James Corden (‘The Late Late Show’): Political moments are ‘true reflection’ of the series [Complete Interview Transcript]

James Corden is more surprised than anybody that his version of “The Late Late Show” found such immediate success when it premiered in 2015. Since then he has become one of the most beloved late night hosts on television and created popular spinoff series based on recurring segments like Carpool Karaoke and Drop the Mic. He has won four Emmy Awards over the past two years and is in contention again this year in multiple categories.

Corden spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Matt Noble in a video chat in May about his favorite moments on the show and his great Emmy victories, in addition to playing a successful game of Celebrity Noses. Watch the exclusive video above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: James Corden, you’ve been doing “The Late Late Show” gig for quite a while now, a couple of years. If you were to go back in time to the night before your first show, what would you wanna say to yourself?

James Corden: I think I’d probably say to myself the exact thing that I did say to myself the night before that first show, the day of that show, and I still find myself regularly saying it to myself, really, which is, “You just have to enjoy it.” That’s all you can really do. It will only be a waste of time if you don’t enjoy it. You can’t really think about whether it’s good or it’s bad because those things are just opinion. In all of these things, talking about it now and Emmys and all these things, there’s no such thing as “best.” So all you can really do is try your best, your own personal best and try and enjoy it as much as you can. My feeling was that the show would be canceled pretty quick, to the point where my wife and I rented furniture ‘cause I was like, “Well don’t buy a couch because that means we’ve got a couch and we’ll have to sell it or get rid of it somehow.” That’s how certain I was that the show just wouldn’t really work.

GD: And what do you enjoy most about the show now?

JC: I enjoy the variety of the show. In its truest sense, really, our show is a variety show. That’s what we set out to do. We set out to try and make a variety show every day, and to try and make a show that is ambitious and not confined to its timeslot. We try and make a show that will reach as many people as it can, whether on television or on the internet the next day and that’s what we try to do. We just want to make a fresh, new, big variety show every day. That’s what we try to do.

GD: With a lot of your sketches, a lot of your bits on the show there’s a timeless quality to them. They’re not based on the news of the day, they’re something that could be watched the next week, months, years later. What bit on the show do you think you’ve done that will last the longest, stand the longest test of time?

JC: Oh man, I don’t know. That’s not for me to say, really. Oddly, I think there’s things that we’ve done, moments where we’ve responded to news stories or have been political in ways, are the things that I think will stand up as a true reflection of our show. Every show that makes a show every day like this is influenced by the news and you just have to find your show’s voice and how you tackle it. We talk about politics every night on our show, but what we really try to do is go, “What is our show’s version of this? How does our show respond to this news story that isn’t us just talking about it,” because there’s lots of people talking about it, whether it’s on news or on late night or on social media and those things. So I think the things that I like the most that I think would be, I guess, a true reflection of our show would be things like Donald Trump had his what I consider to be abhorrent ban of transgenders in the military. We thought, “Well rather than just talk about this, why don’t we think what is our show’s voice here?” And we decided to do a new retelling of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” with changing the words to “L-G-B-T,” or when we did Melania Trump singing “A Part of This World” or we did Donald Trump: The Musical or we had this thing where we said our show had brought a brand new weather station called the Stormy Tracker 3000 where we were tracking the Stormy Daniels story. It was like a weather broadcast and we’re saying, “Here’s the Stormy Tracker and it’s causing a lot of heat here in Washington and it’s actually sweeping up all of these lawyers from here but be sure to keep a jacket with you, because however warm and hot it is during the day,” and it would cut to a shot of Melania and we’d say, “it’s gonna be icy cold in the evenings.” Those are the things which I really like because we’d sort of committed to thinking that television is a visual medium. It’s something that you watch every day, and we always try and think, “What is the most visual and interesting way that we can react to these things?”

GD: Your show’s been very successful at viral content and producing things that get millions and millions of views. I was wondering if there’s a particular piece of comedy or something you’ve done on the show that you’re proud of, that hasn’t had that viral success?

