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Class Clown
Rob Corddry ’93 dishes up funny, fake news on The Daily Show

—Ian Aldrich

Rob Corddry
In addition to television and movie roles, Rob Corddry has appeared in many commercials, for the likes of The Cartoon Network, Labatt's beer, Wendy's and 1-800 Call ATT.
IT'S A TUESDAY EVENING IN early April and a hundred or so Gen-Xers, middle-age couples, and retirees file into an unassuming four-story brick building on the outskirts of Manhattan’s west side. Except for a blue awning that simply says “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” there’s nothing striking about the structure, or what goes on inside. But those who’ve come here, many whom waited months for tickets, excitedly find their find seats in the small studio, under a ceiling of lights and cameras.

Five minutes after the show begins Rob Corddry ’93, one of the program’s four “senior correspondents,” takes a seat behind the news desk beside host, Jon Stewart. He looks professional in a dark suit, gold tie, and light-blue shirt. The audience, watching a music-driven spoof on the Bush Administration on video monitors, largely misses Corddry’s entrance.

When the video segment ends, camera and audience lock in on Corddry. His story is about a high school student in Indiana whose head is abnormally big. So big that in 2002 his hometown raised money to purchase him a special-sized helmet so he could play football. “The Daily Show” covered the story in 2002, and Corddry is doing a follow-up.

“As you know,” Corddry tells viewers, “reporters will sometimes revisit stories and file an update. Just pull out some old phone numbers and BOOM. You’ve got a brand new story that totally counts toward your contractual requirement.”

The three-minute segment is typical “Daily Show” humor, a mish-mash of “reporting” and car chases, as Corddry races around trying to find the kid a graduation cap to fit his head.

“I need an extra, extra, extra large now!” he yells out, entering a school clothing store. “Go, go, go, go!”

The piece draws constant laughter from everyone in the studio, including Stewart.

Later, as audience members pour out onto the street, it’s the subject of conversation, much more so than Stewart’s meatier interview with New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman who discussed the changing global economy.

“Big head guy, heh,” says a man with red hair in his early 40s, turning to his wife. She’s clearly baffled, unsure what to make of the story.

“I don’t get it,” she says. “Is that for real? Does that guy know he’s getting mocked?”

A number of comedians have a comic epiphany, a singular moment early in their life when they realize that making people laugh is not only something they like doing, but something they’re good at. Corddry, now 34, remembers a summer when he was six or seven. He was at a cousin’s house near his hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts, sitting with his family around the pool. As his mom lowered the straps of her tank top to sun her shoulders, Corddry blurted, “Daddy, mommy’s ready.” Everyone cracked up.

“I didn’t even really know what I was doing, but it was such a powerful feeling,” says Corddry. “I had manipulated these adults somehow.”

Humor was a staple around the Corddry dinner table. Corddry, his parents, Robin and Steven, and younger brother and sister, Nathan and Laura, dished up sarcasm about people they knew and the day’s big news stories. It was the family’s version of “The Daily Show.”

“There was just a lot of laughing,” recalls Robin. “And nothing was forbidden.”

And Corddry kept the laughs coming. He impersonated family members, schoolmates, and people he saw on TV. He wrote and performed skits with his Boy Scout troop. But it wasn’t until his senior year at Weymouth North High School that he formally stepped onto the stage, playing the role of entertainment agent Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie.

The performance, he recalls, was “terrible,” but he was hooked on acting. Yet Corddry planned to study journalism when he arrived at UMass Amherst in the fall of 1989. He stuck with the major for just two days.

“I thought, ‘What?’” he says. “I don’t want to be a journalist. I’ve never read a paper in my life. I liked to write, so everyone was like, if you want to be a writer, you have to be a journalist.”

English became his official major instead, but by his sophomore year, Corddry focused much of his attention on drama classes and plays. His first role came in Torch Song Trilogy, about New York City’s gay scene. Others followed, including performances in Ten Little Indians, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Romeo and Juliet, and Reckless. By his junior year, Corddry had caught the attention of longtime UMass Professor Ed Golden.

“He’s a wonderful actor who has something so rare: genuine comic ability,” says Golden, now retired. “And he’s got the drive. He’s very dedicated.”

Corddry credits Golden with convincing him to follow his heart, move to New York City after graduation, and try carving out a living as an actor.

“We had a student conference my senior year and he asked me if I wanted to be an actor,” says Corddry. “I told him I did and he said, ‘Well, you can do it.’ That was it. I was like, okay then, I’ll do it. I don’t remember having that kind of goal until then.”

Corddry moved to New York in January 1994. He arrived in the back of a U-Haul truck during a blinding snowstorm with a friend and fellow actor from college and their respective girlfriends. Corddry was armed with a few old pieces of furniture, about $1,000 in cash, and no real employment prospects.

His early paying jobs—security guard at Metropolitan Museum of Art, handing out menus for a Mexican restaurant—paid little and didn’t get him on stage. Acting came after hours, “a lot of crappy off-, off-, off-Broadway” in non-comedic roles, something Corddry was exclusively pursuing.

“I fancied myself quite an important actor for a long, long time,” says Corddry. “But then I realized I was a pretentious ass and I really enjoyed doing comedy.”

Paid acting opportunities eventually rolled in: A year-long tour with the National Shakespeare Company, TV commercials, bit parts on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” improvisational comedy gigs, and a minor role in the 2003 movie box-office smash, Old School, starring Will Ferrell.

But it was the spring of 2002 when everything truly changed. That’s when Corddry, recently married, received a phone call asking him to audition for “The Daily Show,” a program he’d followed closely since its 1996 debut.

“He had the tenacity to hang in there,” says Jeb Berrier, a close friend and an actor himself. “Rob isn’t related to anybody in the business. He’s just a really talented guy who works his butt off.”

“The Daily Show” gig is full-time; Corrdy makes two or three appearances a week. He covers big American news stories, like the Michael Jackson trial to last year’s Democratic National Convention in Boston.

In between he continues to do sketch comedy, pursue TV roles, (this November, he’ll make an appearance on HBO’s, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), and carve out a film career. Last year he starred in the mockumentary, Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story, about a disgraced former paintball star that tries to climb back to number one.

It’s a level of success he truly cherishes. In the early days he constantly searched for the next thing, today he can afford to take stock and go for the next right thing.

“I just want to do cool stuff,” he says. “Be able to pay the bills and go away once or twice a year.”

It sounds simple. Except for Corddry, more success means more exposure, more fame, more recognition, things he admits he’s adjusting to.

“It’s very odd and always a learning process,” he says. “All actors want that attention, and then when we get it, hopefully we realize it’s nice, it can be annoying, but it’s a great gift.”

Then, as if on cue during my interview with Corddry at a bar a few blocks from the studio, our waitress, who’s probably in her late twenties, shyly comes up to us.

“Just before you go, I just wanted to say I love your show,” she tells Corddry.

“Oh, well thank you very much,” he says.

“When you came in I recognized you, but I couldn’t quite, you know, place your face,” she says. “I can’t watch tonight because I have to work, but hopefully I’ll get out of here early.”

Corddry puffs out his chest, crosses his arms, and looks away, playing the part of the disgruntled star. “What?” he says. He waves his right arm up in the air. “That’s alright, I just thought you said you loved the show.”

The waitress laughs, clearly seeing through his act. “That’s it,” she says. “You have my kind of sense of humor.”

His face softens, and he reveals a smile. “I really appreciate that.”

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