Anyone who watched Rob Corddry when he was a correspondent on “The Daily Show” — or even during his improv days at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York — might have had an idea that he could come up with a world as twisted as the one in “Childrens Hospital.” But even Corddry is surprised at what he and his writers have come up with for the show, now in its fourth season on Adult Swim (airing Thursdays at midnight ET).
Corddry created the show during the downtime of the 2007-08 writers strike, and even though its first season was on the web, it attracted actors like Erinn Hayes, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler to the cast. Now, it’s come full circle, nominated for an Emmy in the live-action short-form entertainment program category, in competition with a number of webisodes — including the folks at his old “TDS” stomping grounds.
Corddry, who also plays super-serious clown surgeon Blake Downs on the show, talked to Zap2It about how he found out about the Emmy nomination, being on “The Daily Show” as a guest, how he and the “Childrens” writers come up with such odd situations, and if he’s seen the similar-in-tone NBC series “Animal Practice.”
Zap2It: At what point did you realize this short form category was a good fit for “Childrens Hospital”?
Rob Corddry: It was actually a surprise to me. I think I recall Warner Bros. saying something like “We’re going to submit you for this, but really it wasn’t until the day we were nominated and I found out by a Twitter from a stranger that I realized we were submitted. I always get the e-mail from probably my publicist saying, “Do you want to submit yourself for this or this or this?” And I never do. I don’t know. Maybe it’s stupid. It feels a little weird and self-congratulatory to me.
I do, however, sometimes submit some people in my cast. I submitted Megan Mullally one year. This year I submitted Erinn Hayes. And I’m going to submit her again next year, because this season she turns in an Emmy Award-winning performance. It’s incredible.
Just the fact that Megan’s on the crutches and wears the thick glasses, just the physical part of that role deserves a nomination.
Well, she completely transformed herself even without that stuff. She’s kind of method about it, to tell you the truth. She really, really gets into wigs and stuff and props. She was on the set. We did a British episode this year. And she really wanted to make sure … and there’s also Abigail Spencer plays Chief in the past. And [she] just wanted to make sure that they got the body language down. It’s very, very important to her, that signature.
The British episode, like I said, it’s not necessary because it is a British adaptation and this fictional actress wouldn’t listen to you. Wouldn’t care and she’d want to do her own thing. And she did do her own thing. But, yes. Abigail Spencer, she’s been on the show playing young chief before, and that’s when Megan made sure, I think she worked with her a little bit.
Did the nomination bend your brain a little bit?
Yes. It still bends my brain a little bit. I’m so surprised that anybody besides my dad watches the show. I don’t know — I feel like nothing else matters anymore. But, OK, I did it, now I can retire or I can just have fun.
Can you fathom what it would be like if you won?
I think everybody in the category has a good shot. It really is anybody’s game. So I think we have a chance. And I don’t know. I don’t know what the value of an Emmy is in terms of numbers. Adult Swim is not as savvy about maybe using that correctly as some of the other networks are, but I don’t know if you have to be. Really, it’s all new to me.
The category itself is a little unusual because a lot of the nominees are web-based. Do you think because you’re an Adult Swim show and you’re seen by more people, you might have a bit of leg up?
Maybe, but I think just by virtue of the shows that those web series are associated with it sort of balances it out again. And I also think that I don’t like thinking like that, either because it’s my philosophy that [TV and the web] is all going to be one fairly soon. I think that they are just as much a storytelling engine as we are, so I don’t like to write it that way.
How do you feel about competing against your old friends at “The Daily Show”?
Yeah. My reaction was probably something like, “Of course. Of course they are.” I was on “The Daily Show” [a couple of weeks ago], and I asked [Jon Stewart] to take a dive. Come on. He’s sick of getting Emmys at this point.
I think his walls are lined with Emmys or something like that.
Yeah. Yeah. And they’re sharp too. Those wings on the Emmys are sharp. Somebody in that office is going to hurt themselves.
Are they in the bathroom?
Well, Jon’s one of these guys that like … a lot of people are falsely modest about their Emmys and they’ll put it in the closet and hide them away, only because they probably can’t admit that they did anything worthy of it, because everybody’s insecure in this business. But Jon is truly one of those guys that just doesn’t kind of give a s***, and he’s more into taking news and turning it into jokes. You know what I mean? I’ve only seen his Emmys around anytime and they’re usually in bubble wrap for a month or two and then they disappear.
