Moulders Lane

Category: Recommended Blogs

Carpool Karaoke – the Coffee Break Cheer-up

YouTube is probably the no 1 internet site for leading you down primrose byways – you start off, earnestly, to see if that interview you want a quote from has been posted online and before you know it you’re looking at pictures of kittens with captions. I’ve never actually made it to the kitten stage but I have lost a lot of writing time this way, following rabbit hole suggestions to that point where you suddenly realise you’re watching a video someone’s made about their camper van. The bonus is inadvertently finding some other bits and pieces along the way; and one of these discoveries is a very happy find: the Carpool Karaoke segment of James Corden’s American late night chat show. This has proved an ideal switch off for when things aren’t going well and you sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit to take a break. They’re the perfect mini cheer up – compressing good humoured banter, silliness and singing into an eight to fifteen minute clip that gives you a little window of joy in what can seem like an increasingly drab world.

The basic premise is extremely simple – Corden needs someone to carshare with him so he can use a priority lane in negotiating the Los Angeles traffic on his way to work. He calls up a friend to help out and they chat about what they’ve been up to, while singing along to songs on the radio throughout the journey.

Except that the ‘friends’ are the likes of Elton John, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna, and the songs on the ‘radio’ they’re singing along to are a compilation of their greatest hits.

The result is every bit as entertaining as you could wish for, with energetic seat dancing, unexpected insights, ridiculous jokes, some very funny moments and, of course, some great singalongs. (Corden takes this to a whole other level in the Gwen Stefani clip when George Clooney and Julia Roberts hop in, discuss favourite lines in (their) films and join in, wholeheartedly bellowing along to a Queen chorus: ‘We are the cham-pions!!!!’)

It’s this collision of extremely famous stars sitting next to the nominally ordinary Corden, doing the everyday things that you or I do, and the illusion of intimacy with them that this brings, that gives Carpool Karaoke such massive appeal.

What makes it work so well is that Corden is a fan of the songs without being fan-like around the singer: responding to each artist as a musician whose work he respects and appreciates, rather than the focus of tongue-tied adulation. His unaffected delight: ‘This is such a good song!’ is palpably genuine; he knows all the words and can hold a tune. Above all he is unashamedly enjoying himself, completely unselfconscious in the way he belts out each song as if it’s his best mate, rather than a famous pop star, who’s in the passenger seat. He knows when to let rip, when to hold back and his skill at harmonising has impressed to the extent that Coldplay’s Chris Martin invited him to sing ‘Nothing Compares to You’ with them on stage. Corden accepted, only to discover that 90,000 people were in the audience. Apart from a little – understandable! – nervous breathlessness, he acquitted himself extremely well.

I was aware of James Corden as an actor, from having seen the film of Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, and was vaguely aware of the hugely popular tv sitcom he wrote and starred in: Gavin and Stacey, but that was about as far as it went. Sir Nicholas Hyntner, the director of The History Boys, described him as ‘indecently talented’ in the commentary of the film (Alan Bennett himself encouraged Corden to write) – something that was clearly recognised by the executives at CBS. After starring in a hit Broadway play (for which he won an award) Corden went in to the American television network to pitch a sitcom – and came out as the next host of their iconic The Late Late Show, despite a complete lack of experience in the talk show field.

The Carpool Karaoke segment of the show had its beginnings in a short sketch for British charity Comic Relief‘s ‘Red Nose Day’, which featured Corden’s character Smithy from Gavin and Stacey. The characters in Gavin and Stacey often sang along to the radio on car journeys and the gag for the Comic Relief sketch was that it was George Michael in the passenger seat next to Smithy – and they were both singing along to a Wham song.

There was a simple joyousness about the sketch that hinted at further potential and both Corden and his producer, Ben Winston, were keen to develop the idea for The Late Late Show. No one, however, got what they wanted to do – as Corden later said ‘Think of anyone and they turned it down.’ The turning point came when they buttonholed a woman from Marieh Carey’s record company at an industry event and showed her the sketch on their phones. She persuaded Carey to get involved, which resulted in a brief five minute slot for the show. An up-all-night Carey seems surprised to hear her own music or even that she’s expected to sing but, after some shameless flattery and attempts by each to imitate British and American accents, Corden successfully coaxes her into singing along.

