Nate Corddry walks into a coffee shop in New York, and no one pays him any attention until he mentions The Daily Show halfway through our conversation. Wearing a Brooklyn hoodie and speaking in a soft, thoughtful tone, he could have been any other cute guy sipping an iced mocha on a Wednesday morning. Except he’s not just any other guy.
He’s a correspondent on one of the most successful shows on cable television hosted by It Comedian Jon Stewart. He scored a meaty role in Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing, Sports Night) new show Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, which joins the acclaimed Thursday-night lineup on NBC in the Fall. And he bares a striking resemblance to that other Corddry, the one who stepped into Stephen Colbert’s senior correspondent shoes when the latter left The Daily Show and went off to star in his own gig.
In the limbo between the exciting news of Studio 60‘s 13-episode order and packing his stuff to move to LA, Nate sat down with PopGurls to gush with fanboy glee about his new boss and soon-to-be old one.
At this point, you’re primarily known in association with The Daily Show, and in press your name is usually followed by “brother of Rob Corddry.” What biographical blurb would you rather they use?
I obviously understand why they do that. It’s compelling that there are two brothers on the same show together, and he’s been there for three years and I’ve only been there for nine months. It’s natural that I would become the progression because he’s established, he’s the senior correspondent.
But what would I want them to say…
I’m assuming you had a life before The Daily Show.
I didn’t. (deadpans) No. I never had a life.
I guess people are confused, they don’t think I’m a theater kind of actor and they don’t know that I have very little comedy experience. I’ve taken some classes at the UCB Theatre, which is a training ground here in New York for comedic performers, sketch and improv. That’s where my brother realized he wanted to be a comedian. He was a struggling actor 10 years ago doing terrible theater but then he met some people and he realized he didn’t want to be an actor, he wanted to be a comedian. He honed his skills there, did shows and rose through the ranks.
I also did that at this place in western Mass called the Williamstown Theater Festival, it’s the same thing. You start as a grunt, building sets and taking classes. Then if you do well and they like you and you’re a good actor, you move up the ranks. I spent part of five summers there, just kind of pounding the pavement, trying to move up.
You toured in The Graduate, playing the character Dustin Hoffman originated in the film. What do you have in common with Dustin Hoffman?
Very little. Hair color, height, weight. (laughs)
Was it intimidating to step into a role like that, or has it been so long since the movie that it doesn’t matter anymore?
It’s a terrible play. Terrible play. I mean really bad. I’m very thankful that I had it, it was a great job. Just to learn how to do a show eight times a week, and then on Monday go to the airport and do the whole thing over again on Tuesday, is training that you can’t get at any grad school. That’s where you learn how to be a good actor, on stage in front of people, working harder than you’ve ever worked before.
But I wasn’t intimidated at all by the role. One of the first cities where I read a review, it was really bad, specifically of me, saying I was a caricature of Hoffman and I had no stage presence, all this stuff. I completely went into my head because of it. And this guy in the cast, his name is Bill Hill – and I’ll never forget it and will thank him for the rest of my life for saying this – he said, ‘You can’t read that shit. You just can’t.’ And it’s worse when [the reviews are] good, because then you think your work is done and that you’ve found your character, because some dude in Tuscaloosa said that was a great performance. You think, ‘That’s a great performance, I’m good for the next six months.’ That was a really important lesson to learn.
You also had a role on Guiding Light. Do you have some secret soap opera obsession?
Oh my god, no. That role was the one nerd part and I was the one awkward-looking dude. It was really hilarious. They needed a computer nerd, who was part of this plot to fucking – who knows – kill a ghost or something. (laughs) The costume was all nerd-slacker, I had a snowboarder hat on and glasses. They actually gave me a pocket protector to wear, which was so fucking lame.
Computer guys these days are kind of cool!
Of course! So they handed me the pocket protector and these really funky glasses and I was just like, ‘fine.’ It was just another job.
How long were you on set?
