Adam Chodikoff: Investigative Humorist

[caption id="attachment_35247" align="alignleft" width="561" caption="Adam Chodikoff at Comedy Central offices. - Photo By Talaya Centeno (for WWD)"][/caption]

Investigative Humorist, that's what The Washington Post has called Adam Chodikoff, one of The Daily Show's producers, and its most accomplished researcher. Behind the scenes, someone has to pore through all those C-Span clips; someone has to sift through newspapers and transcripts to find the core comedy elements to the story. The senior producer who's helped do that since day one of the show is Adam. "You ever seen "˜The Godfather'?" said Chodikoff, in a recent interview, "I'm like the guy taping the gun in the bathroom so that Jon can grab it and come out blazing."

I've known Adam for decades (our parents are good friends), but really only got to know this Made Man through the following Q&A. Fan of The Daily Show? Read on, read on...

DI: Who'd you have to brain wrestle to get this amazing job?

AC: Well, it pays to read the Life section of USA Today. Back in "˜96, there was an article in there about two executives who were leaving MTV to take over Comedy Central. They knew Politically Incorrect was leaving, and at the end of the article they mentioned that they wanted to replace PI with a topical show like "SportsCenter", but not about sports. Something clicked for me, I found out who was running the yet-unnamed show (Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead), I sent them a letter, and they called me in for an interview. Now, when I had briefly interned at Conan O'Brien, Conan told a joke of mine on the air in his monologue (another long story) - I had kept the cue card with the joke on it, and I brought the cue card into my Madeleine & Lizz interview as an example of my vast comedy experience. For some strange reason, they hired me as a researcher, and I've been wit the show since Day One.

DI: I can't imagine what the interview was like. Did you have to watch C-Span and pull possible soundbites out?
AC: Well, in addition to the cue card, I think I brought some articles I had written, and, more importantly, some research I had done for "Campaigns & Elections" magazine after my junior year in college - I had to call candidates from all across the country in the "˜92 election year and find out who the campaign manager was, their pollster, their researcher, etc. I guess the big surprise for me was when Madeline called me to tell me I was hired, she told me that the host was Craig Kilborn, who I had coincidentally worked with when I was a temp PA at ESPN

DI: Tell us a little something about what you were doing before The Daily Show.

AC: Right after college, I interned at CNN in New York - on my last day, they let me go to Tupac Shakur's perp walk and yell out "Tupac! Any comments for CNN!" Then I was a temp PA at ESPN - CNN and ESPN were like my grad school - learning to work with tape, working on a deadline, coming up with story ideas, working the assignment desk, etc. Then I was briefly at Conan at the beginning of his second season, followed by my first real staff job at a show called "Day & Date".

DI: The Daily Show's ratings have soared since you first started. Has the popularity changed the job at all?

AC: No, I try not to pay attention to ratings. I just come in every day and do my thing.

DI: What's the worst part about your job?

AC: Probably the commute, but that's my choice - I chose to live in Brooklyn, and the studio's all the way over on the West Side between 11th and 12th, so it's a bit of a schlep, but I really enjoy Brooklyn, so I can live with it.

DI: And the best?

AC: Working with comedic geniuses. I've always loved comedy, and to work with people who operate at just such an incredibly high level is just amazing. Jon and the writers' intellectual firepower is astounding - I've been there over 13 years, and I'm still constantly floored by their ability to come with these brilliant jokes and concepts.

DI: What's the one or two bits of research you've unearthed that you're most proud of?

AC: It's tough, because of the constant nature of the show, it's hard to remember what I did yesterday. I like finding stuff that just totally neutralizes arguments or talking points. For example, when McCain was on that socialism kick toward the end of the campaign, I wondered if there was any chance at all from the time he opposed the Bush tax cuts that someone confronted McCain with the socialism argument. It was a total shot in the dark, but I started poking around, and I found a Hardball from around that period in which McCain is confronted by some college student whining why her doctor dad has to pay more in taxes - she actually said something to the effect of "Isn't that socialism?" McCain responded that it's acceptable for the affluent to pay more in taxes. It was just perfect. Another one in that category is when Dick Cheney said "You can't go by the polls" to support something he was doing, but I went back and found him on Nightline citing poll numbers to support another thing he was doing. But it's not just clips, I also like finding facts that the writers can use, whether for a headline, a 2nd Act, or a guest interview. I get satisfaction from breaking down an eight-hour hearing into the ten best highlights that the writers can use, or finding patterns or good set-up lines on the Sunday morning shows. I also pride myself on finding original pieces of research that will be unique to The Daily Show. From my perspective, that's when the show really shines - when we produce material that is unique and rigorous, it really sets us apart from the rest of the media world out there. Also, part of my job is being able to finds things quickly - the writers work on very tough deadlines, and I want to find whatever facts/clips they're asking for as fast as possible so they have enough time to incorporate it into their headline joke submission. I also like pitching ideas for Lewis Black or John Hodgman - I really enjoyed pitching having Hodgman do a segment on Mixed Martial Arts. I'm also becoming more active in working on the guest segments - if I can prepare Jon for a counter-argument Barney Frank or John Bolton is going to use, I can go home happy.