With this first television clip as a showcase, and the ease with which filming the segment could fit around stars’ schedules, Carpool Karaoke rapidly demonstrated its potential when it netted Jennifer Hudson next, by literally driving her to work. Despite an awkward beginning, when you can’t quite tell how serious the little spat is over Corden being kept waiting, there’s an immediate rapport. When her music comes on and Corden responds with genuine appreciation: ‘such a good song!’ and begins rapping along to the opening, knowing all the lyrics perfectly, she’s both impressed and disarmed.

Hudson enters into the spirit of things pretty much from the off: singing Corden’s burger and fries breakfast (??) order at a drive through, using a bottle of water as a microphone and taking part in a selfie on the pavement at her Hollywood star. Hudson completely gets into it, seat dancing and all – Corden turns up the radio and they both belt out the numbers, Corden visibly in awe at one point as Hudson showcases her amazing voice.

Stevie Wonder, in the sixth instalment, enjoyed himself so much he insisted on carrying on beyond the allotted time, driving round for over two hours and singing ‘I just called to say James loves you’ down the cellphone to Corden’s wife. (The resultant YouTube clip went viral, with 2.5 million views in 24 hours.) Wonder had released a Definitive Hits album, some time previously, but was officially on the show to promote his new tour. When the album went to No 1 on the UK iTunes chart, shortly after his Carpool Karaoke segment aired, agents and promoters for other artists suddenly sat up and took notice. Since then, Corden’s Carpool Karaoke has featured stars such as Adele, One Direction, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, and become a massive YouTube hit, with Adele’s clip alone garnering over 169 million views.

The success of the series owes much to James Corden himself. One of Corden’s strengths is that he can operate on so many levels at once: he is both insider and outsider, with sufficiently impressive credentials on his own account, having won awards as an actor, writer and talk show host, to justify the assumption of equality. But he’s also, in his very normality, simultaneously the viewer’s representative in the exchange, their conduit into intimacy with the stars, flicking easily between professionally confident and the fanboy living both his and their dreams.

The fact that he’s actually driving the car and has his attention on navigating the traffic for most of the clip, asking his questions in an almost absent minded tone, goes a great deal towards creating this intimacy and encouraging the stars to relax. (To ensure safety he drives in a convoy of slow moving vehicles from the show; if you look out of the back window of the car you can often see a large black van tailing them, which I always imagine as full of sweating PR and security for the star. When Corden and Martin buy lemonade from a roadside stall in their clip – their reaction after drinking it is one of my favourite moments – you can see the van in the back of the shot.)

Even without this ploy, Corden is clearly extremely good at rapidly breaking down the stars’ professional interview barriers and establishing a rapport.  Justin Bieber, in the third clip, comes across as an engaging youth, misfortunate to have had the usual idiocies of the teenage male take place under intense public scrutiny. He appears slightly wary to begin with but it would be impossible not be disarmed in the face of such genuine enthusiasm: ‘It’s a huge tune!’ or Corden’s uninhibited seat dancing. The two end up sharing fries while they talk lyrics: ‘I think you put fondue in there just because it rhymes with whatever’ and at one point Corden pulls out a Rubik’s Cube to test the rumour that Bieber can do one in under two minutes. (He can.)

Corden excels at a type of banter that brings down the starry quality of the encounter without, crucially, putting down the star but he’s equally quick to make similar jokes at his own expense or run with their jokes at him. In Madonna’s clip her jibe at his shirt: ‘it’s very Seattle, 1990s’ becomes a recurring joke in their journey, with the humour expanded by Corden’s reactions to the ‘insult’ to his fashion sense.

What makes Corden so funny is his acute awareness of the ridiculous in a situation, as seen in his frank avowal of the strangeness of his appointment as host of The Late Late Show. (When Adele asks him whether she should have a wig or a weave, to give her more styling options after a recent cut, Corden deadpans: ‘What I like is that you’re coming to me for this advice.’) He is the little boy who has wandered into the emperor’s court, gleefully debunking pretensions but, again crucially, in a way that invites those he’s pointing at to join in with him in recognising and appreciating the joke.

