James Corden: Just having a little fun

A favorite on stage and British TV, the actor-singer-writer has turned "The Late Late Show" in a viral hit.

CBS News

"Carpool Karaoke" with Justin Bieber is just one of the things "late late bloomer" James Corden has been up to since he took over CBS' "The Late Late Show" earlier this year. He's traveled no small distance to reach his featured spot, and he shares part of the journey now with our Mark Phillips. [An earlier version of this story was originally broadcast on December 7, 2014.]

His is a name American audience have come to know, since James Corden stepped into the unforgiving limelight of late-late-night TV.

On his 50th show milestone earlier this summer, Corden had a little fun with the anniversary idea:

Corden: "We just never thought this day would come, did we, bud?"
Bandleader Reggie Watts: "I don't know. At 49 I thought, that was enough!"

"Having a little fun" could be the motto of this actor-cum-song-and-dance man, who's proving again, there isn't much he can't do (or isn't willing to do) for a laugh.

He's breaking through onto the American celebrity A-List these days with the help of some friends like Tom Hanks.

But fame and recognition are not new to James Corden. He's been there before, recently receiving an Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace (for services to drama, the citation said). No one will be surprised if it's Sir James next.

It's a trajectory to stardom he traces back to the National Theatre in London, where Phillips met the actor just as he was due to leave for the U.S. It's where he has his breakout role 10 years ago in the original production of "The History Boys," which was later made into a movie. Corden was the tubby kid among the raucous students.

The stage production drew full houses, and won Best Play awards in London and on Broadway.

And since then, Corden has pretty well cornered the market on playing the "rolly-polly amusing one" in various hit TV shows that he's both written and acted in.

His bumbling-best-friend act in the series "Gavin and Stacey" made him a household name in Britain, if not a national institution.

How popular is he? Try taking a quiet walk with him along the Thames, past the screaming kids.

"They recognized you," said Phillips.

"I don't think that was for me, I think it's more for the camera," he said.

It was for him, all right. Yet the 37-year old Corden does a nice line in self-effacement.

But he's been single-minded about his ambition ever childhood. All he ever wanted to do is what what he's doing right now.

His ambition was to be the lead in a West End or Broadway musical. "Yeah, but even Broadway was beyond anything I could have -- that felt out of reach. It was inconceivable that I would even be able to come to America."

"What? On a visit?"

"Yeah, genuinely!" he laughed.

But, boy, has James Corden ever come to America now. The measure of late night TV isn't just how many people are watching -- it's how many people watch again. His "Carpool Karaoke" series has become a YouTube favorite -- somewhere around six million hits the last time we looked.

"If I could have told my 12-year-old self that at this stage in my life I would be offered one of these (late night) chairs, one of these five chairs, his head would explode!" Corden said.

The "letter to self" is an idea Corden apparently likes:

Corden has done talk TV before, and sketch comedy. His spoofs with national sporting heroes like David Beckham have been a regular feature of charity fund-raisers on the BBC.

From Beckham gags in Britain, to Beckham gags in America - it's one of Corden's theories that if it's funny here, it's funny anywhere.