Former ‘Late Late Show’ Head Writer Ian Karmel Talks Losing 200 Pounds in New Memoir

Ian Karmel, comedian and Emmy-winning former co-head writer for “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” describes his journey from childhood to working through internal struggles that led him to drop 200 pounds in his recent memoir “T-Shirt Swim Club: Stories from Being Fat in a World of Thin People.”

The cover of the book echoes the title, portraying a kid at the beach. Karmel says he was inspired to use that image because he “thought that anyone who was a fat kid would know that feeling.”

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He explains, “When you go to the pool, and all of a sudden your big fat body is hanging out there and you’re like, ‘OK, I know how I’ll fix that. I’ll put on a T-shirt,’ which immediately gets wet, and clings to every curve of your torso. It’s a very silly act of desperation by children.”

Karmel spent nearly two years writing the book with his younger sister Alisa Karmel, who is a clinical psychologist. They both have gone through weight issues, have dealt with bullying and struggled with self-confidence.

“This book, it’s not just for fat people, it’s also for anyone who has been bullied or anyone who has family members or loved ones or anything like that, who have been fat at any stage of their life, or even anyone who wants to understand them better,” Karmel says. “I think everyone’s been bullied. Kids are scared, and when you’re scared, you’re mean. Everyone goes through it at some degree.”

However, Karmel has chosen to turn to humor in his hard times.

Karmel says he and Corden talked about being “fat kids” all the time. “For [Corden] and I, being fat entertainers, and making fun of yourself and using your fatness and your body to get laughs and everything like that was something we had an ongoing dialogue about the entire run of ‘The Late Late Show.'”

While Karmel and Corden made jokes about weight, they never had open and real conversations about it until a 2019 “Real Time with Bill Maher” segment urged people to bring back fat shaming. This prompted Karmel and Corden to write a segment in response and use their platform to clap back at the “condescending bulls—t!”

“It’s one of the things I’m the most proud of, because…there aren’t a ton of fat people who are on TV in the first place. Especially in a host role where they’re allowed to be themselves. So I felt like it was really important we got [Corden’s] voice out there and offered that counter point of view.”

During his eight years working on “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” he reached his peak weight—420 pounds. After a scary visit to the doctor, Karmel decided to start making changes in his lifestyle.

“My blood pressure was 200, over 100 and something and I was really unhealthy. When a doctor comes in and says, very seriously, ‘You could die from this, that’s the kind of blood pressure where you could have a heart attack or a stroke, those are very realistic things that can happen,'” he says. “The idea of having to lose 200 pounds, that’s like saying, ‘Oh, hey, why don’t you build a rocket ship or climb to the top of Mount Everest.'”

In a world where weight loss drugs like Ozempic are now the new normal, Karmel lost weight the old-fashioned way. He says he prepares meals in advance, weighs himself regularly to check his progress and engages in his frequent “hot girl walks”—a phrase coined on TikTok to describe a stroll.

However, if the weight loss drug was accessible at the time, he says he “100% would have tried it.”

“When I was 420 pounds, I would have been wearing an Ozempic half shirt, drinking out of an Ozempic water bottle, rollerblading around Hollywood advertising — I would have been the poster child,” Karmel jokes.

“Our entire society is built around simultaneously punishing fat people and trying to make people as fat as possible, at the same time,” Karmel says. “It’s easier to get a cheeseburger than it is to get a salad, and then the world is cruel to the person who eats the cheeseburger. So it’s fucked.”

Looking back on his life and the experiences he’s endured, Karmel has a message he’d like to tell his younger self: “Go about your life and find the people who love you for who you are. Some people are going to bully you, and most of the other people aren’t really thinking about you at all.”

In addition to the book, Karmel has been busy since the “Late Late Show” ended last year, including co-hosting his long-running podcast “All Fantasy Everything” and embarking on unique comedy projects. For example, he spent the last three months chatting with Ellen Degeneres about new material she’s set to debut on her upcoming tour. “I listened to her tell me about her life, and tell me about the last four or five years of her life specifically and tried to synthesize that into something funny and relatable. It was one of the great challenges of my career, but also super fun,” Karmel says. “She’s very funny. She’s very creative. She’s very direct in her feedback, which I appreciate.”

Karmel says he was first in awe at the opportunity to collaborate with the former talk show host. “She’s been really nice and professional. And when the offer came through, I couldn’t believe it. Because you almost don’t think of her as a human, because it’s Ellen. She’s one of those one-namers.”

When asked if there are misconceptions talk show hosts like Corden and Degeneres face, Karmel says, “I think people don’t appreciate how much pressure there is. Having worked with a few different talk show hosts, from Chelsea Handler to James Corden, to working on stand-up with Ellen—it’s a hard job. You’re the tip of a spear.”

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