In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
One of those actors who pops up on both the big and small screens, Nate Corddry really got his start playing Tom Jeter on Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. He’s gone on to appear in everything from Yogi Bear to The Pacific, and can now be seen semi-regularly as Gabriel, Christy’s boss, on Mom. He also has his own literature podcast, Reading Aloud, on the Wolfpop network.
A note, before we begin: As we wrote in a Newswire last year, we’re going with an almost entirely new slate of 11 questions each year. This marks the beginning of 2015’s questions, so—enjoy!
Nate Corddry: There are several options, but I think I’ll go with the summer that I worked as a dog washer at the Weymouth Dog Shop in Weymouth, Massachusetts. My good buddy, his uncle—it was his shop—so he got me the job. I got paid $2 a dog. It didn’t matter how big the dog was or what kind of hair the dog had, it was $2 a dog. And most of these dogs weren’t into it, so there was some back-and-forth between the dogs and I. The hardest ones to clean were the cocker spaniels because it took so long for their hair to dry, because of how fine their hair is. The running theme for all the dogs was to make sure to—in a full Boston accent—“treat ’em like a cocker, dude,” which meant to really, thoroughly dry the dogs.
I smelled of wet dog for 10 weeks. It’s a smell that you cannot get out. If you just have a wet dog, and you towel it off once, that’s not an issue. But when you do it for five, six, seven hours several times a week, that smell stays with you. You also have to clear out—if the customer pays for the anal gland—
The A.V. Club: I was just about to ask.
NC: I’m not trained. People are trained in the maintenance of dog assholes. I never got that training. So I had to stick my finger in dogs’ assholes all day.
That job was kind of a drag.
AVC: It sounds like one of those jobs where you think, “I like dogs and I’d love to do this job,” and then after one day washing dogs, you’d be like, “Fuck this job.”
NC: It was fun for 25 minutes. Some dogs love to get soapy. They would sit there, their tongues hanging out, and you’re just having a good time with cool dogs. Then there’d be the skittish dogs that almost behaved like cats. I had to wash cats, too, and I didn’t want to. I said, “No way. I’m not going to do this anymore.” I got bit so many times.
The last dog that I had on my last day was this big, fat bulldog. It was chained up downstairs where all the tubs were. I looked at him, and I was like, “You’re my last one, motherfucker. You’re the last one.” And just as I said that, it threw up all over the floor. A mouse came up and a bunch of pine needles. He was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make you earn it.” So I haven’t liked bulldogs ever since.
AVC: People who pay to have their dogs washed either have dogs that hate it or dogs that are such a general pain in the ass that they’re like, “I’d rather pay someone $25 to do this.”
NC: You’re exactly right. Also, it’s really hard—you can do it at home, outside, but to really get a thorough cleaning, you have to hold them and chain them in a sink or in a tub so you can wash every inch of them. Not many people have industrial-sized sinks in their home that they want to get clogged up with dog hair.
We’ll end on a sad note: They had a drying room, which was this little room that had five or six high-powered dryers going. It was super hot in there. A dog died one day and it was the most—I got out of there. I was not going to be there when that owner came to pick up his dog. It had heart troubles and it was on tons of medication. It was a really old dog. It was overwhelmed by the heat of the dryers.
[Sighs.] It was such a nightmare. I’ve never felt so sick before. The owner had to tell these poor people that their dog had died. It was the most devastating thing. Thankfully, I was not in the room when that news was broken. It stayed with me; it was so fucking sad, so heartbreaking. I can’t imagine what I would do if I showed up. I mean, I would knock the guy out. I would lose my shit.
AVC: You’d be so angry. “I just brought my dog to get washed!”
NC: He didn’t take him in for surgery. You took him to take a bubble bath.
NC: I think the first time that I was able to support myself from my acting work I realized that I had made it. It was when my first check came from a commercial I did for Pizza Hut. It was a bite-and-smile shot, where I bit a piece of pizza and then went, “Mmm, pizza’s so good.” But I couldn’t say those words. I had to make that “I love pizza” face. It was a national commercial.