Just put into that vast “Daily Show” storage area never to be picked up again, I guess.
It’s like the Indiana Jones storage infinite storage place.
How did it feel coming back, by the way, to “prepare” the correspondents for the conventions and then to do the interview with Jon?
Boy, great on so many levels. I just love my association with that show. I love being from that show. I love my time on that show. I love being on it in any capacity. But, yeah, being a guest, at the desk with Jon was like, I don’t know, kind of like an Emmy win in itself. I got real personal satisfaction from [it]. I allowed myself to go, “Wow.” I can see clearly my evolution and it made me happy.
That’s a seat that presidents and world leaders and very smart people have sat in. Did it feel weirdly intimidating at all or no?
No. Well, Robert Pattinson had sat in it the night before. But, no. Actually, no. All those shows — any talk-show appearance is just the most stressful thing you can do. You have to really convince yourself that it’s not going to make or break everything, but it really could, and especially as a comedian. I’m on there to promote whatever I’m on there for and to be funny with, ideally, everything I say. And so it’s a lot of pressure. And you just want to please the person, because I look up to everybody that does those.
This one, though, was absolutely no stress. I was not nervous until the second before I was about to go out, and then it completely went away. I felt comfortable. And I think that’s kind of affected
my attitude towards the rest of them now. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You just go out there and have fun. These guys are professional talkers. I’m going to be OK.
Does your improv background help with that?
Well, it does. It’s so funny. I come from long-form improv, as you know. And it’s a little bit slower. It’s less like, “Wow. How did he come up with that right then?” But, yeah. It does help. But then again, I’ve never been the kind of guy in improvs that could … I was never the guy that’s … like I’m not good on the spot.
How does that show itself?
I think my biggest strength in improv was at ending, and making connections with other scenes. That’s the most fun thing in the world to me, and there’s nothing more satisfying. Even when I’m reading a book by an author and it references another book or character in that author’s oeurve [chuckles]. That just always makes me giddy. And so I think I have a mind for that, and so that’s where my strength was. So I’m good at callbacks.
When Jon interviews a former correspondent, they do more of a scene than a straight interview. Did Jon or the writers approach you beforehand to prepare that?
Absolutely, yeah. Because Jon likes talking to guys who have written books that he can talk to or argue with. He has no interest in talking to celebrities about their movies. None. And who would? But he probably has less interest in talking to someone who’s doing movies now that he considers a friend and he used to be their boss. So, yeah. It’s way more comfortable for all of us, him included, to just like, “Let’s just have a couple of bits and do what we used to do and do what the audience expects us to do or will have the most fun watching us do,” which is bits.
So it basically becomes like a third comedy segment as opposed to two comedy segments and an interview.
Yeah. But it’s cool because I didn’t know … like I knew he had that box, and there were like 20 things in the box. I didn’t know what he was going to pull out. That’s cool. So there was still a lot of spontaneity to it. We didn’t even know if he was going to get to it. So that was…yeah. It definitely makes me feel more comfortable knowing that we’ve got that.
Back to “Childrens Hospital.” You and co-producer David Wain are kind of empire makers now. “NTSF:SD:SUV” That’s a spinoff, in a way, because you used to show fake ads for the show on “Childrens” …
Well, it’s definitely like our sister show. It’s produced by the same company, Abominable, but it’s more like just in the same world, I guess, because it was a fake commercial for a show in our second season, I think, second or third season. And that was only because we were 30 seconds short, and [“Childrens” writer] Jon [Stern] was like, “Well, we just did this with Paul [Scheer], let’s throw this in.” I was like, “Great.” … That said, Paul and I are trying to figure out a way to connect the two shows.
Now you’re producing “Newsreaders,” which is more of a direct spinoff?
Well, it is one character, a sort of peripheral character, the host of “Newsreaders,” which is a show that does … every season we do a “Newsreaders” episode. [It’s] a fictional news program that does a story on “Childrens Hospital.” So now this is just basically taking that concept further. So this is a show that exists in the same world as “Childrens Hospital,” so what else would it report on? And it’s just the same, it’s just completely absurd. It’s different from all the other fake news shows in that it’s completely meaningless.
