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.