DI: When The Colbert Report spun off, was there the temptation to move on and try something slightly different?

AC: No, it didn't really affect us.

DI: When you're not working, what are you up to?

AC: Reading, going to the movies, walking around the city, going to the gym. Oh, and there's my Monchichi collection, but I only concern myself with that when I visit my warehouse in New Jersey.

DI: You've probably had the privilege of meeting some pretty cool guests. Any unusual stories about meeting any of them?

AC: Well, understandably you're not supposed to go down and bother the big movie stars - the guests I'm interested in are more of the Elmore Leonard/Bob Costas/Woodward& Bernstein variety. My most star struck moment was when I met Hank Azaria - I'm a huge Simpsons fan, so I printed out a picture of Apu and wanted Hank to sign it with my favorite Apu line - "Must you dump on everything we do?" When I asked Hank to sign it, he agreed, but he couldn't remember the line - I had to go through the whole plot of that episode- "Remember when YOU and Homer had to go to India to the world's first Kwik-E-Mart after YOU got fired? You finally reach the end, you're almost there, and YOU say "There she is! The world's first convenience store! And then Homer says, "This isn't very convenient." Then YOU say, "Must you dump on everything we do?" Then he said "Ahhh"...and did the line in the Apu voice! Unasked! That was fun.

Creatively Speaking: MeetingBoy

Read on to win a new Meeting Boy wall calendar!

We have a nice interview/contest today with someone you need to know about if you don't already. PC World named him one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. Like Racer X, no one really knows who MeetingBoy is, but whoever is behind this madness is one hilarious, talented fella. Tweeting out quips and one-liners, he's amassed close to 80,000 followers on Twitter as @MeetingBoy. I first got to know him (well, as much as you can know a masked-man) after he re-tweeted a Twaggie (illustrated tweet) we did off one of his tweets over on my start-up,

Then one day, MeetingBoy asked me if I'd like to give away one of his new MeetingBoy wall calendars in a contest. I said sure, under one condition: he do the following interview. So read the interview and follow the contest rules at the bottom of this post. We'll pick one tweet/comment at random and send you the calendar in time for Christmas! Good luck!

DI: First of all, where do you take your meetings? Tell us about your day job.

MB: I work in a glass & steel high rise in New York with lots of lazy idiots. The managers spout buzzwords to impress each other, and my boss is a clueless, bullying hypocrite more concerned with covering his own ass than getting things done. Does that narrow it down?

I am stuck in 3-5 meetings a day, so if there’s a way to waste someone’s time, I’ve seen it. And I’m sick of it. I must have really bad karma to deserve this. I must have been something truly awful in a former life, like maybe a manager or CEO.

@MeetingBoy: 125 PowerPoint slides? Well, I hope you're not presenting a case for how efficient our department is.

@MeetingBoy: Definition of insanity: holding the same meeting with the same people every week and expecting different results.

@MeetingBoy: Four meetings today. And then later, no doubt, a meeting with my boss about how I'm not getting anything done.

@MeetingBoy: I'm confused by this article about Bernie Madoff. I thought "white collar prison" was just a euphemism for my office.

@MeetingBoy: 7 hour conference call, though my lawyer says I'll be paroled in 6 with good behavior.

DI: How’d all this Meeting Boy stuff get started? Walk us through the early days.

MB: Since my biggest pet peeve in meetings is people who ramble on and on, Twitter was the right place for me to vent. The forced brevity was just right. If only I could force the people who write PowerPoint presentations to stick to 140 characters instead of 140 slides!

I’d been on Twitter before, but mentions of work had become a problem once people knew I was tweeting and started following me in the office. After I got a new boss last year, I created the MeetingBoy account so I would stop hearing about it. Since then I only tweet under my own name after hours.

@MeetingBoy: I'm married to my job. I don't love it. It was a shotgun wedding; I had knocked up my credit cards with all sorts of debt.