As opposed to “The Daily Show,” which has a little bit of meaning even though it’s fake news?
It does. They won’t admit to it, but satire is based in meaning, so…
When Jon says, “Hey, we’re just a fake new show and I’m just trying to do comedy.” How much do you believe him?
It’s true. It is true. But like I said, you have to honor your genre, and that’s it. That’s satire right there. He’s satirizing media and politics, so it’s issue-based. And he’s a passionate guy, and he’s a smart guy, so it’s going to happen. But I’ve seen him cut more “clapter” jokes for just the dumb punchline, because it really is just about, at the end of the day, getting the funniest laugh and the biggest laugh in the shortest amount of time.
When people are watching “Childrens”, do you want them to think that it’s these characters in this really weird hospital or do you want them to think along the lines of what the “Newsreaders” episodes do, that it’s actors acting in a show about this really weird hospital?
Both. I mean, I guess I like it when we have that “Newsreaders” episode and people will go, “Oh, right. This is a fake TV show.” So they’re hopefully just kind of reminded of that. I don’t need them to be conscious of that all the time. Although, we are doing another episode this season where we do this sort of behind-the-scenes thing, which is pretty fun.
What’s going to be in that one? How are you doing that one a little bit differently?
We start off as a normal “Childrens Hospital” episode and then you hear cuts, and then everything’s black and white and then it’s behind the scenes, but it’s like the storylines from behind the scenes kind of parallel what is happening in the “Childrens Hospital” episode and start to affect it.
With the British adaptation episode, is it just going to be British actors playing all the different parts and there’s not going to be an explanation or …
No. No explanation. It starts out, “Previously on ‘Childrens Hospital,'” and then we start off with a British version of a “Previously on you saw last season” and it’s with Dominic Monaghan instead of Rob Huebel. And from the first second, you know something weird is going on. … Then 30 seconds later when we get to the titles a new theme song, [there’s] a new title card that says “Childrens Hospital UK.” We don’t feel like we have to help them along. I hate it. I trash any episode where you have to have a card come up explaining what’s going on. We’ve done that once, and it was only because it was a fix in editing.
Which one was that?
It was the ’70s episode. We just started off by saying, “The following episode of ‘Childrens Hospital’ was a lost episode from the ’70s. It aired this date. It never aired again due to content the network found objectionable.” And we slipped that in because we had a whole intro with Jim Piddock, a British guy that’s in a lot of the [Christopher Guest] movies. He’s actually in the British episode playing Cy. He’s taking us through the ’70s set, like “Remember this lobby? If you were alive in 1975 you do.” And he’s saying this as if you were in the Smithsonian, this is an exhibit, and it just took too long, unfortunately. But I do not like having any idea that we have to … if we have to tell the audience what the idea is, then I’m not into it.
Which episode with Erinn was the one you wanted to submit?
It’s later on this season. She’s good at everything. She’s my utility player. She can just do anything. I think she’s just one of the best actresses out there. So when she can surprise me, and she does all the time, it’s so satisfying. So this episode, it’s called “Childrens Lawspital.” And it’s basically Owen [Huebel] is charged with malpractice, he killed a kid in surgery, and you find out that because Lola, Erinn’s character, has no friends, no boyfriends, no family, and no pets, she’s got a law degree as well. So she represents him in court, but the trick is she can really only be effective in court when she’s
high on cocaine. And she’s great. It’s incredible. That’s also staring young Nate Corddry.
Nate’s been on the show before?
Nate was in the first season, because we only needed him for an hour or two. He’s the hardest guest to get. He and Ed Helms have been the hardest people to get back because they’re so busy.
Where are you and David and some of your writers thinking this stuff up when you’re sitting down to do the writing?
Well, it’s so funny because, I’m bringing the conversation back around. This interview’s been like a Harold. My strength is the weird conceptual sort of connections and callbacks, so a lot of my episodes are … like [the episode with Chief’s origin story]. I wrote [that] episode. And there’s a lot of weird — like it’s a story, it’s just a traditional flashback and then you find out it’s actually a story within a story within a story. And I just love that. That’s what I love to write the most, so I find myself writing those episodes.
