The comedic revolution will not be televised, but you can catch it if you have an Internet connection. Increasingly, comedians are taking advantage of the wide-open web to create low-budget, short-form series on their own instead of monkey-dancing for suits so they'll fund their funniness (and inevitably alter it, as investors are prone to do). Some of what has been produced online is terrible, mind you, but the point is that the humor is out there to be judged democratically by mouse clicks.
One shining success in this new format is Childrens Hospital, former Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry's absurd send-up of the ubiquitous medical shows, ranging from sexy dramas like ER and Grey's Anatomy to the goofball comedy Scrubs. The series started as 10 five-minute webisodes on TheWB.com in December 2008 before Adult Swim scooped it up and expanded it to fit a 15-minute time slot in July 2010. Currently airing its fourth season, Childrens Hospital is an Emmy nominee for a new category that was created because of shows like it that don't fit into traditional boxes: Best Special-Class Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program. Quite a mouthful, and an honor.
Complex recently spoke to creator and star Corddry, who plays clown-faced, blood-smeared Dr. Blake Downs, about the Emmy nomination, absurd comedy, hospital waiting rooms, and why clowns suck and people who have a phobia them are even worse.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
First off, congratulations on Childrens Hospital's nomination for the Special-Class Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program Emmy!
Oh, thank you very much! It’s a brand new category, which is almost as cool as getting nominated. The creation of this category means that they’re recognizing what all of my friends and I are doing.
Why do you think so many comedians are doing short-form comedy on the web and increasingly on television?
It's a path that they’re passionate about, and they can just do it [without asking for funding]. And they can also get a little bit of money to do it, too. Now some of these shows are getting on cable. These casts are full of people who are doing things that they love, which I think is better for TV and jokes in general. And who needs twenty-two minutes?
You had the opportunity to make Childrens Hospital a full 30-minute show. Why did you feel the project was better suited to be half of that?
It started off as a five-minute show on the web and I didn’t think it could be longer than that. The show is like a joke machine gun and I’m not sure if this kind of comedy could sustain itself past 11 minutes and 15 seconds. I also think, with half hour shows, or even 60-minute shows, that I could cut them down to 11 minutes and 15 seconds easily and not lose any of the story. [Laughs.] It’s a lot of filler and we just pack a lot into those 15 minutes.
Do you typically write episodes precisely for your allotted time or shoot a lot and trim during the editing process?
We’re always talking about the possibility of doing a two-part episode but I will always have to cut whether it’s a script or it’s a finished piece. I think the story itself will dictate how long it should be and we kind of know like how long an 11-minute thing is.
You mentioned short-form casts being full of happy, passionate people. It seems almost like comedians are returning to their comedy troop origins.
Yeah, it definitely feels like, “Guys, we can put on a show! Right here in our tree house!” I cast all of my friends I hang out with and share a sense of humor with, and I think one of the reasons people like the show is that they can tell we’re having fun and we like each other. The reason we're doing it is not money, ’cause it changes. [Doing it for money] changes tiny, maybe subconscious things that you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint, but feel.
I’d never do a network show that I wouldn’t mind doing for seven years. And also I’d never do something on network television that I don’t have as much passion for as I do Childrens Hospital.
How difficult is it to find unexpected ways to keep Childrens Hospital absurd?
Doing the show, I’ve learned gradually, perhaps too gradually, what absurdity is and the best way to write the most absurd jokes or episodes or shows. The great thing about absurdity is, apparently there are no rules. That’s the only rule, basically. You make up your own rules for each scene or each joke, so the opportunities are endless. If you’re doing satire you’ve gotta realize that you can only use relevant material. Relevant material might actually be a comedy killer for us. [Laughs.] It’s best off being as meaningless as possible.
This season, we’re adventuring out of Childrens Hospital in all kinds of ways. I lost sight, in a good way, of what a normal Children’s Hospital episode is. So every episode is like its own weird, stylistic world or way to tell its own story.