I spent a summer at a theater making no money, only losing money, and I came home and I think I had $600 or something in the bank account. I thought, “I can pay rent this month, but next month, I can’t, so I need to go back to temping.” But the day I came back from that theater job, I got a check for $4,000. I’d never seen anything like that in my life. It changed everything. I was like, “I did it! I’ve done it. I can pay my rent and I can buy my friends drinks tonight. And I don’t have to worry about paying my rent next month, or the month after that.” That one check floated me for the rest of the fall so I didn’t have to temp and I could audition for commercials full time. Sure enough, I got another one, and that check led me to another three or four months of being able to live off of that. The moment of opening that check in my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I knew, “Holy cow, I’ve made it.”
AVC: When was that?
NC: This was just before September 11th. I remember that apartment and where I was, everything.
AVC: The nation was hungry for Pizza Hut at the time.
NC: Yes, it was.
NC: My supervillian power would be to be able to control the seas and everything inside of them. The ocean freaks me out a bit, so it would force me to face those fears. I’d control the tides, the tsunamis, the sharks, and the jellyfish. I’d lead a lobster rebellion along the coast of Maine, a salmon rebellion up in Pacific Northwest, and a crab uprising in Baltimore. Don’t even get me started on the crawfish. Shellfish unite! Plus, it would make for even more compelling episodes of Deadliest Catch—my favorite show—and Wicked Tuna.
NC: It depends on what age we’re talking about. When I was a little kid, I was really cute. I was cute as fuck. I was the cutest kid in town, and that is a true story. You can find a picture of me as a 6-year-old and you’d want to take me home and raise me. But I had a lot of energy and I was a little manic. I was hard to wrangle. I was the youngest of three kids, and I think my parents were kind of overwhelmed with my energy.
I settled down and then started feeling bad about myself in seventh grade. Seventh grade is when it turned. Kids start to look inward and lose their confidence, and this beautiful confidence is all kids have. Sixth, seventh grade is when I lost it. Bullies come out because everyone has no confidence in themselves. I became a target for bullies. Seventh and eighth grades were really hard. I was small and my ears stuck out and I wouldn’t fight back because I was afraid. I remember being afraid to go to school. I remember being afraid to ride the bus because one kid would come up and grab me by the collar and do some bit and shake me.
He had a buzz cut and looked like a tall, thinner version of the mean kid from A Christmas Story. He was right out of Central Casting. In reality, he probably fucked with me twice, but in my imagination, it’s a thousand times.
In seventh and eighth grade, I was kicked around and bullied. I had friends, but we were not part of the cool crowd at all. At all. By 10th grade, that stopped happening. The juniors and seniors are there and there’s a little bullying, but that happened in junior high. In high school, people fucked with each other all the time, but there wasn’t a lot of bullying. There’s more of a maturity when you’re 16, 17 as opposed to being 12, 13. And I told jokes and I played some sports and I was in drama club, so I had friends in different groups. I tried my best to float between those worlds. I definitely wasn’t cool, by any means, but I wasn’t picked on.
AVC: When you had all that energy as a kid, did your mom put you in theater classes? Or did that not come until high school?
NC: I found that purely because of my brother, when he did the senior class play when I was 10. I saw him get an enormous amount of attention and positive reinforcement. I was like, “I want that attention.” Because I didn’t have enough as the cute youngest of three kids. I wanted more. It was purely trying to get that positive attention that my brother got when he was in the senior class play. I totally saw a way to get more love.
That’s how it always starts. If any child actor tells you it comes from anything else but that, they’re fucking lying. You’re not making creative decisions at 13, I’m sorry—unless you’re incredibly enlightened, and I doubt it. An enlightened 13-year-old wouldn’t become an actor: You would finish high school early and go to Stanford.
NC: Oh, Jesus. I’m trying to think back to the shows that I watched. I was a big fan of Kathy Ireland. I thought she was the hottest thing in the world because the word “Ireland” was in her name and I was from Boston. It’s obvious she was Irish. Her swimsuit cover, I’m pretty sure I masturbated to that as a little boy. I can’t confirm that. Seventy percent chance. Yes.
NC: I have joke answers, but I want to answer honestly. Unironically, I would have to say “Sabotage.” I still, to this day, whenever I’m running, I always try to put that into my running mix. That song is pedal-to-the-metal the whole way through. Being 16 when that song came out and fucking blowing my mind, I would have to say that. Or “Motor Away,” which is a Guided By Voices song that’s a real rocker that I love.
