Rob Corddry Knows You Might Think He’s a Jerk

“My manager’s pitch is ‘He’s creepy but accessible. He’s a dick, but he’s likable. He’s an asshole. But he’s their asshole.’ ” Photo: Andrew McLeod/Trunk Archive

Rob Corddry arrives at Ye Rustic Inn wearing a Patriots cap, a piece of pink glitter glinting incongruously under his eye. “Oh, it’s from my daughter,” he explains, brushing at his cheek as he slides into the red leather booth. “She’s a prostitute.”

A waitress saunters over with a menu that lists mostly wings. “Hey there,” she says warmly, as though Corddry were someone she sees every day. But although this hole-in-the-wall sports bar is maybe two minutes from Corddry’s house in Silver Lake, he hasn’t been here in months. “I have that face,” he explains, after she departs with his order of beer and wings. “I’m that guy.”

This is true. Hundreds of Daily Show episodes and countless airplane movies have made Corddry’s face so familiar that if you ran into him, your brain would probably fool you into thinking he was someone you knew, too.

Your brain might also tell you, unfortunately, that he is kind of a dick, because that is the kind of role that Corddry, who is 44, is best known for. He was Ashton Kutcher’s dick lawyer in What Happens in Vegas, and a time-traveling dick in both Hot Tub Time Machine movies, and even an undead dick, in Warm Bodies. He’s just finished filming a role as a dickish school principal in William H. Macy’s The Layover, and starting on June 21, he can be seen as a Wall Street dick in Ballers, the new HBO series from the creators of Entourage. The show, which is similarly bro-tastic, stars the Rock and his various muscle groups as an ex–football player trying to forge a career as a money manager, and Corddry as the obnoxious partner who tries to get him to turn his high-flying Miami athlete friends into clients. In one early episode, his character is thrown off a pier after he addresses a crowd of mostly black athletes as “My niggas!”

In the end, they fish him out and he rejoins the party. This is precisely the kind of character Corddry specializes in: “My manager’s pitch is ‘He’s creepy but accessible,’ ” he says as his beer arrives. “ ‘He’s a dick, but he’s likable. He’s an asshole. But he’s their asshole.’ ”

It’s easy to see why he’s become the go-to for such roles. Whatever the male equivalent of Resting Bitch Face is, Corddry has it: He’s white and power-bald, with a sporty build and small eyes perfect for narrowing into indignant slits or dilating into lecherous orbs, and he favors the kind of bawdy humor he perfected as a correspondent on The Daily Show from 2002 to 2006, where he reported on, among other things, the power of the North Korean Taepodong (try to say it out loud without snickering). Like the other stars of that show, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, Corddry exudes a dadlike decency that makes it funny, not creepy, when he hollers, “Here comes the lifeguard, bitches!” while jumping into a hot tub in Ballers, or makes jokes about his 9-year-old daughter being a hooker. He’s thoughtful and disarmingly introspective, reads self-help books, and not long ago took up Transcendental Meditation. “Let me tell you my mantra,” he says in the bar. “Because I think they may have been fucking with me. My mantra is: Burger King.

Unlike his former Daily Show compatriots, Corddry has stuck mostly to character roles, and so far, he’s been happy doing that. “I’ll play this lovable asshole forever,” he says. “Because there’s so many shades of him.” In fact, he just signed on for a new role today, only this one is a real villain, with zero likability. “A, uh,” he says, tittering, “black shade of dick.”

This is not to say he doesn’t have other ambitions. “With me it’s really slow,” says Corddry, who moved to New York after college with ideas of performing Shakespeare before getting distracted by the Upright Citizens Brigade. “It has been this gradual process of understanding what
I do and what I want to do, and I still feel like I’m in the middle of it.”

At the moment, though, it feels like he’s on a roll. Children’s Hospital, his delightfully demented satire of hospital dramas, was recently renewed by Adult Swim for a seventh season. Created as a web series during the 2008 writers’ strike, it’s been an unexpected success, winning two Emmys, spawning a spinoff, Newsreaders, and becoming a magnet for guests, like Jon Hamm and Jordan Peele, who like its no-rules humor. “It’s a very specific tone,” says Corddry, who plays Doctor Blake Downs, a blood-smeared, clown-makeup-wearing surgeon who continually tries, and fails, to use “the healing power of laughter.” More successful cures on the show have been brought about with the use of butterfly semen and a disregard for conventional storytelling methods (“Long story short, I didn’t die,” says Lake Bell’s character, Dr. Cat Black, explaining her reappearance after being killed off). “Our goal is to write the perfect joke, a completely unfamiliar, unheard-of joke,” says Corddry. “I don’t know if we’ve ever done it, but that’s one of the main criteria we use when we are choosing what gets shot. Like continuity — it’s stupid, it’s annoying, so we don’t deal with it. And luckily it’s become part of our charm.” He cites, as one of his favorite moments, a scene in which a doctor smashes her elbow into the glass cover of a box containing an emergency ax. There is no actual glass on the box, and what we hear is an assistant editor saying “smash.”

“Probably, I’ll look back on it as the show that taught me how to write a joke,” Corddry says. This is a little pre-nostalgia. Unlike its characters, Children’s Hospital isn’t likely to die anytime soon. But Corddry’s preparing himself. “I love it,” he says. “What would be the thing that would make me stop? If people start turning on it, whatever that means.”

Earlier this year, Corddry had the experience of fans’ turning on him. Hot Tub Time Machine, a charmingly juvenile piece of middle-age wish-fulfillment starring John Cusack and Corddry as two of four friends who travel back in time (via you know what) and end up reorienting their lives, was released in 2010, to little fanfare. Over the course of several years, the movie became a sleeper hit, a new cult classic. But the sequel, which Corddry and the other guys made sans Cusack, came out in February and tanked hard. “It was a storybook bomb,” says Corddry, who was taken aback. Reading the scathing reviews, which he ably sums up as “John Cusack’s not in it, and why do we care, it’s just putrid fart jokes and boobs,” got under his skin, forcing him, he says, “to figure out what it is about the whole thing that I really like doing and do it. Or don’t do it.”

Working on Ballers helped, he says. (Not only because, at one point, he got a hug from the Rock. “It feels like you’re being swallowed by a hard teddy bear,” he reports. “A teddy bear without any fur. A shaven teddy bear.”) “I had so much fun,” he says sincerely. “Like, I truly loved doing it, and thank God, because otherwise, I don’t know.” The experience gave him a new mantra: “Just do it for the day, and the next day, and when it’s done, fuckin’ fuck it. On to the next thing.”

Corddry doesn’t dare hope Ballers will be a hit, or that it will get renewed, though he’d like it to be. (Not least, in order to have some more quality time with the Rock’s pecs. “Wouldn’t you like to be in the position where you could just touch his muscles?” he says. “I would kind of just like to have five minutes, to just touch his shoulders, first of all. Biceps, of course. I want to feel his waist.”) He’s got other things he’s working on, too, including loose plans for a live staged reading of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with his brother, Nate. And who knows — Hot Tub 2, like Rob Corddry himself, could rise to popularity in its own sweet time. “It’s fucking funny,” he says. “Fart jokes are funny. If you write a really good, original, unfamiliar one,” he says, “it’s beautiful.”

*This article appears in the June 15, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.