Early on as MeetingBoy, I was getting positive responses. People identified with my complaints-- in fact the most common response to MeetingBoy is “do you work at my company?”

Of course I hate buzzwords, and so many of my rants result from sitting through an hour of them. The word I hate the most is “robust”:

@MeetingBoy: At the end of the day I think we can all agree how tired the phrase "at the end of the day" is.

@MeetingBoy: When the revolution comes, I'm shooting everyone who says "robust". Well, except the coffee roasters.

DI: When did your first little break happen?

MB: Last October, PC World named me as one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. My following increased dramatically as a result. This was a huge surprise to me. I had no idea I had broken out of the Favstar community of internet jokers. After that my friends who weren’t on Twitter insisted I start cross-posting my material to Facebook and so they could follow along too.

DI: And then your big break?

MB: Earlier this year someone at Twitter added me to their Suggested Users - Funny list. I was pretty excited; after all, as my friend said, “It sure beats being on the Suggested Users - Not Funny list.”

Though some people would say my “big break” was when I got a boss that didn’t get my sense of humor, forcing me to put more of it on the internet. Speaking of my boss:

@MeetingBoy: We have high expectations for him - he got his MBA in business jargon from Wharton.

@MeetingBoy: You're right. It was wrong of me to question how another layer of paperwork would speed up the process. I apologize.

@MeetingBoy: Hey, everybody! My boss is running a special on poorly thought out, unworkable ideas today. The discount code is YESSIR.

@MeetingBoy: "Dumb it down. Remember, you're presenting it to management."

@MeetingBoy: "I didn't read the executive summary you sent. Can you just put the idea in a few quick sentences and send it to me? Thanks."

@MeetingBoy: New line on my job description: "maintain high morale". Told HR I could do it, but not if my boss keeps trying to motivate me.

@MeetingBoy: My boss is very susceptible to food poisoning. Apparently this occurs when he stays out late drinking.

@MeetingBoy: The boss sent an email at 11:30 "reminding" everyone that he's working from home today. He sent it from his Blackberry.

DI: Did you set out to achieve Internet fame or did the idea sort of take over by itself?

MB: I set out to vent about work in an amusing way, in part because I was so annoyed at how people in the office reacted to my being on Twitter. I certainly had no idea how to get people to write about me or who at Twitter to sweet-talk to get them to recommend me.

Being famous and anonymous is a little odd though. None of the benefits of fame have come my way. I’m not getting a better table at Sparks or celebrity gift bags at the Oscars. And no matter how many followers I have, I’m still stuck in the same meetings every day.

I would like to see a MeetingBoy calendar make an appearance on The Office. Seems like something Jim Halpert would have (though since he gave up his office, I’m not sure where he’d put it). Or maybe Michael Scott because he’s a “cool boss” and none of it applies to him..

DI: Talk about the tweets themselves. Mostly they are things you think up in these meetings every day?

MB: They are responses to things that happen in meetings. Or things I wish I could say. In a few cases I’ve actually said these things. Of course the names have been removed to protect the boring, the rude, the jargon-spewing types, the lazy, the bullies, and the people with “bad grammer”.

@MeetingBoy: I know, I know, but if your idea is so good, why hasn't some VP passed it off as their own yet?

@MeetingBoy: Sorry, I have to leave your meeting. I have something I need to do. I need to not be bored to death.

@MeetingBoy: This PowerPoint needs an art director? Wow! I never thought I'd say this to you, lady, but you're overthinking this.

@MeetingBoy: That email you claim I never sent you? Here it is. Along with your REPLY TO IT.

@MeetingBoy: No, I wasn't playing Devil's Advocate. I really think your idea is stupid.

@MeetingBoy: You are mean, incompetent, and ignorant. Life did not hand you lemons; life handed you CONSEQUENCES.

DI: But other times I see you attributing the tweets to other authors/publishers. How does that work?

MB: Sometimes I see a tweet that I wish I wrote. Other times my followers send me one I missed. Either way, if it’s something I think my audience would appreciate, I share it. After all, I don’t want to be like that guy in my office who thinks the only good ideas are the ones he thinks of.

For example, some of my favorite tweets that someone else wrote are:

@swimparallel: I've recovered from my death sickness. Now I'm back in the office. It feels like a lateral move.

@summersumz: Evaluating data, making conclusions. LIVING THE DREAM!

@kerissmithJA: Your cc list doesn’t scare me. I still refuse to respond to your email.

DI: So now you have this cool wall calendar. How’d that come about?

