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The Sunday Conversation: Rob Corddry of 'Childrens Hospital' is busy in the comedy ward

The creator and star of the Adult Swim series talks about its Internet roots and fun environment and his background in improv and theater.

July 21, 2012|By Irene Lacher
  • Actor and comedian Rob Corddry.
Actor and comedian Rob Corddry. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Rob Corddry, 41, a former correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," is cresting what he calls his busiest year ever. In addition to creating and starring in the edgy Adult Swim comedy "Childrens Hospital," which has just received its first Emmy nod as it embarks on a fourth season on Aug. 9, he also appears in a flurry of upcoming films.

Let's start with "Childrens Hospital." What inspired that? I've read that you had only seen a couple of medical series when you created it.

Yeah, I was a big fan of "St. Elsewhere"growing up. That's about it. I used to watch "Grey's Anatomy"over my wife's shoulder when I was on the computer. That didn't necessarily inspire a parody; I just thought that a children's hospital was a funny place to place a typical hospital drama parody. I drew from "Grey's Anatomy" and"House" for the first couple of seasons, but it's become a different thing now. We rarely parody those hospital shows or any show.

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How else is it different?

It's definitely become more conceptual. This year we do a whole episode that's the British adaptation of the hit American show that's been on the air for 18 years, "Childrens Hospital." We cast all British actors — including Dominic Monaghan and Frances Fisher — and we got a British director and a British writer. We're trying to be very precise about the British humor of it all and still keep it within our tone.

"Childrens Hospital" started as a Web series. Was that your first choice?

Oh, yeah. I had no intention of it being a TV series at all. There's no other show on television that is like it in that it takes an absurd tone, so I thought it was more conducive to the Web. I also thought that it would be really cool to do a TV drama parody on the Internet that's shot like a TV show, that looks really slick and beautiful, because no one else had done that before except for maybe "Dr. Horrible" [ Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"].

Do you think the Internet is serving as a lab that helps push the boundaries of television?

It definitely helped me in that it started as a Web series andWarner Bros.produced it and they let us do whatever we wanted. Then we were bought by Adult Swim, which really is the only place you could do this show. It's kind of like the Internet of television.

What do you mean?

They like the 15-minute format, and I don't think a show like mine could be any longer than 15 minutes. I don't know how long that kind of comedy would sustain itself, although Monty Python did it. But I do think the Web is giving people a lot of practice right now, a lot of young guys just starting out are doing it on Funny or Die and places like that. The tone there varies, but that's going to inform comedy in the near future.

Were your wings clipped a little when "Childrens Hospital" moved from the Internet to television?

No, not at all. As a matter of fact, they were spread because I could make it longer than five minutes. They have their demographic locked down — 18- to 34-year-old males. So they're not worried about advertising so much.

Did you ever do stand-up?

No, I came from a pretentious theater background and then started doing sketch and improv by accident.

You went from touring with the National Shakespeare Company to improv? What was the accident?

I wasn't so great at Shakespeare. Shakespeare's hard to memorize; improv isn't.

Why do you think you didn't gravitate toward stand-up?

I don't really know. I always liked stand-up. Some of my biggest influences were stand-ups, but I guess I like improv and sketch in that it's supportive. You can fail a little bit and your partners can pick you up. I started at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and their philosophy behind improv is that if you make your partner look good, you will look good by default. So it's very supportive, fun and really very kind of unique as far as comedy goes, because comedians have the reputation of being arrogant and back-stabbers.

Your cast draws from people like Megan Mullally ("Will & Grace") and her husband, Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation"). It feels like a bunch of friends in comedy are coming together to put on a show.

Exactly. I cast the show with my friends. It's the same idea as before — I wanted to create a fun environment with like-minded people, and the people I cast are largely in that UCB world I was talking about. This family of comedians you're seeing pop up everywhere, myself included, is largely a mix of this UCB collective and a collective that is the State, which was on MTV in the '90s.

It sounds like it's this generation's equivalent of the Second City.

Very much so. UCB was born directly out of Second City. I can pretty much break down the family for you. I've seen a lot of Venn diagrams coming out which put the names together and all the shows we're on, and they're trying to figure out this group, this family. And no one's really defined it yet because there's no one head of it.

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