Rob Corddry’s Adult Swim show Childrens Hospital is in its 5th season (the season finale will air Oct. 24th), and faithful viewers will note that it makes even less sense now than it did when it originally launched as a parody of medical dramas like St. Elsewhere and Grey’s Anatomy.
This season a character gets stuck in a Groundhog Day-like time loop (or maybe just thinks he does) while another is recruited for a government secret mission to do terrible celebrity impersonations. Episodes run about 10 minutes long and are produced on a shoestring, yet in addition to Emmy award-winning Corddry (familiar to viewers from his early work on The Daily Show, the movie Hot Tub Time Machine [sequel out in March!] and countless other film and television appearances) the show boasts a cast that includes Lake Bell, Ken Marino, Malin Ackerman, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, and guest appearances from Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Kurtwood Smith, Kate Walsh, Eva Longoria, Philip Baker Hall and several of the original cast of St. Elsewhere. Corddry and his Childrens Hospital team are also about to launch Newsreaders on Adult Swim (“I thought it was about time there was a fake news television show,” Corddry says)—in fact he is so busy that he’s not actually IN Childrens Hospital all that much this season, an issue which I quickly confront him over in this heated ambush interview:
Do you regret not being on The Daily Show at this particular moment in history?
Oh god no! Not a day goes by when I don’t miss that show and love that I was on it but, oh god no! Just to be sitting near that red phone like when Dick Cheney shoots someone in the face—it’s like ‘Uh oh, gotta go to work!’ It’s like you have to slide down the pole and get into your suit—it’s really intense and it’s not my bread and butter. I was literally the fart joke guy there.
You seemed particularly good at making your interview subjects squirm, which would be really gratifying now with some of the people in congress.
I think I definitely loved the actual interview process and getting them if they deserved it, but I would say that mantle has to go to Jason Jones, who’s just as good at twisting something somebody says in an interview as anyone and he has no fear whatsoever—he is a steam shovel and I just cringe every time I watch him interview someone.
Am I wrong or are you not in a lot of Childrens Hospital this season? There’s actually a joke about it in ‘Country Wedding’ where you’re not in the whole episode and then just sort of walk into the last shot with everyone else.
I was definitely doing more writing this year and also I hate acting on that show. I can’t focus on it because I got so much else to do and it’s not the most enjoyable part of the job for me, and with this cast I don’t think anybody’s going to be super bummed out if I’m not there. That said, there’s probably two episodes total out of 14 that I’m not in it at all. We made a joke out of it in the wedding episode because I cut myself from the episode. There was this whole thing, when [Rob] Huebel’s giving his speech at the wedding to pin the murder on Kat, there’s a wide shot where if you look to the left you can see some artifacts of painting out me and my clown band—if you notice in that final shot I have drumsticks in my hands. There was a plot where I was not invited to her wedding but I played at her wedding and I was the drummer in a clown band and David Wain was actually the guitarist. We decided this makes no sense, it’s weird and we look terrible, it’s distracting and we don’t have time, can we paint ourselves out of it? And we did.
This is an incredible cast and you get incredible guest stars like Jon Hamm, Diablo Cody has written a couple of episodes—how challenging is it to just schedule this show? All these people are all doing lots of other projects.
It amazes me too and that’s why it’s such a crapshoot every week as to who you’re going to get. The second season Lake Bell was in the last episode and that was it; Erinn Hayes was in I believe three episodes this season and she’s in our finale, but she was doing a show at the time and Malin Ackerman was doing a movie, so it is tough. But not having enough money also puts you in a very creative problem-solving mode and dealing with schedule problems also can be done creatively—we have an episode this season that was basically born out of that—we have to give a lesser character a whole episode like Dori, and hey what if we did it as sort of a Witness parody, so it was all about Dory the nurse, Zandi Hartig. We have an embarrassment of riches—we have a great first squad and our farm team is awesome.
She’s one of those people—I’ve known her forever and I said this at her wedding because I actually performed the ceremony at her wedding, and one of my hooks was, ‘Lake, the fact that you can blossom any further is proof that there is a god with a plan,’ because that she is who she is and she is as talented as she is—I wasn’t even aware of her script for In A World when she was directing Childrens—she had done a short that was really good and we all went to see it and we said, ‘Wow, maybe she’d want to direct, that would be cool!’ And of course she wanted to direct, and she’s so good at it. So it quickly became, ‘Should we let Lake direct?’ and it almost immediately became, ‘I hope we can get Lake to direct!’ She is so enviably talented and so much more talented than I am in every regard. That movie In A World is such a lovely movie and so well written, I mean that woman is—you can tell I’m a little enamored…
I watched every episode of Surface just for her, so I get it.
She’s also pretty easy on the eyes, I’m gonna go out on a limb. She’s one of the most interesting, lovely people that I know and I get weepy talking about her.
Was there something that inspired the show specifically? Was it Patch Adams?
I’ve never seen Patch Adams, nor would I want to. For me it was just the whole clown thing, which came out of my hatred for clowns. Clowns are the one family of comedians, if you can even call them that, who just take themselves so seriously, so I thought I should play a clown doctor because there are clowns that go to hospitals (and I know one and he does not like the show)—and have him be the least funny character and everyone hates him, that was the idea. Patch Adams existing almost made me not do it.
The show is very anti sentimentality, but as a comedian are you completely immune to that or are their movies and shows that still get to you?