MB: A friend makes up a calendar with photos of his family, which I dutifully hang in my cube. I thought it would be cool to have a MeetingBoy calendar. I’d hoped to make a 365-page-a-day calendar, which I think would really work for my short quips, but I couldn’t find a way to publish it. So I went with a wall calendar, and asked for illustrators among my followers.

Of course once I had printed the calendar, I realized I couldn’t possibly put the calendar on my desk. I can’t have my boss or coworkers know that I’m MeetingBoy, and it’s probably better if they don’t even know he exists. Clearly I hadn’t thought this through.

I think the calendar makes a great Secret Santa gift. I think coworkers across the English-speaking world would love to get one.

Calendar available for sale online at

DI: Have you learned any profound lessons going through the self-publishing process?

MB: I’ve learned that self-publishing isn’t very profitable. I’ve been very happy with all the illustrations I got, though paying for them before I sell the calendar has made money tight.

I was going to try to sell them directly myself over the internet, but I couldn’t be sure that my secret identity would be safe. Luckily one of the illustrators owns a comic shop and they agreed to carry it for internet sales.

And I’d still like to make a 365-page-a-day calendar if anyone knows how to go about that.

DI: What’s next for you and what’s your ultimate goal?

MB: Next up I’m starting to do regular illustrated tweets on Of course I can’t draw, so I’m using some of the same illustrators from the calendar, and any new ones I pick up along the way.

My ultimate goal is to be the boss on The Office after Steve Carrell leaves at the end of this season. Though I would also accept President Obama declaring my birthday, June 23rd, to be a national holiday, maybe National Out-of-the-Office Day. Write your congressman to make it happen.

DI: Will you always hide your true identity Meeting Boy? Or will we one day find out you’re actually Racer X’s older brother?

MB: I can’t reveal my identity without losing my job and potentially risking never working again. After all, who would hire MeetingBoy? A surly, sarcastic person who will mock your every shortcoming on the internet to tens of thousands of people. Even I might balk at hiring that guy. He kind of sounds like a loose cannon.

Okay, contest time! Of all the tweets mentioned in this post, by MeetingBoy or someone else, which would you like to see illustrated on RT it with the hashtag #twaggies and we'll pick one of you at random to get the calender. If you're not on Twitter, leave your vote in the comments below. The tweet with the most RTs will also get twagged on twaggies, too!

For my interviews with Jason Alexander, Monty Hall, Mitch Albom, xkcd and more, browse through past Creatively Speaking archives here >>

A chat with Jeff Garlin

Jeff Garlin co-stars and executive produces the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. The unique comedy, which is one of the rare television shows to become part of the national zeitgeist, stars Seinfeld creator Larry David, with Garlin portraying his loyal manager. Born and raised in Chicago and then South Florida, Garlin studied filmmaking and began performing stand-up comedy while at the University of Miami. He has toured the country as a stand-up comedian, is an alumnus of Chicago's Second City Theatre, and has written and starred in three critically acclaimed solo shows. I was fortunate enough to get this interview with him when he spoke at an event a charity I work with produced.

DI: Which do you prefer: writing, directing, or producing?

JG: I prefer to direct what I write.

DI: If you were to retire, what would you do with your time?

JG: Nap and eat puddin'.

DI: What's your favorite food?

JG: Puddin'.

DI: Of all the comedians and actors you've worked with over the years, who has been the most enjoyable.

JG: Larry David.

DI: Is Larry David as obnoxious in real life as he is on the show?

JG: See my answer above.

DI: What's the biggest difference between Chicago and L.A.?

JG: Human contact. In Chicago you get it on a regular basis.

DI: What's one of your favorite films?

JG: Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges.

DI: If you could have lunch with anyone deceased, who would it be?

JG: My grandfather Harold.

DI: Who's your idol?

JG: My wife.

DI: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JG: A comedian.

DI: Where do you like to go to unwind when you're not working?

JG: Wherever my wife tells me.

DI: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

JG: The street names.

DI: Shakespeare wrote: "Brevity is the soul of wit." What do you think the essence of comedy is?

JG: A plate of fresh cornbread.

DI: I heard you studied law in college and almost graduated before deciding to pursue a career in comedy. Do you think you would have been a good lawyer?

JG: That's on and it's not true. I studied film.

DI: What's more difficult: performing stand-up comedy before a live audience or performing on camera?

JG: Actually, my personal life is harder.

DI: Do you own an iPod? If so, what's the most unusual music you've got on it?

JG: Chin Ho soundbites from Hawaii Five-0.

DI: Who is the funniest comedian of all-time?

JG: Jack Benny.


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