In the game of viral comedy, James Corden of “The Late Late Show” has emerged in 2016 as one the winners. Part of that success has been because of Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” segment, but that isn’t the only weapon in Corden’s comedy arsenal. Thanks to a 36-year-old writer, comedian, producer and former much hyped rapper (yes, this is all real), Corden found another success in “Drop the Mic.”
The “Drop the Mic” segment finds Corden and his guests engaging each other in classic rap battles. The easiest joke in the premise is that it’s funny to see people who don’t rap give it a shot. Underneath that joke lies the thing that makes the videos rack up tens of millions of views: the raps are actually good.
For that, we can thank 36-year-old Jensen Karp, a writer and comedian in Los Angeles who 15 years ago was known as Hot Karl. As Hot Karl, Karp was signed to Interscope Records and became friends with a young producer from Chicago named Kanye West.
Being friends with a young Kanye (they once saw a Russell Crowe movie together) is just one of many anecdotes that makes Karp’s new book “Kanye West Owes Me $300: And Other True Stories from a White Rapper Who Almost Made It Big” such an enjoyable read.
The book focuses on Karp’s time as Hot Karl and how ridiculous the music scene in the late ’90s and early 2000s was.
When asked by Rare about what made that time so specifically weird/awesome/awful, Karp had some explanations.
“It was nice to see musicians making money,” Karp joked during a phone interview with Rare.
“That was always a fun trend, to see them selling records.”
“It was great to see [bands make] money off their music, not just on [merchandise] or shaking hands after a concert.”
At the time Karp was signed to Interscope Records, the music industry was hungry for content, and there were big pre-iTunes dollars to be made by musicians. Karp likes to bring up the juvenile rock band the Bloodhound Gang as an example of how easy it was to find success in music. The Bloodhound Gang’s 1999 album “Hooray for Boobies” went platinum, a feat only accomplished by a handful of artists today.
Eventually, Karp’s debut album with Interscope was shelved, and he strayed from music for much of the next decade. For a time, he worked as a writer for the WWE, a situation he describes as fundamental to becoming a better writer but ultimately a weird time in his life. He also worked on the marketing team for ABC’s hit show “Lost” on his path to finding his current wave of success.
In Los Angeles, Karp is known for his popular podcast, “Get Up on This,” and for his pop-art gallery, Gallery 1988.
Though Karp’s book features Kanye’s name in the title, West primarily pops up in one chapter, which is devoted to chronicling the man and myth when he was just a producer from Chicago who really loved movies.
“His drive and ambition is pretty much unheralded,” Karp says of Kanye today, though he cautions that he hasn’t kept up with his old friend.
“I don’t know who this guy is now, definitely a different person.”
Despite drifting away from Kanye the man, Karp is still a fan of his music, though he did have some problems with the lyrics on West’s latest album “The Life of Pablo.”
“To be 38 years old and still talking about anal bleach and stuff, it felt real disconnected for me lately.”
Throughout our conversation, Karp wove through his opinions on current pop culture (he loves FX’s “Atlanta” and Lil Dicky) and about how his very specific background has helped him come to James Corden and “Drop the Mic.”
In early 2017, fans will get to see Karp’s work as a writer realized when he and Corden bring a full version of “Drop the Mic” to TBS. As he puts together a writers room and tries to find dozens of celebrities who are OK with rapping about themselves, Karp seems content on his next assignment.
As a writer and executive producer on “Drop the Mic,” Karp agrees that he is at an advantage thanks to his many different careers in show business.
“From my few weeks as an executive producer, what I’m gathering is that these networks or producers don’t know how much they’re going to work,” Karp explains.
As someone who has worked on camera, in marketing and as a writer, and as an owner of a small business, Karp is ready for his next challenge.
“I want to be involved in picking the host, or all these things. Because I’ve had small stops […] that’s kind of how I feel about the show,” Karp says.
“I’ve done all these small little elements and now it’s time to work each one individually from a higher stand point.”