JC: I think viral success, it’s very, very important to our show, but a lot of that you’re dealing with an algorithm. I never sit and go, “Oh, why is this not traveled in the manner that this has?” It’s cool. What we try and do is think about our television show. If you’re just trying to search a viral hit, the content’s still got to be good. I could just run down Sunset Boulevard naked, it would get loads of pickup and I’m sure lots of people would watch it, but it wouldn’t be for the right reason. There’s also lots of niche comedy that is never going to travel broader than that. There’s some bits that I really love on our show that I hope over time people will find. We have a running joke which is that we have a segment called Celebrity Noses, which is a segment that we’ve never actually got to perform on the show because of various technical difficulties. That as a run I think is really good fun. Any time we get to subvert the show in any way. Any time where people would think they’re watching one thing and then it becomes something else, those are the things that I really enjoy and are very much for that moment on television, as opposed to being shared the next day.

GD: Now, with the upcoming Emmy Awards, if you were to get nominated for Variety Series again, is there a particular episode you’d be thinking of putting forward to the Emmy judges?

JC: I don’t know, I’m sure our producers would have one. We’ve had so many shows that I really love. We did a great show when Julia Roberts was a guest where we reenacted her entire film career in six minutes. We did a great thing where we went and did a Crosswalk the Musical with Hugh Jackman in New York. We’ve had some great shows whether it’s Donald Glover and Reggie Watts jamming in a completely improvised musical number, there’s so many. I feel very blessed to have so many things. All of those things that I just mentioned are completely different, visually and televisually. So I’m sure there are people far smarter than I who are deciding such things.

GD: So it might be in finding the episode that has the most different things in it.

JC: I don’t really know how it works. But it would be lovely to be included in that list again.

GD: You’ve won four Emmys the past two years for Carpool Karaoke and things like that. What’s it like to win those awards? What does that mean?

JC: It’s thrilling. You have to take all of these things with a bag of salt, really. But I’m incredibly proud of our team and the show. I think we have the smallest team in late night. We’re amongst it in the fight for the smallest budget. But I feel like everyone on our show just outperforms each other. There’s a real sense of camaraderie on our show that just brings everybody together and I feel like we make a show that we all feel very, very proud of every night, and to be recognized in such a way is great. The incredible thing about going to the Emmys, or my biggest memory that I took away from last year, is just how brilliant television is right now. The volume of brilliant stuff is so great. The canvas that is being painted on feels like it’s wider and more colorful and a greater landscape than I can remember ever before in my lifetime, really, in television. Some of it is just jaw-droppingly good. That was my feeling of being at the Emmys, whether it’s seeing people from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Paper Boi from “Atlanta,” the people from “Ozark,” Laura Linney’s over there. It’s a really amazing group to be a part of.

GD: Who have you had the most fun with on your show out of all the guests or people that have come to help out?

JC: I don’t know, it feels unfair to pick any one person. We’ve had some really great people. Doing those Carpool Karaokes are always really, really great fun. They really are. They’re terrific. Doing those things with Bruno Mars or Michelle Obama or Adele is great, we’ve always had great fun whenever Harry Styles is on the show. It’s often people that you have a bond with or a friendship with outside of the show that brings a warmer atmosphere. Not warmer, that’s wrong, a more organic atmosphere. So any time someone like Bryan Cranston’s on the show it’s wonderful just to spend a bit of time in their orbit.

GD: If someone were to sum up “The Late Late Show” in a sentence, how would you want them to sum it up? What would you want the show’s legacy to be?

JC: I would want people to say that it’s a show that found its feet so quickly. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. We had a host that no one had heard of, in a slot which traditionally, I think it’s safe to say, it didn’t feel particularly relevant and I feel like in no time we just sort of knew what our show was and we hit the ground running. So if someone was to talk about it, I would love them to say that we had you could almost argue a foolish amount of ambition. An amount of ambition which I don’t know that I could even recommend to anybody else because it’s quite tiring doing so much all the time. Some days I sit and I go, “Wouldn’t this be easier if we all just did this,” but that’s not where I come from. I’m a performer, my call. I would say I’m more performer than I am broadcaster, so the show is not about playing to my strengths. It’s about trying to hide my weaknesses.

