Interview: ‘Hell Baby’s Rob Corddry Won’t Work With Dicks
With In A World…, Pain & Gain, Warm Bodies, Children’s Hospital, The Way Way Back, and now Hell Baby, Rob Corddry has rounded out a nicely eclectic year. That’s five movies along with a show he works both in front of and behind the camera on. If it’s not obvious yet, Rob Corddry is a busy man.
In the cases of Pain & Gain and Hell Baby, Corddry plays the straight man in films plotted around ridiculous characters and situations. With one he was getting his ass kicked by Michael Bay, and now he gets to tangle with Leslie Bibb, haunted houses and a demonic fetus. Obviously subject matter has little to do with how he chooses projects.
His career focus instead? Don’t work with dicks.
The work you’ve done this year has been pretty diverse. Is that something you look for or did it just work out that way?
[Laughs] I definitely lead a very fun but unfocused career. I’d probably be a lot richer if I just played the crazy best friend of the main character until I die. No, it’s not something I’m conscious of in the way a lot of people seem to be. “I need to be in a drama now, because I don’t know why!” is not my motto.
My motto is simple, and almost to the point of being really sad, which is: just do cool shit with people who aren’t dicks. Genre is never a consideration for me.
Has that always been your motto?
I don’t remember when I established it, but I know it was before Children’s Hospital. That was one of the first things I put a plan into action. I wanted to write something I find fun and have all my friends do it, and that’s been the case. That kind of attitude fosters good times and feelings. The whole crew has been there for five years, because everyone just likes everybody.
Children’s Hospital and Hell Baby have very difficult tones but everyone appears on the same page.
That’s a good point, because they are definitely similar tones. The difference with Hell Baby is there’s a straight man, which is me. With Children’s Hospital there is no straight man and you just have to buy into this logic we keep changing, since the logic changing is a part of the logic. That’s very cheap, but it works.
What makes for a good scene partner when working in comedy?
It’s funny. Comedians get a really bad reputation for being selfish and narcissistic. It’s very much a Saturday Night Live in the 7os kind of reputation, but that’s just not the case, at least with where I’m from. I came up with the Upright Citizens Brigade, which teaches if you make your partner look good, you will look good. You can’t have a bad scene if you’re worried about setting up your partner, and I think that’s the recipe for a good scene partner. One who’s not worried about their good side being in there or having his lines cut is what I like.
Since you disagree with the reputation Saturday Night Live help create, what do you think about the Sad Clown Theory?
I would not necessarily say sad, but comedians talk about that a lot. I hear all the time, “Man, if I fixed myself in therapy, I’m not going to be funny anymore.” I tend to think comedy and performances in general come from loving the attention or feeling from a laugh or whatever.
They feed off of that in a way that fills something. That doesn’t necessarily have to be sadness, because it could just easily be you’re satisfied in making people happy.
For me, I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. I like so many different parts of it. Of course getting a laugh is my fuel, but I definitely have never considered myself a sad person. There’s certain things about me that are completely broken, but comedians are usually very introspective and aware of these shortcomings and weird broken things. It makes it easier, but also satisfying and relaxing to joke about them. Another thing Upright Citizens Brigade teaches is improvise what you know, because you’ll have bunch of information at your fingertips.
When do you know if a joke works? Does it solely depend on your level of satisfaction or an audience’s?
Having done Children’s Hospital for so long I now have this gift and a curse of being able to look at a scene on the day from an editing standpoint. I can definitely tell if something will work or not because it’s shot the right or wrong way. The other day I said to a director, like, “Please don’t get a single of this. This is a very funny nothing conversation. I don’t even want you to have the option of using a single for either of us.” [Laughs] He said I was right and I told him, “I know I’m right!” [Laughs] Then I shoved him! No, but I also know when you’re going off in an improv that none of it will make it into a movie. You’re having fun, but that’s usually when I call it.
I’ve heard from actors with a tendency to improvise that they’ll show up on set and it’s almost expected they improv most of their lines or gags.
If I’m going to work as a writer on something, then you have to pay me as a writer, too. I’d never do that. A part of the “cool shit” philosophy is that I never do things I need to improvise on. I never want to start a job thinking, “I have to improvise to make it better,” because that’s just sad. Improv is always just a tool that doesn’t happen until a couple of days in.
I mean, Hot Tub Time Machine is very loose and there’s a lot of improv there. A lot of that is about the chemistry between us as people, not just the characters. The writer, Josh Heald, is very good at setting us up for rambling improvisations that often made it into the first one.
The last time we spoke you told this great story about being fired off a Broadway show by a Vietnam veteran on one of your first acting gigs. I’m curious, do you recall your first great job performing?
Right. By the way, that was way the fuck off Broadway.
[Laughs] I was trying to be charitable.
[Laughs] Thank you. Yeah, I have to say, I got to quit this temp job that paid me a lot of money, at least at the time, to go on tour with the National Shakespeare Company. I hopped on a 15-passenger van and just did shitty Shakespeare for community colleges. I don’t remember where it was, but I remember I was on stage and there was a moment I got a break laying down on a woman’s lap who was feeding me mime grapes and I remember looking around at the theater, the people, and this woman, thinking, “Oh my God, I made it. This is it! I did it! I’m making $350 a week to act! I’m getting per diem!” [Laughs]
Since then, I’ve learned that the term “success” is relative and changes all the time. The point that I learned that was a huge relief to me.
Hell Baby is now on VOD and opens in theaters September 6th.