Craig Robinson is taking his talents mobile.
The Office alum is the host of the game show Caraoke Showdown, premiering Thursday on Spike. The series has been often compared with James Corden’s Late Late Show segment “Carpool Karaoke,” but host Robinson says he sees it more as karaoke meets Cash Cab.
During each episode, Robinson drives around in the Caraoke van, picking up unsuspecting riders who get the chance to play karaoke-style games for cash prizes while they ride. The two most winning teams move on to the final round, where they sing karaoke songs to a crowd who votes for the ultimate winner, who takes home another $5,000.
Robinson says part of the fun is in surprising the passengers. (He’s often recognized for his role in The Office but likes to downplay that — in one episode, he tells his riders that he’s Hannibal Buress). As they drive and play games, he also shows off his own singing chops, seen previously with his keyboard in Walmart commercials.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Robinson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how the show works, his favorite ride-along games and, of course, his go-to karaoke songs.
How did you get involved with Caraoke Showdown?
I got a call from my manager saying Howie Mandel wants to talk to you. And I’m a comic — big fan of all he’s done. He was pitching me Caraoke Showdown, and I was just excited about it.
What challenges did you face filming this show, where contestants don’t really know they are on a game show until they’re on it?
We had our challenges filming. You’ve got this van full of all this equipment, and it’s not always going to go the way it’s supposed to go. So early on challenges were very tough, and the singers in there, the contestants, they’re not professionals, but then something turned around about it. It became this special project, and we had these awesome celebrities come in and do the show and hang out. One of the contestants after the celebrities sang, the contestants just broke down and started crying. It was this beautiful moment where I got to see this has meaning. This moment brought her to this beautiful place, and so from there I was like, “Wow this is something special we have here.”
As you know, this has been compared a lot to The Late Late Show‘s “Carpool Karaoke.” Would you describe it more as Cash Cab or “Carpool Karaoke”?
I would say it’s a blend of both of them. These are not professional singers; these are legitimate karaoke people, and it’s definitely got the game show Cash Cab vibe in the karaoke joint. I think it does stand apart though.
What attracted you to the show? Are you a karaoke fan?
I have done my share of karaoke. There is a karaoke place right around the corner from me, and I have been there maybe 800 of 1,000 days I’ve been in L.A. A lot of songs I know now because of that place. I dig karaoke and have fun with it.
What’s your go-to karaoke jam?
Oh, I have several. One is “Purple Rain.” I can shut ’em down with that. But let’s say the crowd is hot, I might hit ’em up with “My Funny Valentine” or Muse’s “Time Is Running Out” or some Nirvana.
You’ve teased that some celebrity guests show up. How does that work? Can you give us any hints of who may appear?
The passengers think they’re going somewhere, and I’m the one picking them up, unbeknownst to them. They get in there, I tell them they’re on the game show and all of them are game to do it. And when we play the games, I may get to the point and say, “You’re doing great,” or “You all aren’t doing so good; let’s get some help.” So the celebrity might help them out with the show or sing with them or something. Some of my friends come along.
Do you have a personal favorite of the games on the show?
Some have me cracking up. There is one where you have to sing with marshmallows in your mouth, and I’m a sucker for that kind of silliness, so that’s one for sure.
Caraoke Showdown premieres Jan. 12 on Spike.
Watch the first episode teaser below.