own night-time talk show is one of the most coveted jobs in American television. So when Craig Ferguson decided to retire from The Late Late Show last year, there was considerable anticipation over who would take over from him.

Most commentators expected an established name from the world of comedy. When it was announced it would be James Corden, the most common reaction was: "Who?"

Little known outside of his native England, where he is an awardwinning comedic actor and popular host, the 36-year-old Briton says he still cannot believe he landed this plum post, especially given that British stars routinely try and fail to conquer the United States entertainment market.

The Late Late Show With James Corden made its debut in Singapore this week on RTL CBS Entertainment HD (StarHub TV Channel 509, Singtel TV Channel 318).

Even though it has done well since premiering in the United States this March - becoming one of the most talked-about talk shows on social media, and winning a Best Talk Show nomination at this year's Critics' Choice Awards - the man fronting the enterprise says he is not going to get comfortable just yet.

"I've adjusted well so far, I think, but we're still not going to buy somewhere," he tells Life and other press when asked if he will purchase a home in Los Angeles, where the show is filmed, instead of renting one.

"It's still very much in the back of my mind that we'll be cancelled at any point," says Corden, whose wife Julia and son Max, four, and daughter Carey, 10 months, moved from London with him.

He is dead serious when he says this.

Of course, humility is also a good way to deflect any criticism of his suitability as a host and endear him to his new audience.

Corden and his production team no doubt realised this when they wrote the pilot episode, which featured a star-studded comedy sketch suggesting that he got the job only because he found a "golden ticket", a la Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

It then shows him being advised and whipped into shape by an impressive line-up of celebrities, including Oscar winner Meryl Streep, Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger and former talk show host Jay Leno.

The Late Late Show with James Corden has since silenced many of its critics - its funny skits and interviews with A-listers such as actor Tom Hanks and pop star Mariah Carey have gone viral on social media, making it the most "shared" talk show in its time slot within just two months.

Popular segments - including one sketch where Corden and Hanks re-enact scenes from all of Hanks' movies, and another with him and Carey singing "car karaoke" - have racked up more than 50 million views on the show's official YouTube Channel.

And - given that he made his name in United Kingdom with programmes such as the hit romantic sitcom Gavin And Stacey (2007 - 2010) and the comedy play One Man, Two Guvnors, which won him a 2012 Tony award - his British connections also helped secure a sought-after interview with the boyband One Direction, the first that the popular group gave after the departure of member Zayn Malik.

"We're very lucky in that I've known Louie (band member Louis Tomlinson) since his mum was a chaperone on a TV show I did in 2002 and Louie would hang around on the set," says the host.

"She wrote me an e-mail when Louie joined The X-Factor and joined the band, saying, 'I don't know if you remember my son, but he's in this band and in London on his own - is there any way you could look out for him?' I said, 'Of course, absolutely.'

"And so a few of them would come around and we would play PlayStation games and eat pizza, and my wife would feel like she was babysitting us."

But while he is still tapping his British network, Corden seems to have ditched his old stage and screen persona.

The boorish and obnoxious characters he typically played in Britain have given way to a much more earnest, non-confrontational style on his talk show, where he is very much the unassuming nice guy with his guests.

This is also a bit of a departure for late-night talk shows in the US, where the time slot means hosts can get away with edgier content, as his predecessor Ferguson did with his quirky, unconventional show.

Corden, by contrast, often seems awestruck during interviews and the sketches often emphasise his everyman ordinariness next to these big celebrities.

The host admits that he still has to pinch himself when he spends time with these stars: "I really enjoy it every time I get to get in a car and drive around with somebody very famous. That's always thrilling for me."

So even though he spent a good chunk of his first show tearfully thanking everyone from his parents to the executives at CBS - the US TV network that hired him - Corden still expresses his gratitude every chance he gets.

"Every day I do feel very lucky that I get to meet these people and the people who work on the show. And I feel very blessed to work for a network that took such a leap of faith on me.

"Even I was going, 'You're mad, you're so stupid.' But as a network, they so rarely get it wrong that you start going, 'Well, either I'm the exception or they might know something.'

"And there's something that happens when that many people believe in you - you start to believe in yourself."

  • The Late Late Show With James Corden airs on RTL CBS Entertainment HD (StarHub TV Channel 509, Singtel TV Channel 318) weeknights at 11.45pm. A selection of the best episodes to date, as well as current episodes from Season 2 aired express from the US, will premiere on Sept 10.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'James Corden ...who?'. Print Edition | Subscribe