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PROVEN GROUNDS 'THE DAILY SHOW' LAUNCHES CAREERS OF ITS ALUMNI.

Byline: David Kronke

Television Critic

When Rob Corddry was a correspondent on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," he recalls, "It was a lot easier and a lot more fun to be the guy who was stupid but knew he was stupid but didn't care. All of the correspondents are not smart, but I was the one who was unashamed of that.

"I love playing dumb guys. It comes easy to me."

Nonetheless, Corddry is changing gears for his role as Glen Abbott on the new Fox sitcom "The Winner." "He's definitely not dumb; anything but," Corddry notes. "He's maybe too smart for his own good.

"He's OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) with the emphasis on the O, and that's painted him into a corner, which is in his bedroom in his parents' home watching 'Wings.' "

The real winner

Corddry's character is a loser determined to turn his life around in order to impress Alison (Erinn Hayes), his unrequited high-school love, when she moves in next door with her teenage son Josh (Keir Gilchrist). But the real winner in all this is "The Daily Show," which has become the fertile breeding ground for comic actors that "Saturday Night Live" once was.

"We have a track record of promoting people to bigger and better things -- or, at least, bigger things," jokes "Daily Show" executive producer David Javerbaum, who adds of Corddry, "he has this tremendous ability to do things that, objectively speaking, would make him unlikable but somehow don't, and that's inherently rare."

"The cool thing is, it's not fair to call 'The Daily Show' a proving ground, because it's such an exciting show in its own right, and it's really a destination, a worthy end goal," says "Daily Show" alumnus Ed Helms, who now stars on "The Office."

It started with Steve

Steve Carell was the first "Daily Show" correspondent to break out, starring in the hit films "Anchorman," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Little Miss Sunshine," not to mention NBC's Emmy-winning sitcom "The Office." Helms joined Carell in "The Office," and co-stars with him in the upcoming movie "Evan Almighty;" Helms will also co-star with Corddry in the movie "Harold and Kumar 2."

"Daily Show" apoplectic commentator Lewis Black has also appeared in films such as "Man of the Year" and "Unaccompanied Minors" (which also featured Corddry), as well as HBO specials, and recently won a Grammy for his comedy disc "The Carnegie Hall Performance." Corddry's brother Nathan starred in NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

And, of course, Stephen Colbert has become a media sensation, being named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people and coining the word of the year -- "truthiness" -- when he moved on to his "Daily Show" companion series, "The Colbert Report."

Javerbaum -- who himself is moonlighting outside "The Daily Show," collaborating on a musical version of the John Waters film "Cry-Baby" -- admits that correspondents move on because they're "asked to do variations of the same thing over and over, and that can get old from time to time. And they know that Jon Stewart is always going to be the main guy. And, there's a lot of money to be made out there.

"Whether it's a matter of good casting or the good work we did grooming them, we're very happy with the success they've gone onto," Javerbaum continues. "They're all great and we're very proud of all of them."

Helms adds, " 'The Daily Show' provides a very kind of narrow range of performance, and Steve Carell was the first to demonstrate to the outside world that the correspondents can also be well-rounded comedic actors. Whereas Colbert took that narrow performing style, exploited the hell out of it and made his mark being the king of it, to his credit."

Corddry says "The Daily Show's" success both as a critical favorite and in creating comic actors is due to "a combination of a lot of things, Jon's sensibility being one. The times being what they are, and especially what they were when the show started to hit, it was a ripe period for satire and still is, and that was largely lucky.

"Also, 'SNL's' Weekend Update has been making fun of E! more, rather than doing the straight news, so we had that to ourselves."

"Shows have their peak periods," notes Ricky Blitt, creator of "The Winner." " 'The Daily Show' is something people are gravitating to more than 'SNL' right now. 'The Daily Show' has been the smartest show on TV, and for people like Rob, who was really funny on the show but was doing just one thing, they can feel like they're in cages, but in a good way. But when you're a gifted actor like Rob and Steve Carell, you're given free rein to go beyond that."

Greg Daniels, executive producer of "The Office," said "The Daily Show" served as a perfect in to his show for Carell and Helms.

