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'Carpool Karaoke' Is Both More and Less Complicated Than You’d Imagine

James Corden explains how the hit segment works

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Late Late Show With James Corden aired its first "Carpool Karaoke" segment in March 2015 with Mariah Carey. It became clear after just a few segments that the team had a hit on its hands. Since then, Corden and his crew have picked their spots — leveraging the segment while also not beating it into the ground. He explained the strategy and how they make the clips on the latest Bill Simmons Podcast.

"As soon as that segment felt like it was ‘a thing’ and was becoming ‘a thing,’ we felt like we had to implement our own rules," Corden began, "and go, ‘OK, we have to sort of protect this.’ Look, we could do it every week if we wanted. … [But] we were like, ‘We have to preserve this for the biggest or most relevant music artists in the world.’ And that’s it. We cannot break that rule."

Though that doesn’t mean the temptation to roll out the segment every week isn’t there.

"Nothing would give me more joy than driving around in a car and singing songs with Will Ferrell. And it would be amazing TV. But we feel like we have to keep it in that sort of rarefied air. Because that’s the only way it will ever sort of sustain itself."

Corden did 12 "Carpool Karaoke" segments in 2015 and 16 in 2016. This year has seen five so far, though only two have followed the familiar pattern of having a big musical artist while others have featured the likes of Steph Curry and ’90s boy band Take That. Is there a number Corden would cap it at?

"We’ll never put a number on it, because it just comes around to who’s got albums out, who do we think is interesting, who’s got a tour to promote, [etc]. Of course, there’s a list of … golden names. You know, if Billy Joel is around, nothing would give me more joy than doing it with Billy Joel."

Most of the segments are filmed in Los Angeles, and Corden keeps the street navigation as simple as possible.

"So the Adele one we did in London. Madonna we did in New York. But predominantly, we’re here [in Los Angeles]. We drive in a convoy, there’s a car in front of us, two cars behind us, and one car that will drive around or alongside, to get exterior shots of the car or whatever. … We get along Beverly [Avenue] and drive as far as we can. … We just drive in a straight line, away from the sun so you don’t get weird mirror shadows in your face and stuff. That’s kind of it."

It’s never too complicated to sing and drive at the same time, especially in L.A.

"It’s Los Angeles, so you’re driving in increments. Let’s be clear, I’m driving in Hollywood between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. where, really, how fast can you ever be going? So I’m really relieved by the stops, it’s great."

Do people know it’s the "Carpool Karaoke" car?

"No. Not really. If we stop at the light and they see it’s Katy Perry or whoever, then yeah."

The segments have been a huge success, but they aren’t just YouTube hits. They’re a primary reason for the growth of Corden’s show.

"I’m very proud of it, I really am. I know that sometimes you sort of shouldn’t be but I really am. What’s interesting for us is, outside of like YouTube, when we launched [the show] two years ago, we were on in eight countries. And I think we’re now on in 152. And that growth is only really due to the show’s relevance on the internet. Which then makes other territories say, ‘We’d like to buy that show because we see that people love it here.’ And it gets picked up on morning news in Finland or wherever. Some network chief somewhere says, ‘Oh, we should buy that show. People like it.’ We just know that making a show at 12:37 at night, we can’t ever really move the dial when it comes to ratings. People don’t change the channel at 12:37, so we have to make a show that can be consumed all throughout the day. … So we feel we have to be a show that’s on the forefront of that, digitally."

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.