Just a day. One speech, with computer talk. It was ridiculous. There was no rehearsal, we did it three times and that was it. It was another interesting learning experience, I can’t imagine doing that full time. It’s really hard work, actually. They shoot all the time, the scripts are constantly changing and the language is terrible. You cannot read this shit and come off as realistic. You’re forced to try to fit the round peg in the square hole. It’s just too bad.
That one speech on Guiding Light is going to be the Holy Grail footage–
Seven seasons from now? (laughs) Yeah. It exists. My mother has it on tape somewhere. ‘His first TV moment!’
Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, the new Aaron Sorkin pilot in which you have a role, just got picked up. How did you celebrate?
I got loaded with some friends. I went to a local bar with some buddies and my girlfriend, and we just got drunk. You know, it still hasn’t set in. It’s like this tease. It happened, we got the official announcement, but nothing’s changed. I’m still here in the same apartment, there’s no more money in my bank account. I’m still where I was before I got that phone call. Everyone’s saying it won’t hit me until the promos start running in September for the premiere episode. That’s when it will become real.
When do you go back to LA to start filming?
I don’t know, actually. I think in the middle of July, tentatively, is when they were going to start episode two. This is crazy! The first read, the first table reading of the pilot, they had little gift bags. They had hats, and little jokey gifts, and then they had episodes two and three. They hadn’t shot a frame of the pilot, and they were already handing out episodes two and three. And they were better than the pilot. That’s fucking confidence.
Your character, Tom Jeter, has been described as a guy who doesn’t know what to do when he isn’t making jokes. Is there something from his past, some sort of insecurity, that makes him behave this way?
Maybe part of it is insecurity – who knows where Season One will take us – but I think [Tom] is one of those savant comedians. He’s socially awkward, but when he gets in front of the camera or gets in a room of a bunch of writers he’s truly himself. He’ll take risks, put the pedal to the metal.
There are people who, when they’re around a group of other talented people who are funny and smart, they just explode. They really open up and are themselves, truly. Then they go to a family Christmas party back home and they’re surrounded with people who aren’t necessarily funny and don’t have the same sensibilities as them and they’re embarrassed – they see jokes everywhere. Their mind is saying, ‘no, don’t let that joke out, because no one is going to understand you. Go in the corner and just sit by yourself.’
Tom is a very robust character. Have you thought about the fact that this could be The Role, the one that makes you a household name?
Everyone assumed, and I guess rightly so, that this show was going to get picked up. No one ever really doubted it, but I knocked on wood every time I talked about it. Before it got picked up I tried to tell myself that it was three weeks of work, it was a nice chunk of money, I got to meet great people and have an amazing television experience. If that’s all it is, then that’s all it is.
So now that it’s picked up, I’m no longer knocking on wood, but I’m telling myself that it’s 13 episodes. America is fickle, and if the audience doesn’t get it, regardless of how good the show is, we’re gone in two weeks. Is that necessarily going to happen? Probably not. But is there a chance it’ll happen? Absolutely. I’m a little nervous to get all excited and start buying stuff – emotionally and physically – because it’s not there yet. Right now I’m just looking at it as another 13 episodes, and another 13 chances to say this guy’s words. That’s what I’m most excited about.
You’ve said that you think Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writers in TV, if not the best writer in TV. Can you remember a moment when you were watching Sports Night or The West Wing and you thought, ‘this is the guy, he’s the one’?
Yes! I love this question. There are a million from The West Wing, but the one I always go back to [is from the episode “The Short List”] when Josh is sitting down with Leo and saying ‘listen, they’re going to be investigating you. They’re going to dig up everything, and I need to know if there’s anything more than booze.’ It’s this really amazing, quiet scene. And it’s part Sorkin and it’s part John Spencer, but it equals an amazing fucking line…there’s this long pause, which I’m sure is in the script, and Josh is trying to be so – I mean, this is his boss, it’s the chief of staff – and there’s this great pause and John Spencer says, ‘pills.’