GD: Yeah, and what do you think one of your weaknesses is?

JC: Oh, bread. Too much bread. There’s too many. This broadcast is not nearly long enough to tell you my list of weaknesses.

GD: Well, we’re an awards site and you’ve hosted a lot of awards, you’ve hosted the Tonys, you’ve hosted the Grammys. Why aren’t you hosting the Tonys again this year?

JC: Well firstly, I think they have two brilliant hosts who are going to do brilliantly. I had a chat with Sara Bareilles the other day, and we had a talk about it. It’s time. Time is the key. I also don’t feel like these shows should be hosted by the same person all the time. I think you wanna mix things up a bit and I think it’s a little greedy to host the Grammys and the Tonys in the same year. I don’t know that anybody wants that. I’m already on TV I think more than I’m comfortable with, myself. So I think it would be really gluttonous to want to do all of those things in the same year. We’re in London right now. For us to bring our show to London for a week, for four shows, is an unbelievable undertaking. We’re here right now filming all of our pre-taped stuff to play in the show in two weeks or three weeks time. So it’s a lot. There’s a lot of travel back and forth and things to make those four shows as great as we would like them to be. So don’t get me wrong, when I hosted the Tony Awards two years ago, it was genuinely the greatest night of my professional career. I’ve never been happier. It’s a joyous room and I will be very, very disappointed in myself if I didn’t get to host it again, but at the same time, I don’t know that anybody’s going, “Oh, why isn’t he doing it?” I think it’s got two brilliant hosts.

GD: I guess you covered too many musicals in your opening number. You need to wait a few more years for there to be some more to do a medley.

JC: Gotta come up with something else at some point.

GD: James, what do you find funny? What do you find humor in the most?

JC: My friends. It’s funny, when I think back to being a school, quite a lot of time people will say to me, “Were you funny at school?” I remember saying, “Everyone was funny at school.” My friends at school were the funniest people I ever met. Everybody was funny at school and then the difference is they just sort of grow up and get other jobs, and I’m still the same idiot, really. My friends, but the people that write on my show, some of those brains that we have in our show, are the funniest minds I’ve ever met in my life. But then if you mean professionally, it’s as broad as Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle to a YouTube video of somebody falling over. I think laughing is the most underrated thing in the world.

GD: Now James, to wrap up our chat, I know a big frustration and you’ve already mentioned it, is that Celebrity Noses always falls through on your show. I’ve got a few celebrity noses here, to see if you can guess.

JC: (Laughs.) Oh, okay! No one’s ever done this before. This is fun, all right!

GD: I’ve got some celebrity noses. You need to tell me which celebrity is of this nose. Here is our first nose.

JC: Sharon Stone.

GD: It’s actually Reese Witherspoon, who was in your Oprah episode this year. Whose nose?

JC: Leonardo DiCaprio.

GD: It’s one of your Carpool Karaoke buddies Justin Bieber.

JC: I should’ve known that.

GD: What about this nose?

JC: Meghan Markle.

GD: Ding ding ding! Good job, James! You’re on one. I’m make this final nose worth two points. I heard at the wedding reception you wore a King Henry the 8th outfit. Is that true?

JC: I will neither confirm nor deny.

GD: That’s fine! Last nose. Whose nose is this?

JC: That’s my nose.

GD: Good job, James! You won the game.

JC: Hey, look at that! We got further than any form of Celebrity Noses bit than we ever did on the show.

GD: Yeah, the most successful and the least funny Celebrity Noses.

JC: (Laughs.)

GD: And you know your own nose, so that’s good, too.

JC: I know it like the back of my hand.

GD: So James, it’s been so great talking to you. All the best of luck at the Emmys in Variety Talk Series, Variety Talk Special for the Carpool Karaoke special, Structured Reality Program for “Drop the Mic,” Short Form Comedy or Drama for “James Corden’s Next James Corden,” Short Form Variety Series for “Carpool Karaoke the Series,” and you’ve got the writing, directing, all those other races that you guys would be up for. All the best, it’s so great to talk to you about noses.

JC: Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

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