When it comes to promises of comedy on the Internet, it’s best to be a little skeptical. How many times has somebody sent you a link to a new Web video, declaring that it’ll make you LOL or LMAO or even FOMCL? And more often than not, they’re dead wrong, or at the very least overselling it. What passes for hilarity on the Web usually involves fat kids doing things they’ll regret in adulthood and animals being adorably melodramatic. In other words, videos that Bob Saget would’ve been introducing with a forced grin a few decades ago. Every so often the Internet gets it right, like with Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog or The Landlord, but those are the exceptions. At its best, the Webiverse is a placeholder for TV and movie clips, and a forum for original content that’s more hit-or-miss than an open mic night at the Yuk-Yuk Hut.
Childrens Hospital, a Web series created and starring former Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry, has at least a few red flags that it might be more disposable Internet comedy. For one thing, it’s a parody of medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy, and we live in an age when parodies (thank you, Friedberg and Seltzer) and medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy are consistently goddamn awful. It also doesn’t bode well that the series was originally produced for the WB.com, the website of a television network that gave us One Tree Hill, 7th Heaven, The O.C., and other shows that are to irony what Catholicism is to irony. But anybody who’s stumbled upon Childrens Hospital will likely sing its praises with the same hushed, nervous excitement many of us felt after discovering Mr. Show in the mid-90s. It seems too good to be true, and we’re convinced that somebody with authority will find out and shut it down with extreme prejudice. Within the first thirty seconds of CH’s pilot, there’s a joke about retarded children, two sex scenes that take place in front of minors, and a doctor who says, “I’m afraid I have some bad news. We’re going to have to slice off your son’s cock.” There are storylines involving lesbian nurses, an 11-month old girl getting breast implants, and Ed Helms telling a crippled Megan Mullally that he wants to “bang her in her clumsy vagina.” It’s the kind of show that makes you want to open-mouth kiss Al Gore for inventing the Internet.
I called Corddry to talk about Childrens Hospital, which was picked up by Adult Swim for a second season. (The show premieres, beginning with repeats of the Web series, this Sunday, July 11th, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.) We discussed many topics, including those in which he gave answers like, “Yeah, that joke would probably still work without the handjob.” Here’s what he said that didn’t involve the comedy merits of doctor-on-doctor wanking.
Eric Spitznagel: Your character on Childrens Hospital, Dr. Blake Downs, is a clown doctor who treats his patients with the healing power of laughter. How is that not a Patch Adams joke ten years too late?
Rob Corddry: It has nothing to do with Patch Adams whatsoever! In fact, I almost didn’t write the character at all because it might welcome that comparison. I have a friend who’s a clown and he goes to children’s hospitals and entertains kids, which I think is just a lovely thing. He’s a great person. However, the thing I was making fun of are clowns in general. They take themselves so fucking seriously. I hate it when people say, “Oh, I’m afraid of clowns.” I don’t really get that. And I kind of don’t buy it.
You don’t buy it? I’m afraid of clowns. You think I’m lying?
I think you probably just hate clowns.
I hate clowns because they terrify me. Maybe it’s because I’m from Chicago and every clown reminds me of John Wayne Gacy.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just a really strong-willed, courageous person. I just don’t see what’s so frightening about them. But I do understand hating them. They purport to be a bringer of silliness and yet they take themselves so goddamn seriously, and it drives me crazy. That was the impetus behind Blake Downs. He’s also like that bald redheaded guy on ER. He doesn’t have a funny, warm bone in his body, and he’s almost autistic.
Can we back up for a minute? Were you being serious when you said you have a friend who’s a clown doctor?
(Laughs.) I was, yes.
How does that happen? Was he a clown who decided to go into medicine? Or was he a doctor who woke up one day and said, “I should be a clown too?” Which came first?
If you really want to parse it out logically, I think you’re either born a clown or you’re not. Ten percent of people in the world are clowns.
Yeah, I think so. Whether they actually come out of the closet and put the makeup on, they’re still clowns in their soul. With somebody like Blake, I think it’s become part of his racial identity. I don’t think he could take off the makeup even if he wanted to.
Ten percent is a frightening statistic. That means one out of ten people I know are clowns.
Sure, that seems like an accurate ratio. I think it’s reasonable to assume that some of your best friends could be clowns.
You’re making me very paranoid and judgmental.
Hey look, they’re not going to push it on you. That’s just who they are.
So if a friend comes out and tells you he’s a clown, your advice is to be unconditionally accepting?
You mean me personally? Oh hell no. Rob Corddry hates clowns. But I like to think that other people are more open-minded than me. You should accept clowns as human beings, although as far as I am concerned they’re not.
Do you believe in the healing power of laughter?
Again, are we talking about me personally?
Yeah. Let’s say the doctor tells you, “It’s colon cancer. You have two months to live, tops.” Do you fill your TiVo with Marx Brothers movies, or are you more of a chemo guy?
Yeah, boy, I don’t know. They say that it takes more muscles to frown that it does to smile. But in reality, who cares? My question is, what asshole went and counted the muscles surrounding the eyes, nose and mouth?
Sounds like bullshit to me.
Exactly! I guess when it comes to cancer, I’d go for the integrated treatment. Try a combination of chemo and maybe Ghostbusters.
What’s your emotional relationship with clowns? Did you have any formative experiences with them as a child?
Well, growing up, my pediatrician decorated his office with pictures of stereotypically scary clowns. That had a profound effect on me.
Because they scared the bejesus out of you?
