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Ben Stout
April 13, 2020

Delivering joy one laugh at a time

Late Show writer and producer Ben Stout ’91 shares behind-the-scenes details
by Nancy Hitchcock

Suspended high above Beverly Boulevard, Harry Styles swings in a harness singing “Sign of the Times” while actors and dancers perform on the crosswalk below to the surprised audience of motorists. Suddenly James Corden, host of CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden, frenetically yells and runs to clear everyone off the crosswalk so cars won’t hit the spontaneous performance. When the scene ends, Ben Stout ’91 strolls back to the editing room to begin work for that night’s broadcast. Just another day at the office.

As a writer and producer on The Late Late Show, Stout delights in delivering joy to viewers. “The whole show is—and it really starts at the top—a really joyful experience,” he says. “A lot of comedy is built on being snarky and trolling and looking to take people down. On our show, we really want it to be a positive thing that builds people up. We have political jokes and we try to lay bare the hypocrisy of the world, but at the same time we try to do it in a way that is happy and uplifting more than something destructive.”

Stout edits the show’s signature musical and comedy features, such as “Crosswalk: The Musical” and “Take a Break.” He also works on the “Carpool Karaoke” segment—which holds the YouTube record for the most-watched late night clip; “Adele Carpool Karaoke” has more than 213 million views.

Working on late night TV is exactly what Stout dreamed of doing when he was relaxing with friends at Andover in the late ’80s watching Late Show with David Letterman almost every night. “To me and my friends, that was the language that we spoke. [Dave’s] sense of humor and his sensibilities were just how we wanted to talk and how we wanted to be. He was the gold standard for us. When I moved to L.A. and started working on another late night show, I was just like, ‘Wow. This is really the trajectory that I've been looking at since I was in high school.’ ”

Singer Harry Styles suspended above the street for The Late Late Show with James Corden comedy feature “Crosswalk: The Musical.”

Stout arrived in Los Angeles almost 20 years ago and began editing, writing, and film production for shows such as The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn and Creature Comforts. At The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, he was asked to write up to 60 jokes a day. That’s a lot of output, but Stout says his experience writing for The Phillipian helped him tremendously. Tom Lyons was his faculty advisor and Stout recalls he would say: “‘Brevity, brevity, brevity. Make it as short as it can possibly be and still have context.’ I spent years writing monologue jokes, and that is the single skill you have to learn in order to do that. Keep it as short as it can possibly be and still have your audience know what you’re talking about—so when you get to the punchline, they get it.”

Editing uses these same skills, he says. “When you’re editing, you’re literally removing pieces until what you have left is as short as it can possibly be. And it’s 10 times better. Now when I’m editing, I’m taking four hours of material, for instance, and narrowing it down to 10 minutes.”

Andover also nurtured Stout’s interest in filmmaking. Students could take the filmmaking course as many times as they wanted. Stout took it four times.

“When you’re editing, you’re literally removing pieces until what you have left is as short as it can possibly be. And it’s 10 times better. Now when I’m editing, I’m taking four hours of material, for instance, and narrowing it down to 10 minutes.”
Not letting social distancing deter its mission during the global pandemic, The Late Late Show is now filming from Corden’s garage and Stout edits from home.

Stout is also pleased that he can use his skills for a show that brings so much joy and happiness to others. He experienced this firsthand while visiting his daughter at a children’s hospital. At one point he was sitting in the hallway and heard a young girl in another room listening to the Michelle Obama “Carpool Karaoke” segment, and she continued to watch episode after episode. “I thought, here is a girl in the hospital who is watching this to make herself feel better,” says Stout.

“For me, it’s that idea that I am working on a show that brings so much joy to people that they seek it out when they're in [the hospital] or whenever they need it. That feels good to me.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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