A Bald Liar
Rob Corddry, a correspondent for The Daily Show, will mock anything and anybody.
The report, like so many from last summer's news-parched Democratic National Convention, opened with footage of landmarks: Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill, Boston Harbor. Then Rob Corddry, a correspondent for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, shot out an arm, and the camera swung over to the Best Western Adams Inn in Quincy, where, he said, "I treated Maureen Sullivan to my virginity. Room two-two-three!" Later in the bit, called "Rob Corddry's Boston," he interviewed his former scoutmaster, who said Corddry had "issues" as a boy, and also his father, Steve, a retired Massachusetts Port Authority official, who defended the Big Dig. Then it was on to 21 Nickels, a Watertown bar, where the correspondent hoisted a few with old pals, one of whom demanded to know what had hap- pened to Corddry's hair. The segment ended with Corddry stagger- ing down the middle of a street, calling in vain for "Maw-reen." (Maureen and Room 223 are real; the only thing he changed was her last name.)
The piece was a homecoming for Corddry, who in his senior year at Weymouth High School played the lead role in Bye Bye Birdie. "He just had a wonderfully natural poise about him onstage," remembers Jan Smith, his drama teacher back then. "He was very good-looking, and he was very confident." Then she adds, sounding as plainspoken and unironic as so many of the people Corddry interviews for The Daily Show, "He had a full head of hair, and I don't know where it went."
Corddry studied acting at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a day after graduating he moved to New York. As he tells it, he fancied himself a serious actor at the time, winning a job with the National Shakespeare Company. But the roles he got - Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, Lucio in Measure for Measure - were invariably clownish. He began to realize comedy might be his calling. While on tour, he met a fellow Bostonian named Jeb Berrier, and, deciding they were hilarious, the two started a comedy sketch group called Naked Babies. From there, Corddry's career took off.
He started performing improv with Comedy Central's Up-right Citizens Brigade, which led to appearances on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. He landed a role in the movie Old School, starring Will Ferrell. As soon as the film wrapped in the spring of 2002, The Daily Show hired him.
I catch up with Corddry on a Tuesday evening in March inside the headquarters of The Daily Show. He meets me near the reception desk of the five-story building on a desolate block of Manhattan's far West Side. "I hope you're ready for some exercise," he says, and then he begins bounding up the flights of stairs to his office. Hours of editing lie ahead of him for his latest segment of fake news, a dispatch from the Michael Jackson trial that will air the following day. Corddry, dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, a zippered sweater, and New Balance sneakers, is wired, like a college student gearing up for an all-nighter.
The setting itself is collegiate, a narrow, carpeted hallway with a series of small offices that could be singles and doubles in a freshman dorm. Most of the doors are closed, and they're plastered with a quirky assortment of news clippings and mementos. "That's [Stephen] Colbert's office, and over there is Samantha Bee," he says, referring to his fellow correspondents. "It's really like a fraternity up here."
With its merciless version of political satire masquerading as TV news, the award-winning Daily Show on Comedy Central has become a moral compass of sorts for left-leaningAmericans in an era of Republican rule. The show's success, of course, owes much to Stewart, the deftly impish host since 1999. But the half-dozen on-air correspondents, including Corddry, 34, with his passion for intelligent and sometimes off-the-wall humor in the tradition of Steve Martin, are no less essential.
A Corddry report on the protests over election fraud in Ukraine last fall is typical. "All I know," he told Stewart, supposedly from Kiev's Independence Square, "is that every day this drags on is another day I eat beets. I'm actually serious, Jon. I'm tired of pissing red."
His outlandishness sets Corddry apart. For a spoof about new federal nutrition guidelines, he went to a mall and, dressed in a white lab coat, implored shoppers to try his breakthrough diet: fried chicken skins. On St. Patrick's Day, he reported on an alleged murder by the Irish Republican Army while standing in a crowded Irish pub in New York. He interrupted his report to slug an emerald-green Jell-O shot. Then he jumped onto the bar and started step dancing.
"He's got a great sense of play," Amy Poehler, a cast member of Saturday Night Live and another Massachusetts native who has performed with Corddry, says in an e-mail. She says he "has a twinkly-eyed sense of adventure when he performs. He seems up for anything, which is why the audience will follow him."
Despite his busy schedule, Corddry continues to do side work in film. He played the title role in Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story, a mockumentary about a disgraced paintball champion who seeks redemption, which was set to make its New England premiere at last weekend's Independent Film Festival of Boston. As for what's next, Corddry, who is married to a speech pathologist and lives in Brooklyn, hopes he'll get to play someone other than himself. Now that the Daily Show's hijinks are better known, he says, it's harder to find subjects willing to be interviewed. But that's not to say he isn't having fun: The Bush administration is keeping him plenty busy. "They've gone to such great lengths to be secretive and hypocritical," he says, "that there's just so much good material."
"To tell you the truth, the war's been very good to us, the election's been very good to us. Hopefully, we'll invade Iran and North Korea, so I can buy a house."
Paul Rogers is senior editor of Travel + Leisure Golf magazine. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.