Since debuting on The Daily Show in 2002, Rob Corddry has ascended from hey-who's-that-new-guy? status to become a beloved fixture. A Boston native, Corddry moved to New York in 1994 to pursue acting, eventually hooking up with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and working with a series of troupes. Many of those collaborators turn up in Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story, a micro-budgeted, largely improvised mockumentary starring Corddry as a paintball star who returns to the game 10 years after leaving it in disgrace and embarking on a spiritual journey of discovery. After touring the festival circuit, Blackballed is currently making its theatrical debut in New York, with engagements to follow in cities across the U.S. and Canada. Between preparing Daily Show segments, Corddry spoke to The A.V. Club about life as a fake news correspondent, his pretentious past, and what's next.
The A.V. Club: You moved to New York in 1994, but most people hadn't heard of you until 2002, when you joined The Daily Show. What were you doing in the meantime?
Rob Corddry: It was the Giuliani years, which meant we could no longer walk the streets with 40s of Budweiser, but our garbage was taken away quickly. I spent the first couple of my years in New York, probably through '96 or '97, doing very, very important theatre. If it was not four or five "offs" Broadway, then I would not even consider it. Literally. If the script was not written in iambic pentameter, I would wipe myself with it. Taking myself as quite an important actor for some time. And I ended up being cast as jackasses, mechanicals, and clowns. Eventually I found myself in a sketch group, and then found the Upright Citizens Brigade.
AVC: You were in the National Shakespeare Company's touring company.
RC: [Laughs.] Yes, which sounds a lot more important than it actually is. I don't know how this company got the name "National Shakespeare Company," because it was literally like retards employing retards. But I did meet the guy who I started a sketch group with, so I think it was a big moment. And it was a lot of fun.
AVC: That's quite a switch, from doing serious drama to doing comedy. How did that come about?
RC: Like I said, I really wasn't doing serious drama. I was playing all the jackasses. I was in a play with a woman who was in a sketch group. She asked me to audition for the sketch group. And I was at a point in my career where I wanted to become a better auditioner. So I was going out for absolutely everything that was in Backstage. Anybody that had the $10 to advertise an audition in Backstage, I would audition for them. And she was one of the things where I actually got it. And I thought, "Well, I mean, I'll do it for a while. I'll just quit if it's stupid." And we were a terrible sketch group, but it definitely led to better things.
AVC: Are these some of the people you ended up working with in Blackballed?
RC: Absolutely everyone in Blackballed is somehow affiliated with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. I had been in a sketch group with some of them, various improv groups with some of them. But we had all worked together in some capacity before. Except D.J. Hazard, who was a Boston stand-up.
AVC: How did the movie end up getting made? Was it during your downtime on The Daily Show?
RC: No. We shot it two years ago on the weekends of the summer, around my Daily Show schedule. Which was a lot of fun for the actual filmmakers. And it rained every weekend. A lot of fun.
AVC: Did you do any research into the paintball world before making this film?
RC: Yeah, I did some research on the Internet. Just to get familiar with some terms that my character would have to know, and how to actually play the game. And we played a game or two before we actually started shooting. But I didn't necessarily go too crazy. More of my research was about travel and Beat poetry. I saw this character as a wandering, semi-enlightened holy fool who decides to win back his title only because that would redeem his soul. Wow. I am really pretentious. [Laughs.]
AVC: But you had a whole backstory created for this character.
RC: Absolutely. Way too much of one. I had what I call an actor's secret. I had a butt-plug the whole time I was shooting. Because then I had some light behind my eyes.
AVC: Did you invent that? Or did someone teach you the butt-plug secret?
RC: No, I figure if you have a secret, people will say, "Hey, that guy has a secret." And they'll sit a little bit closer to the screen. My secret just happened to be an anal intruder.
AVC: Backtracking a little to The Daily Show… It seems like there's a period where people come on the show and it isn't clear whether they'll become regulars. At what point did you realize you were a regular?
RC: I didn't hang any pictures in my office for at least a year, because I thought that I would definitely be jinxing myself and have to take them down the next day. I didn't really feel 100 percent comfortable until we really started working on the 2004 election. So it was probably a little over a year before I felt like, "Wow, the writers are starting to find a voice for me." And I think that really started to happen pre-election time, late 2003.
AVC: How would you describe your niche on the show? What kind of stories are the Rob Corddry stories?
RC: I've been called a "Masshole." The head writer, D.J. Javerbaum, he loves that my character is a boor.
AVC: What kind of role do you play in picking your stories?
RC: The actual stories, the field pieces, are very collaborative. Anybody here can pitch them, and everybody does something to build them. Those, we have a lot of input in. But the studio pieces are pretty much exclusively written by the writers and Jon. While we're allowed to improvise, they're pretty good at it. I don't feel like I even need to contribute.
AVC: Which is harder: an improvisational filmed piece like Blackballed, or a field piece for The Daily Show?
RC: Blackballed was sort of like a field piece for The Daily Show, except with rain and catering. It's just two completely different animals. Those field pieces are real bears. So much work goes into those. Blackballed was closer to an actual film experience. With the Daily Show things, you really feel like you're making sausage. You forget what's funny. It's really a grind.
AVC: At this point, you can't assume that people don't know who you are, and what The Daily Show is. Has it made doing those harder?
RC: It's actually made doing them a little bit easier. It has not hurt our ability to get people on the show, for sure. The only thing that's harder is people trying to anticipate and then play along with the joke. And that's just death to any field piece. Sometimes now we have to offer disclaimers, where we didn't have to before. We have to actually say, "Look, I think you're really funny, but none of your jokes are going to make it on the air. So just answer my questions. Seriously."
AVC: You're fielding more acting offers these days. Does that create any sort of tension, not necessarily on the show, but in terms of what to do next?