And it just comes out of nowhere, and I remember sitting there with my mouth open and it took the breath out of me. I remember thinking, ‘oh my God, this is a great show.’ In the pilot episode there’s also that great moment where the Christian woman says ‘we don’t really get your New York sense of humor.’ And Richard Schiff [as Toby] says, ‘She means Jewish.’ And I was thinking ‘wow, this is only the pilot episode, and the guy is already willing to take these types of swings. This is great!’
Whenever I want to show people how great the show is I show them the teaser for the final episode of Season One, [“What Kind of Day Has It Been”]. It’s the assassination attempt, and Toby’s brother is up in the shuttle. And there’s the shot where the female Secret Service agent is trying to get Zoe in the car, and she’s looking around and she looks up and her eyes expand and it’s like ‘bum bum’ (sings) and the flag from the opening credits comes in and every time I’m like ‘YEAH! Go TV!’
I get chills every time the theme song starts to play, even after so many seasons.
Me, too. Totally. That’s Snuffy Walden. He’s composing the music for Studio 60, too . It’s going to be so good! I’m really excited to see the opening credits. West Wing had the most amazing opening credits, they were really well done.
You mentioned earlier that you felt Leo’s pause was probably scripted. Sorkin is known for scripting every little ‘uh’ and ‘um’ of his shows. How is it to work with someone like that?
It makes you a better actor. It makes you work harder. You cannot cut corners. That’s the way it should fuckin’ be. I learned this in college. I remember, I was going off script and the director rang my neck. He was like, ‘look, this is a published play. The author wrote every word, every dot dot dot, every exclamation point, for a reason. He thought about every word. So you have to honor that, that’s the map we’re following to bring this thing to life.
So I think it’s great. It’s going to be really hard, but if there’s any writer you trust with knowing your character’s ‘ah’s and ‘um’s is that guy. It’s Aaron Sorkin. But it’s a delicate balance, when you get comfortable enough with your character that you say, ‘I’m not sure I would do this,’ because this guy is already working 20 episodes ahead of you and it would be foolish to question his grand plan.
The script supervisor is an amazing woman, and unfortunately she’s the bad cop. She’s the one on set who tells you it not ‘um’ it’s ‘ah,’ which is really frustrating to a lot of actors. But for me, I hope she comes to me after takes, because I want to make sure I honor every syllable.
Have you already filmed your first walk-and-talk? Sorkin’s famous for putting his characters in motion during witty banter.
A little bit. I don’t have a lot of walk-and-talks. Those are more for Amanda Peet, Matthew Perry, Brad Whitford, Steven Weber. They do a lot of walking and talking. They’re all very hurried and walking down hallways and talking about things and slamming through doors. I’m sort of a sedentary character. (laughs)
One of the first shots – who knows if it’ll make it into the pilot – is this unbelievable classical West Wing steady cam shot. Every shot, basically, is with a steady cam and it’s so cool to watch. But there’s this amazing shot going down a spiral staircase to the set, and the steady cam was on a crane about 40 feet in the air, and I’m walking down the staircase and I turned and it was right behind me. In my mind I was like, ‘holy shit! Holy shit! It’s The West Wing steady cam, it’s behind me right now.’ It was just amazing. So cool.
Sounds like a great experience.
It was a lot of hard work and long hours. But the director, Tommy Schlamme, kept everything so light. It’d be like four in the morning, and we’d be on take 50, and the crew would still be cracking jokes. Everyone would still be fucking around. So Tommy and Aaron set the tone at the top, and that’s a true sign of leadership. Those guys make everyone feel safe and comfortable, able to take risks. And that’s so important in an ensemble show.
They also have a stable of actors and crew they work with over and over again. What’s it like to work with so many Sorkin veterans?
You mean, what’s it like to know that Josh Malina is going to come and take my part next season? (laughs) I’m a little intimidated by it all. I’m not comfortable being in a room with all these people yet.
Have you gotten any advice from them – Bradley Whitford, Timothy Busfield, Matthew Perry – guys who’ve been on shows with Sorkin before?