Corden pairs this with an ability to not pursue the obvious, that effectively unearths the real humour in any exchange. When, in answer to a fairly standard lad’s style question, Jason Derulo replies that five is the most people he’s had in his bed, Corden’s comment is: ‘that’s a large bed’. But when Derulo reveals that ‘it’s circular’, where other talk show hosts would continue to – banally – follow up on the sexual angle, Corden’s response is typical:

‘No! You’ve got a round bed?? Oh come on, Jason! – you’ve got a round bed?? I don’t even know where I’d purchase such a thing! [pondering] I mean, where would you buy sheets for a round bed?’ before cracking up with laughter at the sheer ridiculousness of the concept.  Rock and roll ‘glamour’ is brought firmly into context through Corden’s infallible prism – and we can’t help grinning too.

It’s the sort of ribbing you’d get from your mate in the pub, with no malice or intent to trip up behind it. Corden establishes trust, and thus enables further revelations, by being protective of more vulnerable moments instead of exploiting them. When he teases Justin Beiber about his ads for Calvin Klein: ‘I’ve got to be honest, when I picked you up just now I didn’t recognise you because you had a top on’ Beiber reveals that he’s now sent so many free underpants he just wears them once and throws them away. Instead of pouncing on Beiber’s faint embarrassment as most other talk show hosts would, Corden turns the moment with the response: ‘That’s the life – I have to turn mine inside out and wear them again’ and moves on. When he’s coaxed Jason Derulo into singing some opera stanzas after Derulo reveals he’s ‘studied classical music my whole life’, Corden covers as the star warms up his voice, with some loud, over the top warm up exercises of his own. Any too-private matters, inadvertently revealed, are taken out in the editing stage.

All this encourages the stars to come out with the sort of intimate details that celebrity magazines kill for: Adele chugs her tea and gossips about handing out freebies to fans in a restaurant after getting drunk one night; Jennifer Lopez lets him scroll through her phone’s contacts: ‘CRISTIANO RONALDO!! Oh my GOD!! … [more contacts are revealed] This is the. best. phone. I’ve ever. seen, in my life!!’ (Corden ends up sending a spoof text to Leonardo DiCaprio – who replies!); Madonna, in an exclusive, that she once snogged Michael Jackson. Much of these form the basis of celebrity news items in the following weeks.

A large measure of Carpool Karaoke‘s success is Corden’s obvious love of music; the viewer sharing in his deep enjoyment both of the music itself and his amazing good fortune at singing it along with its creator.  He has a facility for remembering lyrics, even raps, and a decent voice, and instinctively knows when to join in and when to just appreciate.  In the Chris Martin clip, Corden blithely sings along to the Coldplay songs on the ‘radio’, with Martin – who famously squirms at hearing his voice on a recording the way that most of us do hearing our own on an answer phone – faintly pink with embarrassment but gamely singing along too. But when Martin, more in his comfort zone, gets out a mini keyboard and sings as he plays the songs himself, Corden is mostly silent, beaming all over his face and joining in only with a few bars at the end.

Martin comments: ‘You’re such a good harmoniser, James!’ Corden has described being a boy band fan from his teenage years; and the clip of him singing Pray on stage with his idol Gary Barlow in 2012 is a gem. (When Barlow offered to send someone over to show him the moves, Corden assured him there was absolutely no need, and he does completely nail it.)

He’s never more in his element than when singing along with One Direction to their hits (he co-wrote the video with Winston for Best Song Ever which Winston also directed) but it’s the clip with Adele that’s the real stand out. Corden harmonises beautifully as he drives around a rainy, bare tree-lined London, complete with red bus, that seems custom ordered to confirm American stereotypes. (An impressed Adele exclaims: ‘Very good!’ and ‘That was amazing!’ to a visibly gratified Corden.)

There’s an infectious energy about the songs that’s lacking in the studio versions – Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill seemed almost flat, when I looked it up, without an enthusiastic Corden beating time on the steering wheel or shouting out, as he frequently does: ‘This is such fun!!’ And it is fun. Most importantly Carpool Karaoke is fun, not just for the viewer or for the clearly ecstatic Corden, but for the artists themselves (the only one which hasn’t really worked is the Foo Fighters, who, with the exception of the amiable Grohl, seemed too self-conscious about not appearing cool). Justin Bieber went on to do two more videos for Carpool Karaoke as well as numerous guest spots on The Late Late Show – to the extent that there’s a whole swathe of YouTube videos on his and Corden’s ‘bromance’. There’s an interesting demonstration of what a good job Corden has done, at the end of each clip, when the artists do a straight to camera request to subscribe to the Late Late Show’s YouTube channel, suddenly self-conscious and back in professional mode.