RC: Not really. Why, should I be feeling tension? Oh God… I'm starting to feel tension. No, not yet. I mean, it's definitely not been like the whirlwind offer-circus that the media portrayed it as. But I have been working on a lot of other things. More so this year than any other year. It's been really nice. I mean, The Daily Show is great, but it only allows us to do one thing. So I think to keep my enthusiasm to The Daily Show, it's nice to go away and do these other things. To reinvigorate myself.
AVC: Blackballed was shot around your schedule on weekends. For future projects, that isn't really going to be an option for you. How are you going to find the balance?
RC: The Daily Show has been really cool about letting us go do other things. I think they know that it helps with our morale. It's not going to hurt the show at all to show up on Arrested Development, or whatever. They're really cool about it. More so probably than any other show would be. They definitely don't have this sort of Lorne Michaels control over us and what we do. And they're really cool about the contractual obligations we do have.
AVC: What's the scariest interview you've done for The Daily Show?
RC: It wasn't even an interview. It was the first Democratic debate at Pace in 2004, before the election. And I had an arsenal of questions to throw at the candidates down in what they call Spin Alley. So basically, I had to insult Joe Lieberman and [Dennis] Kucinich. And that was really scary. It was very satisfying afterwards, because most of it worked. But that was really intense. There's always at least one moment of terror in all the interviews where you're thinking, "This is going poorly," or "This person is going to hit me," or "I'm a bad person."
AVC: But so far, you haven't been hit, right?
RC: They have not made contact. They've swung at me with their eyes.
AVC: Have you ever had a moment where you felt like the agenda of the piece you're doing is at odds with your own political views?
RC: Let me get back to that. For some reason, I think there is. And I can't remember what it is. I have a terrible, terrible retention. I forget everything that's happened to me.
RC: Yeah. It's like everyday I'm born anew, without Jesus.
AVC: Here's a refresher on one thing: You worked on commercials with Carrot Top. What was that like?
RC: I don't remember. No, it was lucrative. [Laughs.] And you know what? I was there to get a message out: Dial down the fucking center. How hard is that? Let the guy rest. He was actually a very nice guy, as most people say who have interviewed him. He's a really nice guy who just happens to follow in the footsteps of the Evil One, i.e. Gallagher.
AVC: We've interviewed Carrot Top, and he did come off as a very nice guy. And it seems like he knows who his audience is, and he knows what he can do.
RC: Yeah. He knows his audience, and he's also one of the highest-paid comedians in the world. He tours 300 days out of the year. I'm sure he's comfortable with what he does. I hope he is. He's also cut to shreds. He's ripped!
AVC: He's found his own niche, which is narrow but lucrative. Is it safe to assume you don't want a similarly narrow comedy or acting niche?
RC: Yeah, you're right. Although I would love to be a prop satirist…
AVC: How would that work?
RC: Exactly. I don't know. If people see me in some sort of niche, then that's fine. As long as it's not, like, "The Naked Guy." I don't care.
AVC: You were nude in your first film role, in Old School, though.
RC: Was I? Oh, somewhat. I had a jewel bag around my junk. My ass actually made it to the final cut. I had to sign a nudity clause that said they could use my naked image "in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised." Which is like, holograms, you know? On Mars or something. Which I'll do. I'll do that. As long as the money's there. If it's a good idea, I'll do it. No, I just want to do cool stuff. I actually don't think that will happen if I just really do what I want to do and have fun doing it.
AVC: Do you think the Off-Off-Broadway guy of your youth would approve of what you're doing now?
RC: The college kid of my youth would not, because I remember saying in college, probably hiking to the top of a mountain and yelling, that I would never do commercials. The only thing I would ever advertise is Mountain Dew or Apple Computers. [Laughs.] Products I really believe in. But once I found out how much an Off-Off-Broadway actor makes, I was whoring myself out the next day.
AVC: How was the process of taking Blackballed to festivals?
RC: It was really great. I've never been through that process. It was a lot of fun just traveling to the festivals. I love getting drunk and seeing movies. We won a lot of peripheral prizes. A lot of audience awards. So we have a lot of leaves for our DVD cover. So I figured we were just collecting leaves for the DVD. And this limited theatrical release was a nice little bonus that I never expected.
AVC: Your brother Nate has been appearing on The Daily Show. Do you enjoy working with him?
RC: I do, yeah. I really do. And we'd never really had a chance to. So that was a lot of fun, and we just love sticking each other in our field pieces whenever we can. We're really gonna wear that one out. People are going to be sick of seeing us together.
AVC: Is he a regular now?
RC: He is, although he was just cast in Aaron Sorkin's new show [Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, about a fictional Saturday Night Live-like sketch-comedy program], which I believe has been picked up. He's very modest about it, and it's not like he's borrowing money from the Mafia or anything. But if I were him, I'd be pretty confident that that he's got at least three or four seasons on that one. So he'll be moving to L.A. and doing that.
AVC: Did you remember the story that you felt at odds with?
RC: I remember interviewing someone who I actually felt bad for or agreed with, and therefore didn't want to take sort of an ironic stance against him. It actually turned out to be a really funny piece. And this is actually very anticlimactic, but we were doing a piece on the ethanol industry. And it was really just making fun of their sidekick, Corncob Bob. We were ironically taking the side of the ethanol industry as being a good alternative fuel. But upon doing only 10 minutes of research, I realized that ethanol is, in its pure form, just as much of a sham as oil. It's really not a viable source of fuel, at least I believe. That was just more a pain in the ass than anything. It was nothing I was really morally opposed to. But the piece was really about making fun of this mascot, Corncob Bob.
AVC: He can take it.
RC: Sorry to disappoint you—it's not really a great story.