You mean have I finally killed myself? That’s a fair question. If anything I’m starved for it in my creative life. I’m the first one to say that a show has to at least have some kind of fake heart on a purely technical level to be successful. If I were to create another show I think it would be a more personal, internal show that gives me goose bumps to write a scene. That said, what we do on Childrens Hospital is defy viewers’ expectations, and our finale next week is very moving in places and it’s something we really set out to do. Because we can break all of our own rules if we want, let’s see what this would be like.
So what gets to you in movies or TV that you watch?
Everything. I can barely even watch something if it’s any sort of relationship, even a good one, with a child and a father, specifically daughters. If a child dies in a movie, I don’t know if I could handle it.
The show references St. Elsewhere and even casts some people from that show, so what’s your take on the end of that show [for everyone reading this who doesn’t know what St. Elsewhere is, it’s an ‘80s medical show that SPOILER ALERT famously ended by implying that the entire series took place in the mind of an autistic little boy].
I love it. We sort of nodded to that in our first season in a very weird way, but that was my main influence and my favorite show growing up. It was so well-told and such a by-the-book TV drama until it wasn’t, and I guess I kind of grew up with that, thinking that you can do anything and people will let you. I rarely watched Grey’s Anatomy—St. Elsewhere was a huge influence.
What were you into as a kid that got you into acting and comedy?
All the usual suspects in a way—I would devour certain standups like Steve Martin. It’s so smart and yet his standup character is so arrogant and stupid which I love, and I’m probably good at that from watching him—I’m good at doing arrogant and stupid. But it’s also so silly and meaningless and I love that, and also he’s gotten older now and he’s an artist, and I love it! Also the usual suspects like Monty Python and The Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live to an extent. I was really into the Monkees for a long time—it’s such a funny show and I might watch it with my daughters just because I love the music too.
You were in a fraternity.
Sort of. I was in it for a year.
We’re Geek magazine so I was wondering if you hated geeks and nerds in college.
If I beat you up? Well geeks definitely did not have the cache they have now, right? There would not be a Geek magazine in 1982. I was in a fraternity because I loved girls and liked to drink, which was largely why I was in college. I joined the North Pleasant Social Club because they were like ‘Hey, you guys like drinking and girls? Come join this!’ Then a year later they got their charter back because they’d lost it for too much partying and it became a different thing, and also I got into the theater. I became very much a theater geek in a way—they would read the sports section and I would read arts & leisure, and doing that you’d be immediately gay. I did not read comic books in college—I read them as a kid and then I stopped because I got made fun of. In Boston if you do anything that’s not a pickup basketball game, you’re gay. So I was embarrassed and thought, this isn’t going to get me chicks! In the ‘90s I got back into it and that doesn’t matter to me, so I’ve reclaimed my geekdom.
And what is geekdom for you?
Comic books are my main thing; I’m voraciously into comic books. I’m even working on a podcast with my friend Merlin and it’s basically like two guys that know a lot about other things talking about comic books. It’s like, we love them, but we’re like, ‘So who’s the artist that does Thor?’ We’re like that. We’ve only done a couple of them and we’re figuring out what the show is and we’ll either put it up ourselves or Merlin might start his own network—he does a lot with 5by5 Network which is a really tech-oriented podcast studio and he’s sort of like this GTD time and attention guru—Merlin Mann. He started this book, Inbox Zero, about making email more efficient, and I’m also very geeky about that kind of thing. I’m very gadgety and I’ve been on all sorts of Mac podcasts and I go to dinner with David Sparks all the time who’s in Mac Powerusers podcasts—I’m a big geek in that world as well.
What’s your take on System 7?
I love it. I absolutely love it and I think it will be even better when I get the phone in two weeks. It’s a battery killer.
What I noticed is it seemed to have reorganized the storage on my phone and I suddenly have a lot more room, which I don’t quite understand.
I haven’t marked that but that’s interesting. What I like is what people were pooh-poohing the most which is it looks a lot plainer. But I really thought that iOS before was so like lickable that where on earth could they possibly go? The trend in technology just like in jokes is simplicity, the fewest steps to the biggest result, and that’s just the way to run an efficient life and write an efficient joke. That is the trend now with iOS—I can’t wait to see the next real big operating system and see how it mimics it. So I’ve done interviews in all sorts of Mac forums and Macworld and things like that, and the other thing I’m a geek about is trains—I’ve done interviews in all these train magazines.
Oh yeah? Do you jump trains? There are these guys who are obsessed with trains and they will jump on them and board them and kind of con their way into talking to the engineers.
No, I’m not a sociopath so I don’t do that. But we write the show on a train—every year we get everybody on a train and take it across the country while we work out the season.
What happened to your scenes in the Muppet movie?
I’m friends with one of those producers, Todd Lieberman, and they were so nice to put me in the movie, and I was there on the first day playing Hollywood Blvd. Superman, who if you don’t know is like a fat, alcoholic Superman. As I was doing the bit there was one bit at the beginning and another one at the end in the Muppet theater, and the first day, after the first few set-ups, I thought, “Oh, this is eminently cut-able. I am not contributing to the story in the least.” And sure enough, I’m not in it—but those guys are really cool and they threw me a bone in the second one. I have three seconds in it but it’s hard to cut.
But Superman goes back to your love of comics. What did you think of Man of Steel?
I didn’t see it. I read stuff about it and it didn’t sound like what I was interested in seeing from that character. Batman is the only DC character I’m interested in seeing on film now. But I think what Marvel is doing is amazing—they are building a universe with such incredible scope.
Images: Cartoon Network/Adult Swim