Because they demonstrated that my pediatrician was completely disconnected from his patients. Even at a very young age, it kind of struck me, “This guy’s sole job is to comfort me. And he’s losing the second I walk into his office.” But other than that, I’ve lived a pretty clown-free existence.
Except for your clown doctor friend.
Yeah, but like I said, he’s one of the good ones. I don’t know him as well now as I did back when we were growing up together, but I don’t remember him taking himself too seriously. I can only imagine that he does now. (Laughs.) Now that he’s a clown.
Has he seen Childrens Hospital?
He has. But I don’t know how much he likes it, to tell you the truth. He’s one of those guys who’re like (without emotion) “Yeah, it’s a fun show.” It’s like he feels like he has to say something but maybe he’s a little offended.
Childrens Hospital is a spoof of Grey’s Anatomy. Actually, is spoof the right word?
I guess so.
Do you have to like something to spoof it? Or is that when it becomes mockery?
I’m not sure. I definitely have an affection for medical dramas in general. St. Elsewhere was probably my favorite show of all time. But I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy. My wife’s a fan. She’ll watch it, and I’ll kind of watch it over her shoulder while I’m on the computer. I’ll look up and invariably I’ll be greeted with the most preposterous picture ever. I can’t believe what they get away with.
If we’ve learned nothing else from hospital shows, it’s that doctors like to have sex. Is that a real thing, or is it only TV doctors who have overactive libidos?
My wife’s a speech pathologist, and she’s worked in a hospital for many years. She’s told me that it doesn’t get cockier than a heart surgeon. I imagine they plow through everything and anything. There’s a show ABC is putting on this summer called Boston Med, and it’s a documentary that follows around real doctors in three different hospitals in Boston. And from what I’ve seen in the previews, it’s just doctors hooking up with each other over a cheesy pop soundtrack.
So life imitates art? Or vice versa?
Who knows? We’ve come full circle. It’s a documentary that mirrors Grey’s Anatomy, which apparently mirrors real life. It’s given me a great idea for a Childrens Hospital episode. I think we should go behind the scenes to the hospital that inspired the show.
The actual one where you got the idea for Childrens Hospital?
No, no. The fictional one. There’s a very deep and profound mythology behind Childrens Hospital. It’s a show that’s been on the air for fifteen years and it’s one of America’s most beloved television programs. I want to explore how all these characters were based on actual people working at a real children’s hospital somewhere. We’ll see the real person that inspired the character of Blake Downs. We’ll see the character that inspired Megan Mullally’s chief.
It’s a show within a show?
Exactly. The Blake Downs in Childrens Hospital isn’t played by me, Rob Corddry. He’s played by an actor named Cutter Spindel.
Who’s played by you?
You’re playing a guy named Cutter Spindel who plays a guy named Blake Downs.
Pretty much, yeah.
That’s an awful lot of layers for a show that’s just five minutes and change.
It’s way, way too many. And for our second season, on Adult Swim, each episode is eleven minutes and fifteen seconds. But I don’t think our brand of farcical humor could sustain itself beyond that. It’d immediately fall apart. It’s a show that only serves jokes. We have no continuity whatsoever. Logical character development is completely absent. Two characters can be dating in one show and then it’s never spoken of again. It’s really just devoted to serving the funniest joke in the shortest amount of time.
Didn’t you get a Webby Award for the first season?
I did. I’m looking at it right now.
So that’s a real thing?
It is, it is.
It has an awards ceremony and a statue that you can bring home?
I actually hosted the Webbies for three or four years. They are famous, or would love to be famous for, the five word speech. Because they give awards to almost everybody. If you had something on the Internet, there’s a good chance you’ll at least get nominated for it. At its core, and I can speak freely against them because they fired me, the Webbies are just an advertising award.
What does the statue look like?
It’s actually very cool. It’s eight or nine inches tall, and it’s a very tightly wound spring about three inches in circumference.
Does it look like it was made in a hurry?
I’ll tell you, having been behind the scenes at the Webbies, it’s the only thing they’ve spent any time on. I put it in my living room because it’s kind of gorgeous. I’ve got my Emmy in a closet, but I’m proud to display my Webby. (Pause.) And also, I didn’t really get an Emmy.
You didn’t win an Emmy for the Daily Show?
Well, the producers get the Emmy, and we got what Samantha Bee calls Commemmies. It’s a little lighter than the actual statue, and it’s got your name on it and the year you won, but then in very small print underneath that information it says “Commemorative.”
Any idea on the Ebay value of a Commemmy?
I’m sure it would cost me more to list it.
Malin Akerman joins the cast of Childrens Hospital this season. What does she bring to the show, aside from being ridiculously attractive?
That’s pretty much it. (Laughs.) Actually, quite the contrary. I worked with her years ago on the Heartbreak Kid. She’s just a lovely person, and very funny and cool. There are a certain number of hot actresses in Hollywood that I kind of wonder how they turned out normal. Because they must have been treated differently their entire life. How can they possibly be this cool? I just worked with Olivia Wilde, and she’s another one who shouldn’t be as cool and fun as she is. Maybe she’s just so used to making bald men feel good about themselves.
Were you ever tempted to throw a Heartbreak Kid line in the script for Malin? Maybe something like “Cock me! Cock me!”
I didn’t, but that’s not a bad idea. You know what would be funny? I should write a scene where her character finds a gun, and then there’s a note written on the gun that reads, “Cock me, cock me.” And so then she has to cock the gun. That would be funny.
(Long pause. We both burst into laughter.)
I guess it depends on the audience.
It’s funny to me. And probably three other people.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com