Before he was a “Daily Show” correspondent (from 2002 to 2006), or created the world of “Childrens Hospital” (starting in 2008), or took a dip in “Hot Tub Time Machine” (in 2010), Rob Corddry appeared in “The Manchurian Candidate,” an Off Broadway production (or, as Corddry remembers it, “more like Way, Way Off Broadway”) directed by John Lahr. The show was reviewed by Variety on July 18, 1994. Although he is listed in the cast, Corddry was not singled out in the review. The production from Art & Work Ensemble was panned, but Corddry survived and has enjoyed a varied career as an actor, writer, and producer ever since. After starring in Paramount’s “Office Christmas Party,” his upcoming projects include the crime thriller “Shimmer Lake” and two comedies: “The Layover,” directed by William H. Macy, and Ken Marino’s “How to Be a Latin Lover.”
Do you remember much about “The Manchurian Candidate”?
I think it was the first play I was cast in, fresh out of college. My girlfriend, one of my buddies, and I were all cast, and we were very excited. We’re talking about John Lahr. We had no idea of his accomplishments at the time — it was more like, “This is the cowardly lion’s son who wrote this thing. We’ve made it.”
Who did you play?
I was a one of a bunch of utility players who played a bunch of small roles. I believe I had a couple of lines as a reporter … maybe a bartender? Although that might have been my friend Mike. I was definitely a soldier at some point.
Was the play really that bad?
It was not a good production, although at the time I thought, “This is going straight to the top.” The review is very accurate.
Did you read it back then?
I don’t remember that review, but, boy, I’m very proud of my 23-year-old self for getting his name in Variety. Good for him.
Still, it must have bruised your confidence.
I’m fine reading reviews. As a matter of fact, I enjoy it, because I have as hard a time believing compliments. It’s really all just noise to me unless something rings true. And I’m pretty honest with myself, as I was back then — if I read something that hits home, there’s value in that. I learned that after being called a “bouncy” Lucio in “Measure for Measure.” Out of context, it doesn’t sound so bad, but …
Why did that stick with you?
I had experienced stage fright for the first and, really, last time in my career. I’d had a hard time in that play: I was mostly nervous and afraid. So I called on my bag of tricks — which is a little harder in Shakespeare, but doable — so I could get through it. But “bouncy” was exactly what I was. In general, every Corddry male has a bounce to their walk. But the performance itself was a little bouncy.
What happened after “The Manchurian Candidate”?
I learned the power of no. Unless you’re producing your own material, “no” is the only real power an actor has. It’s very empowering to be comfortable enough to say no. After that play, I really got along with that company. They asked the three of us to join as members. We thought about it, but it didn’t seem right; it felt like a fallback plan. You could stop there and do it forever. So I said no to steady — though unpaid, as I remember it — work. That was a valuable lesson.
What if acting hadn’t worked out?
I had no fallback plan. I was very dedicated to becoming an actor. And I knew I was going to do it, because the law of averages had to work out at some point. I figured I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life.