But the ideas … it’s funny. We just had a brainstorm session last week with a lot of our cast and friends and stuff, and Scheer was there and David Skyped in. We all just pitched ideas for three hours. And I’m always thinking I’m running the room, so I’m “yes anding” everybody, basically, and also finding my brain is just always working on connections and how to make it more conceptual, or thinking like, “All right, that’s a good story. How do we tell that story? What’s the best way to tell that story?” My mind always goes to places like that. Like stories within stories and stuff like that. I don’t know. That’s just what’s most fun for me.
Is it easier to build stories around the more outlandish ideas because you only have 11 minutes?
Yes and no. It’s harder. Actually, I don’t know if it’s easier or harder. I really do look at most of these shows, I think any 22-minute show or even a 60-minute show, and I can cut it down to 11 minutes and not lose any story. I learned to tell stories by doing “Childrens Hospital.” The trick with “Childrens” that makes it easier for us, rule No. 1 is your characters can get into trouble via a coincidence, but they can’t get out of trouble via a coincidence. It just can’t be all a dream or whatever, unless you’re working in the absurd genre, then you can do whatever you want, especially if you only have 11 minutes. Like [in the Chief’s origin episode], the whole episode was based on the fact that she’d drank Parkinson’s juice. It’s like, that is a cheat, but it would be a cheat anywhere else.
But you’ve already established a world where Parkinson’s juice could exist.
Exactly. Exactly. We make cheats legal.
Were you surprised when “Childrens” was a Web series to be able to get people like Mullally and Henry Winkler to do the show?
Well, I’m constantly surprised now that I still have them. And it’s tough every season, but everybody’s in the same boat I was basically. We were all bored and nothing to do and “this would be fun.” But then again, all these people, Megan always shows up in Funny or Die videos. They just want to go to work. They just want to work and tell jokes. So I think they appreciate the fun outlet for that. The no-pressure outlet.
And we saw Nick [Offerman] again in some of the murder sequences at the end of the Chief’s origins episode.
Yeah. And that will come back in our second to last episode, I believe. Calling back callbacks once more. There’s a greater level. There’s a bigger … deeper, if I may be so bold [laughs], level to that particular appearance.
Any other guest shots coming this season?
It’s a hard question to answer, because I’m not so focused on guest stars. I’m more focused on this cast. Yeah. Megan Mullally’s coming back, Henry Winkler. Can you believe it? Lake Bell, I promise will be in every episode from now on. She wasn’t in the first three because she was either directing or prepping to direct. That’s the most thrilling thing to me.
So is this category is it going to be on the main Emmys or is it going to be on the Creative Arts Emmys?
[Laughs] We were told it was going to be in the main one, until a couple of weeks ago, I found out no, it’s going to be on the “poor person’s Emmys” a week before. So, I guess, you’ll probably only see me in the main Emmys if we win and if I drop an F-bomb in my speech or something.
Are you going to be nervous?
Well, I’ve been to the main Emmys a couple of times with “The Daily Show,” and it’s always been sort of a letdown in a way, because of course, it’s like meeting a star in person, you’re starstruck for a while and then everybody leaves after you win or lose and it’s all seat fillers after the first hour. It loses its luster and you find yourself hanging out at the bar and hanging out with your friends. So I’m really just curious about these, because I think these Emmys, the Creative Arts Emmys, I think the people are going to be more into it. And I think they’re going to be more excited and passionate, so I think it’s probably going to be a better show. So I think it will be more laid-back and fun. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
One more thing… Have you gotten a chance to watch the pilot for “Animal Practice” on NBC?
No. I have not.
How much have you heard about the show?
I read the pilot, and I know there’s a monkey.
Was there any ring of familiarity to it when you read it or did you think two wacky hospital shows are fine?
I don’t know. I don’t know because when I read it I never got the impression it was anything like “Childrens,” but you are the second person to say, “Hey, man. Have you seen that show?” So now my curiosity is piqued. Perhaps it is more joke-based than it was when I read it. It was just kind of a very good network show with heart and story and interesting characters, but who knows, man. I’m very curious now, because the guys that make it are my friends. So we’ll see. Yeah. I’m very curious. Was it good?
I’ll let you watch it for yourself and decide.
OK. That’s a no.
Like you said, it’s got a monkey, which you can’t deny is always a good place to start.
I worked with that monkey, by the way. Great monkey. That monkey’s in “Childrens Hospital” this season. That monkey’s been on “The Daily Show.” That’s the hardest working monkey in show business.