IT WAS the biggest gamble of his career taking over a US chat show but James Corden has proved as popular with TV viewers as his A-list celebrity guests.
When Gwyneth Paltrow gamely played along with James Corden in a skit earlier this week she became the latest A-lister to eat out of the chat show host’s hands.
Sporting matching headbands, the pair teamed up for a hilarious spoof dance class. Led by children who put them through their paces in an intense workout, it culminated in the actress sitting on the floor sipping from a carton of juice.
In recent months Adele, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey and Elton John are among the host of celebrities who have also sent themselves up on Corden’s The Late Late Show.
It seems that the 37-year-old British export can do no wrong. His show is a huge ratings success and he was recently awarded a contract extension by CBS, along with a hefty pay rise, making him one of the most highly paid presenters in the world.
That’s no mean achievement on the notoriously cut-throat US chat show circuit which, as Piers Morgan will testify, spits out hosts with alarming regularity.
I was so convinced it wouldn’t work that we rented all our furniture for a year
Corden, who had no previous chat show experience, took the gamble of his career when he headed to the States in 2014. He had built his reputation as a comedian in the UK but there was no telling how US audiences would react to his “cheeky chappie” style and accent, or whether he’d be able to maintain interest on a nightly basis.
Even the man who hired him, Les Moonves, president of CBS, confessed that 95 per cent of Americans had never heard of Corden. He’d never even been a guest on a US chat show and one entertainment website was distinctly underwhelmed, stating: “CBS finds some British guy to host The Late Late Show.”
The Briton, who relocated with his family to LA as part of the deal, admits that he feared viewers would hate him: “I was so convinced it wouldn’t work that we rented all our furniture for a year.”
In fact it was Morgan, – axed from his prime-time show by CNN – who persuaded a reticent Corden to take the plunge. “It is a fierce and unforgiving place but you’ll regret not trying,” Corden recalls his fellow Briton telling him after initially declining the offer but having second thoughts.
Corden adds: “I thought, it won’t come round again. In five years’ time they won’t go, ‘Oh, let’s go back to that guy who turned us down’. Eventually I just thought, there’s no way one day in the future I won’t regret saying no.”
In his favour Corden, whose starting salary in the US was £1.5million, had already proved himself to be a versatile performer. The son of a musician in the RAF band, Corden was born in Hillingdon, west London, but grew up in Buckinghamshire.
After attending stage school he became a household name in the UK with the BBC Three sitcom Gavin & Stacey, which he co-wrote. The show earned him a Bafta in 2008 and after that he never looked back.
Corden hosted the Brit Awards three times, presented the sports panel show A League Of Their Own on Sky 1, and starred in the hit West End and Broadway show One Man, Two Guvnors for which he won a Tony award.
However, his career in the US got off to a sluggish start. An announcement that his start date for taking over The Late Late Show was being delayed caused a frenzy of rumours. Legendary chat show host David Letterman weighed in: “Where’s the tubby kid who’s taking over?” and questioned Corden’s professionalism.
"How badly does he want to do this? I don’t wish ill on anyone but I think something’s gone wrong or he’d be here.” Corden eventually went on air for the first time in March last year and pulled off a coup by unveiling Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep on the first show.
Viewers were clearly impressed by the unknown Brit’s ability to lure actors of such stature, while critics praised his warm and personable style and “ordinariness”. Another chat show veteran, Jay Leno, commented: “He’s a very funny guy and especially a likeable guy. It is nice to see someone you would want as a friend.”
Corden also secured One Direction’s first interview as a four-piece and on the show got Mila Kunis to admit that she’d married Ashton Kutcher, but the US networks are littered with chat shows and the real challenge is standing out from the crowd.
His sketches with the likes of Paltrow – and David Beckham, who starred with Corden in a mock underwear ad – have proved popular. But his big breakthrough was the introduction of a segment on the show called Carpool Karaoke, in which celebrity guests join him driving round LA while they sing their hits.
At first he had trouble tempting stars to take part but after Mariah Carey appeared they were clamouring to be involved. Adele’s Carpool Karaoke has set a record for a YouTube clip from a chat show, with almost 90million views.
One of his main briefs was to make the show a hit on social media, now seen as being equally as important as TV ratings. Corden admits he is “beyond thrilled” with the way in which his US adventure is going, adding: “I felt very nervous but was aware that, good or bad, this would be a defining moment in my life.”
Another reason for his success across the pond is his non-confrontational style. Guests appearing on The Late Late Show can rest assured that they are in for an easy ride.
“It is a safe, fun place and pretty much all our guests leave saying they’ve had a great time,” says Corden, who lives near the beach in LA with his wife Julia and their children Max, five, and Carey, one.
He reportedly enjoys dinner dates with the Beckhams, while actress Emily Blunt is another pal. “LA feels like a brilliant place to have a family,” adds Corden, who followed Craig Ferguson, a Scot, into the hot seat on his show.
Corden, who recently found time for a cameo role in the film The Lady In The Van, admits he’s a workaholic who is determined not to let his hard-earned success slip through his fingers.
He adds: “How can I not make the most of it when most of my career I was the chubby guy who wasn’t the main event?” Although he has a long contract, he is aware that after his meteoric rise he could fall out of favour just as quickly. “I could get sacked any time,” he says.
“You can’t think you’re more of a dude than you really are or you’re finished.” That’s not going to happen any time soon.
Plenty of Britons have returned from the US with their tails between their legs but it appears that, against the odds, James Corden has cracked America.