NC: I had an audition, so I tried to secure work today. I tried to get a job. But it required an incredibly heavy Mississippi accent. I think I sounded like Yosemite Sam. I doubt I’m going to get that job. But I tried to secure work, which is always a good day when you’re chasing the dream. Then I did some research. I have this podcast, and it’s like a reading series. I’m always reading stuff to find content for the show. I’m reading a lot of short stories right now, so I read two short stories that will not be in the podcast. They just didn’t make sense. They were great, but they just didn’t work. And I drank coffee. And I petted my cat.
AVC: How did you prep for that Mississippi accent?
NC: I went to YouTube. I watched some videos online. But then I got to the audition, and in the moment, I lost it because I became embarrassed. I was like, “Oh, Jesus, I’m going to sound like a fucking asshole.” And there was a guy in the waiting room who obviously was Southern, so I had no fucking chance. I talked myself out of it before I even got into the room.
Usually I’m pretty good to rally myself and say, “Fuck! It doesn’t matter. Just do your best and you’re all good.” But there’s a lot of guys in this town that could do that job better than I could. I could do it, sure, but there are probably 1,100 guys who could do it better than I could. That’s an estimate.
NC: A lot of people say, “You look familiar. How do I know you?” And I’ll say, “We went to high school together.” When most people say that, it’s a weird little social thing to negotiate, because you don’t want to say, “Well, I’m an actor.”
AVC: “You may remember me from”—
NC: Exactly. That makes me uncomfortable, saying that. I usually say, “Where are you from—are you from Boston? Where’d you go to college? You live in New York?” And once all those three are noes, usually the person gives up.
AVC: Even though you know full well where they know you from.
NC: But I don’t know what. You can make total judgments based on their age, ethnicity, and gender what they know you from, completely pre-judging them—I usually keep that to myself. If it’s someone older, I usually say, “Oh, Harry’s Law. You’ve probably seen me on Harry’s Law.” And they go, “Oh, yeah!”
I’m trying to think of who I would get mistaken for. I feel like that has happened. People have called me [my brother] Rob mistakenly.
AVC: You guys don’t even look that much alike.
NC: We look nothing alike, but people will go, “Hey, it’s Rob Corddry.” And I’ll go, “No, Nate.”
Oh, and this has only happened, like, three times, but when it does, it brings me a lot of joy: Some people will say, “Did you go into the business because of your father?” And I’ll say, “He’s my brother.” And that really upsets Rob. It makes him feel real sad.
AVC: And you immediately tell him.
NC: Absolutely. When he beats me at fantasy football, I just remind him that people think that he’s my dad.
NC: Holy moly. I would be fucked. I can drive standard shift.
I can probably teach remedial tennis. I had a summer job as a tennis instructor. I played tennis in high school and college, and I could teach children tennis.
AVC: You have dog-washing experience.
NC: Yes, I could. I’d probably leave that off, however. I wouldn’t want to do that again.
My major was communications and my fallback was radio and TV production. So I’d try to get a production job somewhere, because I have background doing that kind of stuff.
AVC: Do you know how to use Garage Band? That’s something.
NC: Yeah, barely. When I took Radio 1 in college, we were still cutting reel-to-reel audio. That says less about my age and more about how shitty my college was. We had reel-to-reel tape for interviews and we had to cut and splice tape with a razor blade. We were before the digital age. I think it would be a hell of a lot easier now.
NC: I collect a lot of things. I’m a bit of a collector. I collect sports memorabilia.
AVC: What kind of sports memorabilia?
NC: Specifically Boston stuff. I’m a very passionate and enthusiastic Boston sports fan to a fault. So I have signed jerseys and balls and hats and all that kind of shit. I’m extra fascinated by game-used memorabilia—a glove, a jersey someone wore—all that stuff blows my mind because it’s tangible history. You watch it on TV and it’s real, it happened, but you’re sort of disconnected from it because it’s on television. Then you see a ball that was used in a game and for some reason it really brings it home, the enormity.
