James Corden took the stage by storm at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys on Sunday, in the energetic style so often enjoyed by viewers of The Late Late Show With James Corden on CBS. As he rushed around the audience demanding that everyone wake up from their post-lunch slump, the power of Corden’s contagious charm was palpable. And it’s an attribute that served him well when he first arrived in the U.S. as an unknown import from the UK.
Currently celebrating the fourth anniversary of his tenure on the show, Corden said his beginning had been tough. Despite being a star in the UK, nobody in the States knew who he was at first. “We didn’t have a currency with our audience, we had no goodwill. I wasn’t coming from a decade on Comedy Central…we had to come out of the blocks so fast and let people know that there was a show here.”
That process of getting the word out was a leap of faith in a lot of ways. “That was difficult, and I would spend a long time terrified with my wife, saying, ‘This isn’t going to work, no one knows who I am.’ I couldn’t even get in the building without my pass. It’s true.”
But Corden turned the negatives into positives, figuring that if people didn’t have expectations of him, then he could do anything he wanted and work with that, rather than fighting it. “If you’re backed into a corner,” he said, “if we take all the things that people are saying are a weakness, and use them as a strength… nobody knows what you can do.”
His mission, he said, is “to try and make the purest sort of variety show every night, in that we really don’t want any two shows to feel the same.” Jokingly pointing out that the show is on “in the middle of the night” he emphasized the power of the internet with getting the show out there. “What we try and do every day is just try and have a slice of joy that people can enjoy on their phone on the way to work, on their laptop with their families.”
Of course the biggest original segment to come out of Corden’s show is Carpool Karoke—which has 6 billion views across all platforms—a bit involving Corden driving musicians around and having them sing their songs, sometimes with harmonies sung by Corden himself. This segment blew up enormously fast but really reached epic levels of popularity when Corden scored a Paul McCartney ridealong which become a special, and is now eligible for a standalone Emmy nomination.
“The Paul McCartney Carpool is the truest version of what that segment can be,” Corden said.