Adele's Carpool Karaoke proves James Corden has found the perfect comedy vehicleAfter similar lowkey skits with One Direction and Justin Bieber, Corden’s latest viral hit shows he has mastered the art of getting celebrities to drop their guard on camera
By now, there is a good chance you have seen the YouTube video of James Corden and Adele singing songs together in a car. Thanks to endless shares and retweets on social media, the video is currently inescapable. About 100,000 people an hour are viewing it. Someone could upload a video of Kim Kardashian tripping over a basket of kittens, and it still wouldn’t come close to the popularity of Adele spitting Nicki Minaj verses in a Range Rover.
There is a good reason for this. The video – part of the Carpool Karaoke segment of Corden’s late-night American talkshow – is miraculous for a number of reasons. First, it is 15 minutes of giddy joy; loose and sweet and funny. Second, and possibly because nobody brought up the subject of income tax, Adele presents herself as being utterly charming. Third, and this is the most miraculous, it is really difficult to hate James Corden in it.
This stunned me, too. By rights, Carpool Karaoke should be awful. It is James Corden, all borrowed Gervaisisms and faux-matey cackle, being insufferably chummy with a megastar. By rights, you should only get about a fifth of a second into the video before becoming so overcome with rage and despair that you put your head through the screen and then use the shards of broken glass to pierce your face, chest, eyeballs and ears. Yet, by some bizarre quirk of science, he actually manages to be likable in it.
Now, this could be because singing in a car is possibly James Corden’s greatest skill – it is something he did in Gavin and Stacey, and again with George Michael for Comic Relief, and now he is doing it with the biggest stars in the world. Or it could be because America has been a fresh start for Corden; a chance for him to ditch all the ugly baggage of his past, all his aggression and thin-skinned narcissism, and start again from the bottom.
But I have a feeling that the real key is the car itself. Aside from a couple of GoPros suckered on to the windscreen, the car has none of the trappings of a flashy TV studio. It is a refuge, a place where celebrities can drop their guard. It is also a magic forcefield that manages to keep everything that people dislike about James Corden outside. And, to be fair, that also goes for his guests.
When he had One Direction in the car a month ago, they temporarily managed to stop looking like sullen, knackered workhorses who hated everything about their lives – which has essentially been their default setting for at least the past year – and became a bunch of kids mucking around together again. Even Justin Bieber, an entitled douchebag of such intergalactic proportions that his existence barely seems possible, became charming and funny in his Carpool Karaoke. Which, incidentally, has been watched by close to 50 million people at this point.
The car as a low-key location for celebrities to be themselves is not a new phenomenon – Robert Llewellyn discovered it with his Carpool series, Jerry Seinfeld maximised on it with Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and it is more or less the entire point of Top Gear – but Corden seems to have mastered the form. He has been in films, he is a star of the stage, he has his own hit American television series, but the man is honestly never better than when he is one-on-one with a singer in a car. Maybe we should lock him in and throw the key in a river.