I also collect rare books, first editions. I just started doing that. I’m fascinated by first editions of rare books. I just had a guy who runs this first edition bookstore in Hollywood on my podcast to talk about it, and I asked him, “Why is this so compelling to me?” And he said, “The first edition is the very first time that that book was brought to the world. It was before it had reached fame and fortune.” The first time The Great Gatsby was published, people didn’t know yet. And you’re holding that in your hand, before the book was famous. So I just started getting into collecting first editions of rare books. That’s a very expensive hobby that I am probably a couple of years away from actually doing for real. I like books a lot, and for some reason I keep going back to the phrase “tangible history.” It’s history that you can touch and smell and feel. That’s amazing to me.
AVC: Both of those seem like solid investments. Not that collecting should be about investments, but the book market seems relatively stable.
NC: For sure. That’s something we talked about on the podcast. Books increase in value a lot faster than works of art do for some reason.
AVC: People think like you think. They want that tangible item. They want something they know they love.
NC: It’s also really personal to you. You can look at a piece of art and have a personal experience to it, but when you’re reading a book, it’s not like watching a movie or a television show where all the work is done for you. Reading a good book, you’re doing the storytelling yourself with your own brain. It’s really personal and intimate. I think that’s why books are so coveted by people, especially books that move people when they’re young. When you’re figuring out who you are and what you want to be and a book offers any sort of guidance to that, it becomes sacred in a way. To have a copy that’s either signed by the author or a first edition, it has weight because it’s intimate. You’re the only person who’s seeing the book the way you see it in your own mind. That makes it special.
AVC: Do you know who John Green is? He wrote The Fault In Our Stars. He’s Internet famous. I read a story on his Tumblr where he said something to the effect of, “I signed every copy of the first pressing of my book because I didn’t want stores to send it back and I wanted people to feel like they were getting something more.” He signed 155,000 copies of the book.
NC: Oh my God.
AVC: Every copy that’s out there now, people have to think, “Oh, a signed copy of the book.” They don’t know there are 154,999 other copies floating around.
NC: That’s so funny. I asked the same question of the rare book guy: Are there any authors that sign too much and bring the value down? In sports, it’s Pete Rose. Pete Rose will sign anything you put in front of him. You can get a Pete Rose signature for a nickel. Then there are authors who never sign, like George Orwell or J.D. Salinger—they never, ever, ever sign. If you find a signed copy of their books, it’s incredibly special and rare. Then there are other authors who signed all the time. It’s so strange. They’re just devaluing their first editions and their signature.
AVC: They’re making it immediately valuable, but long term—
NC: It’s all based on scarcity. If it’s not scarce, there’s going to be no market. If it’s scarce, there’s a market.
In book collecting, children’s books are very expensive because it’s rare that you get one in good shape because they were for kids. Children would bite them and draw on them and they wouldn’t treat them with care. When you find a really nice first edition Dr. Seuss or Where The Wild Things Are, it’s a lot more valuable because kids usually tear them apart.
AVC: That’s like when they have toys on Antiques Roadshow. They’re always more valuable when they were never played with.
NC: Exactly. Some Revolutionary War toy has made it this far. Some Victorian toy—that shit is a hell of a lot more expensive than a Victorian whatever—
AVC: A piece of furniture.
NC: Yeah, something that was used and has wear on it.
There’s also something that is really appealing because you want to see use. In the game-used memorabilia world, you want to see the dirt on the jersey. It depends on what you’re looking for. In a first-edition book, you want it to be perfect and clean and you want everything to be nice and tidy.
NC: I would ask my dad to make his famous roast chicken, roast potatoes with the crispy parts, and his famous gravy. That’s my favorite meal of all time. My dad made a really good roast chicken and a really good gravy. Every time I come home, if we have time, I try to get him to cook me some roast chicken. So I think it would be my dad’s roast chicken and gravy. Or wings from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, where the wing was invented.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person?
NC: What’s the most special Christmas or Hanukkah gift that you’ve ever received?
AVC: What’s yours?
NC: Probably my first bike. Walking down the stairs in my house and turning the corner and seeing a bike there under the tree, knowing it was mine. My brother already had a bike. It wasn’t pink, it was blue, so I knew it wasn’t going to be for my sister. Then taking it out on Christmas Day when it was, like, 11 degrees and riding it everywhere. It was my first bike.