"My impression is that when they do their remote pieces, the actors are shaping pieces on their own -- interacting with their subjects, shaping the pieces in heads. That fits well with the kind of show that 'The Office' is, where scenes have to feel fresh and have that improvisational feel. More valuable is the fact that they're both good judges of what's funny in material."

Before "The Daily Show," Corddry and Helms were members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv comedy school and theater in both Los Angeles and New York. Current "Daily Show" contributor Ron Riggle is also a UCB alum.

"You can say that the UCB theater is a proving ground for the proving ground," says Helms.

"UCB teaches a kind of comedy that's really relevant right now," Corddry adds. "It's the new Second City or Groundlings. It's a lot fresher, and the success of a lot of the correspondents is due to the UCB. Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert came out of Second City, and UCB is sort of the grandchild of Second City. It's expanded on their sensibilities."

Though he's moved on, Corddry has fond memories of his "Daily Show" tenure. He recalls a segment he did about a man protesting a Philadelphia marketing campaign geared to homosexuals.

"He was very savvy. Although he was the most homophobic guy, he answered my questions in a really politically correct way. He'd say, 'A lot of my friends are gay,' 'Put me in a sea of drowning gay people and I will breathe life into them' 7/8 he got gayer and gayer.

"We only had one camera because they were cheap, so we had to turn the camera on me and I had to re-ask all the questions. And I thought, 'Oh, no, when he hears all these questions again, he'll understand we would completely destroy him.' But he had no idea. And we did; we demolished him. But he called me up a week later and asked me to lunch. He loved the piece. People can be so blind to their opinions being ludicrous. The piece was garbage, but he was fun."

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke@dailynews.com

Win a few, lose a few

Ricky Blitt is accustomed to feeling like a loser. When the creator of the new Fox sitcom "The Winner" - a short, self-proclaimed neurotic with unruly hair - recently discussed his attractive young girlfriend with a journalist, the reporter asked Blitt if she was an actress.

His answer: "No, but it's right for you to impugn her motives."

Blitt blissfully refused to take umbrage with the query. "He was simply trying to impute this break in the law of physics," Blitt says. "He was trying to get some closure."

Blitt happily admits that "The Winner" - starring Rob Corddry as Glen, a wastrel who lives with his parents and decides to turn his life around to impress a pretty neighbor - has many autobiographical elements, such as "the idea of me living at home and having to get out of my way and pursue writing. I was allowing myself to fail and withdraw from life."

Perhaps Blitt felt a little intimidated by the early success of his brother Barry, an illustrator whose work appears in The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly and who won a prestigious magazine award for his New Yorker cover referencing Hurricane Katrina.

"He remembers those years when I was borrowing money," Blitt admits, suggesting that as far as his parents are concerned, "Since I went through those lean years, perhaps my success meant even more to them."

Surprisingly, for a guy who has written for "Family Guy" and the film "The Ringer," "The Winner" has a surprising amount of heart. "I do have an empathy for late bloomers, people who don't have it easy," Blitt says.

At the same time, the portrayal of Glen's parents, standard-issue bickerers, is not far removed from the parents on "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Blitt admits that his parents haven't seen the show yet. So he concedes, "All of a sudden, if I try to phone them up, there might be call-blocking."

-- D.K.

THE WINNER

What: Rob Corddry stars as a loser who tries to turn his life around.

Where: Fox (Channel 11).

When: 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

THE OFFICE

What: Workday drudgery made hilarious.

Where: NBC (Channel 4).

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART

What: The hit satirical news series.

Where: Comedy Central.

When: 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

THE COLBERT REPORT

What: Stephen Colbert's blustery, buffoonish pundit deconstructs the day's issues.

Where: Comedy Central.

When: 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) 'Daily' Double

Jon Stewart's show helped turn Rob Corddry into 'The Winner'

(2 -- 4) From left, Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Stephen Colbert all have gone on to bigger and better things.

(5) no caption (Ricky Blitt)

Box:

Win a few, lose a few (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 28, 2007
Words:1655
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