It’s easy to feel nowadays that the world is filled with a lot of people intent on propelling us towards a future where a boot is smashing on a human face for ever; that the idea of a society based on love and compassion has been replaced by one based on hatred and fear. What we need to remember, and hold onto in the middle of all this, is that there’s also a great deal of small happinesses out there if we only look for them. They may be overshadowed by many of the things going on in the world at the moment but they are there, notwithstanding, and, without wishing to get all Pollyanna on you, we need to start actively seeking them out, however tiny they might be.

James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke seems to me like a good place to start. It’s a series of mini-interactions on a very human scale, that seem to resonate with a basic kindliness and sympathy; and that underline the value of small moments of joyfulness and the difference they can make. In the world as it is today it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of celebrating humour that isn’t unkind, trust, music and the artists that make that music, and above all the simple joy of singing together which, in itself, is a celebration of life.

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A Wodehouse Gallumifray

Following a link at Honoria’s site, I found this selection of Wodehouse book reviews from The Aroma of Books with some well-chosen quotes that had me screeching aloud in sudden laughter, proving, once more, that there really is no other like him.

I think we should be campaigning for a sticker on any future editions: WARNING ! Reading this book in public can lead to Severe Embarrassment.

Thank goodness only the Aged P. was around to hear me sounding like a macaw that had just had its toe trodden on …

Food, Glorious Food

I have been laid low with a flu-y cold for over a week now with a corresponding lack of interest in life, or even food, but earlier tonight started to wonder what you were all up to.

Wandering round in a desultory manner I found the intriguingly named The Hungry Mouse tucked away on someone’s blogroll and discovered a truly amazing site that made me realize I was starving, in seconds.

There doesn’t seem to be a way of re-blogging any of the posts so you’re going to have to rely on an illness-hampered description but I urge you to go over there and look round.

It’s basically a ton of recipes for gorgeous American food that explains everything with great clarity and, here’s the nub, has fantastic close up photographs of each step by step so you cannot possibly go wrong. It knocks Jamie Oliver into a cocked hat and I’m so hungry after looking through just a few of them, I’m off to review our store cupboards to see if I can make any of the dishes in the photographs.

 

Try Writing

A piece on why we write from Stuart M. Perkins over at Storyshucker, a delightful blog that’s the complete embodiment of the writer’s mantra: every encounter, every experience we have, whether good, bad or indifferent – it’s all copy.

 

Storyshucker

“Thousands of people who write believe they are better than thousands of others. They believe they will pen the next great American novel but their writing is dull and full of grammatical errors. Why do they write anything intended to be read by the public? Why do they write?”

I read those lines and was impelled to respond. The blogger’s entire post was arrogant and sarcastic, but those lines were the cherries on top. After I acknowledged that he can post what he likes on his own blog, I then asked if rather than squelch ambitions with a negative message about imperfection, he could instead applaud people for their attempts, for our attempts because I am one of the imperfect. But, we still try.

I don’t necessarily like being serious because, well, it’s not funny. I love a little arrogance and sarcasm as much as anyone, maybe more than…

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Doing Corn!

A discovery from the blogging stratosphere, this is a truly delightful collection of tales from the American South; a ‘book’ to keep by your bedside (with over 34,000 guaranteed pre-sales, why this chap hasn’t already got a publishing deal I do not know) or to turn to when you’re feeling fed up with your life and the world around you.

They’d also make a very nice feel-good film – and heaven knows we could do with some of those these days – in fact you could easily get three separate films out of the ‘Bus Whisperer’ stories, the Nannie/family stories and the Mary Dell stories.

I simply couldn’t pick a favourite so I’m starting you off at the beginning. Kick back on the porch and enjoy …

Storyshucker

A few years ago I reminisced with coworkers about childhood experiences we longed to relive. One said “Oh, I want to do Italy again! The sights and sounds!” Another said “I want to do Paris again! The shopping!” When asked what summertime fun I wanted to have again I whispered “I want to do corn…!”

Nannie, my grandmother, had a huge garden on her farm which was summer’s focus for my family and my extended family. We anticipated nothing more than CORN. Excitement began when Daddy hooked the planter to the tractor. Weeks later, we pulled suckers in the hot cornfield. “Straighten the stalks up as you go.” Daddy said, wiping his face with a handkerchief. As time passed, Nannie checked corn by pulling shucks back just enough to stick a fingernail into a juice kernel. “If we’d get rain it would go on and make.” Mama predicted. “You could…

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Reading emancipates

This is a lovely post from a newcomer to Blogosphere on the transforming powers of good books and what reading means to her. A would-be author (writing in her third language) she’s also a fully paid up member of our Wodehouse League of Nations so has my vote already.