I chatted very briefly with Brad and told him that I’d like to pick his brain about what that world is like. I mean he did it for four years every day, reading this guy’s words. That’s a very long conversation and we just barely started it. He gave me really good advice, and I hope he continues to give me good advice. If it’s okay that I go to him, of course! (laughs)
He said ‘be true to the actor inside of you. You’re not an asshole if you ask why you’re doing a certain move or why you’re saying these words. It’s okay to question direction, it’s okay to ask questions. You’re not being as asshole.’ He told me to trust that I know better than anyone else what’s going on. I would be terrified to ask too many questions. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I just want to do my job, do the best I can, and go home.
You’re going to move to LA full time?
Yeah, we’re negotiating that right now. I’ve been on all the web sites, on Craigslist, trying to find an apartment. And the prices! You can get a lot more out in Los Angeles than you can get in New York. I can maybe get a yard and shit. A garage!
Maybe a pool!
Maybe. Maybe a pool.
You can live like Entourage!
Eh. I’m an East Coast guy through and through. I don’t know enough about LA to pass judgment on it yet, but what I’ve seen of it so far I haven’t really liked. I’m already trying to figure out how I can get an apartment in Portland, Oregon and live there. (laughs) Take a private jet to work every day. LA’s one of those one-industry towns that kind of freaks me out.
What are you going to miss most about New York?
Oh, God. I could go on for half an hour.
While you’re thinking about it, maybe you can explain to me why New York bagels are supposed to be so much better than everyplace else’s. Because I’ve got to tell you, I can’t tell the difference.
I don’t eat bagels. Honest. People in New York are very specific about their things. One of the traits of being a New Yorker is that you have to believe you’re the biggest and the best. That means bagels, that means everything. People are very opinionated about their teams, their foods, their neighborhoods, etc. etc.
Pizza, however, I will stand behind. You can’t get a decent slice of pizza anywhere else. You haven’t lived until you’ve had John’s.
So you’ll miss pizza, and what else?
I’m going to miss being on the subways. Walking. I’m going to miss being with people. Being crammed on the train sucks, but it’s also amazing, too. Being able to walk through neighborhoods and go to a coffee shop, being able to see the history of the West Village, being able to see the architecture of the west side. To be able to go to MoMA. All those things.
All my friends. I have very few actor friends. I’m friends with guys in post-production and ad guys and artists and cartoonists. So I’m not looking forward to hanging out with a lot of actors. That’s a generalization, I know. I just don’t want to talk about the fucking business and scripts and aaaah! It makes my skin crawl to talk about that stuff. I’d rather talk about the Red Sox. In fact, I’ve already cross-referenced the Red Sox schedule, and found out they’re playing in Anaheim.
Let’s talk about The Daily Show for a little bit. What was the audition process like?
There were four or five of us auditioning, and we were waiting in the green room. They were taking us in one at a time – it was on the set, in the suit, with a teleprompter and Jon, the whole nine yards. I was the last to go, and I was walking down the hall towards the stage and Stephen Colbert walked past me.
He recognized me, because I look like my brother a little bit and there was buzz that Rob’s brother was auditioning. Everyone was watching to see what Rob’s brother was going to do. Stephen grabbed me by the shoulders and said, ‘take your time, follow the prompter, you’ll be fine.’ Instantly I just felt so much better.
You hadn’t met Jon Stewart before your audition. What was it like to meet him in that environment?
I walked onto the set and over to Jon and he said ‘Nate Corddry!’ and I said, ‘…Jon… Stewart!’ (laughs) I had no idea what to say. He was very conversational and the situation was very warm and comfortable. The stage manager was counting us down, and right before we started Jon turned to me and said, ‘your brother’s a pussy’ and turned right to the camera and started the segment. He was trying to throw me off, see what I would do. It was wild.
And then I didn’t hear anything for three weeks. I was waiting by the phone every day. I was convinced I’d fucked it up. But then it worked out, thankfully.
Was Jon what you were expecting him to be?