I really like what she’s trying to do with her blog: it’s commentary rather than review, her viewpoint is an interesting one, and, particularly on those books I’m familiar with, she picks up on some unusual angles of thought.

It’s only a few months in and she’s still working out her voice (I see much of my early blogging beginnings here) but I think this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

I was brought up in an Indian middle class home where studies took precedence over everything else. And I am not talking figuratively here. Playing hopscotch, listening to a song, learning to dance, painting, and reading non-curriculum books, were all considered extra-curricular activities that you could pursue only when you were tired of cramming books, class notes, self-notes, and after you have narrated everything to an elder person. I was trained to eat quickly to save my precious study time.

But I also realize that my parents, their parents, and so on, were brought up in an extremely challenging environment. Three meals a day was never taken for-granted by my dad during his first 16 years on earth. So, I do not blame or argue with my parents, elders, society, or community about their beliefs.

But this post is not about them. It is about my third parent – a parent who had been brought…

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Herding Cats

A joyful discovery courtesy of Litlove at Tales from the Reading Room: an outstandingly well written and witty blog on the perversities of life, inanimate objects – and, of course, cats.

I recommend starting at the very beginning and just working your way through, so you don’t miss anything.

Baker's Daughter Blog

First problem – I can’t find the cat. She’s gone off on one of her expeditions next door to retrieve dead leaves. We have leaves in our own garden, of course, but the ones next door are better: they are as long as she is, vaguely tropical looking, and obviously very cumbersome. She likes to go for the oxen-pulling-plough effect, holding one end of the leaf in her mouth and letting the other drag on the ground beside her.

I need the cat because I have the perfect idea for a header image for my blog: I’ll put a pile of books on the floor, encourage the cat to inspect them, then take a photo. I can just see it stretching across the top of the page: a jaunty stack of books on the periphery, the spines an artful combination of faded moroccos, gilt-embossed leather, and bold primary colours. A…

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I Heart New York

This is rapidly becoming one of my favourite blogs – astute, acerbic and always very funny.

The Random Book Review

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I swear this is the last time I’m going to read unverified chick-lit (i.e. by authors I don’t already know and like). I stumbled onto Lindsey Kelk and this I Heart series when I was in need of a bit of escapism, and chick-lit fulfils the requirement perfectly (coz the worst thing that can happen here is a breakup), so I decided to give it a try. Lot of spoilers, so if you are still going to give the book a try despite the cheesy title, I suggest you come back later.

There’s a certain amount of disbelief suspension that has to be done when reading chick-lit. For example, the girl is almost always either ditzy/crazy and almost always in a lower paying and more peaceful job than the hero, who is invariably moneyed and handsome, and everything is always all right in the end (if it’s not, it’s not…

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Wodehouse and the conduct of old boys

To the continued weariness of his fans, Wodehouse has recently been appropriated, once again, as a shorthand for Establishment privilege. Our always charming hostess, Honoria Plum, has written this excellent and astute defence: a masterpiece of restrained, articulate indignation – and one of her very best pieces.

The Happy Land of Tea and Books

Another happy find: the delightful tea-table of Mlle Berlioz at ‘Miss Darcy’s Library’ whose evocative prose draws you into an enviable life seeking out stationery, books, flowers (and tea!) and the later revelling in their pleasures in her little flat in Paris; a bulwark of loveliness and peace in an otherwise turbulent world.

Miss Darcy's Library

     “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C. S. Lewis

     In December, I promised you all a post on tea and books. I had just come across Birgit’s “Tea and Books Reading Challenge” over on The Book Garden, which was inspired by C. S. Lewis’s famous remark, and I was delighted to have a cast-iron excuse to bring together two of my favourite pastimes: reading and drinking tea. As so often, the thousand and one trivial concerns of daily life then got the better of me and before I knew it, January was drawing to an end. But the weather here in Paris has suddenly taken a turn for the worse and, as I walked down the cobble-stoned streets of the 5th arrondissement on my way to work yesterday morning, wincing as the icy wind bit…

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