I don’t really know him, but he’s fucking hilarious. We didn’t talk much during the audition process, and now that I’ve come to work with him I usually just see him in edits. He’s great. He’s hilarious, charming and bright. He wants morale on the show to be high, so he’s very ‘go team.’ (laughs) But I honestly don’t know him any more than I did nine months ago.
What’s it like in the writer’s room?
Intimidating. But also awesome. I have so much respect for those guys. There are two or three specifically that I’ve worked with more than the others and really jive with. My field piece about the New Year’s resolution was created by one writer. His name is Tim Carvell. Everything was his. Every idea was his. That’s his piece, basically. Without him it would have been a C+, with him it was an A-.
They’re all geniuses.
Oh my god, yes, and not only do they have Ivy League degrees, but they have Ivy League comedy levels. They know every pop culture reference in the world and they know 10 jokes about every one. We sit in these joke meetings where we work on our field pieces, and we sit there for half an hour, an hour, and come up with jokes about it. We feed off each other. When they get going it’s like the fucking symphony of comedy.
What did you think about Colbert and the White House Correspondents dinner?
The guy has balls bigger than anyone. He had his 10 minutes, he had an amazing opportunity, and he took full advantage of it. We had a little correspondent’s class with him, when all the new correspondents joined The Daily Show a few months ago. One of the best things he said is, ‘you’ve got to hang your soul up before you go through that door. You’ve got to leave it behind, because you’ve got to be a complete pit bull.’ Because the people that we interview – and we’re not curing cancer here, right? – but these people care about their views.
Are they in on the joke?
It’s hard to find people now who don’t know The Daily Show, so you have to prep them beforehand. You can’t laugh. Play it as straight as you can, because if you laugh it’s unusable. Answer the questions as honestly as possible.
I’ve spoken to a lot of lawyers and congressmen and city councilmen who live in sound bites. So they don’t give you an honest answer – they’re like a parody anyway. To try to catch them off guard is almost impossible.
Two Corddry brothers walk into a bar. Who gets kicked out first?
(laughs) It depends on the bar. If it’s in the middle of playoff baseball it’s me, because he doesn’t give a shit and I’ll get fired up and get into a fight with some Yankees fan. If it’s a fancy wine bar, I won’t be interested but Rob will get mad because they don’t have the wine he likes and he’ll throw his wine in the sommelier’s face.
Have you ever actually been thrown out of a bar?
No, honestly. I’ve never even gotten in a fight, never thrown a punch.
What’s the embarrassing story your mother tells about you when you bring a new girl home?
I wanted attention so badly as a child that I gave myself my own nickname. They have these baby pictures of me, and I was a chubby baby, so I gave myself the nickname King Chubs. One day I wanted more attention and I threw a fit and said, ‘you guys always called me King Chubs’ and of course that wasn’t true. I had fucking invented that. My family like like, ‘okay, we’ll go with it,’ and so I brought it upon myself to be picked on.
The most embarrassing story, though my mother would never tell it, is that I was the mascot for my high school during football season. We were the Wildcats. On Thanksgiving Day we played the Brockton Boxers and the boxer mascot was there – this big dog, and I was the kitty cat. So I was there on the 50-yard line, dancing around, being a jackass – to be clear, I just wanted to meet cheerleaders – and then I was stormed by the boxer. The boxer kicked my ass, on my home field in Weymouth with two, maybe three thousand people watching. And it ended up being a girl. So not only did I get my ass kicked in front of 3000 people, in a costume, it was a girl. It was tough to go to school the following Monday.
The dad of a buddy of mine called me The Cat for the next two years. He said he had three videos: his wedding video, Rocky II and my fight with the boxer.
Now that’s going to be the footage people will look for when you get famous.
Oh, wow. That footage…that footage is probably destroyed, but that would be amazing. (leans into the digital recorder) If you’re out there on the Internet and you want to look for this footage, please find it. Please. And turn it in to me. I would love that. If I ever get on Conan, that’s the footage I want them to show.
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