HBO’s Ballers is about football, flash, money, and the inescapable magnetism of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but there’s also a dysfunctional family dynamic within the show’s talented ensemble (which includes John David Washington, Omar Benson Miller, Troy Garity, Jazmyn Simon, Richard Schiff, Donovan W. Carter, and London Brown). And at the heart of that is the relationship between Johnson’s character Spencer Strathmore and his semi-sleazy business partner Joe, played with mischievous charm by Rob Corddry.
In an interview ahead of the show’s season finale, Corddry spoke with Uproxx about Joe and Spencer’s friendship, Johnson’s vulnerability, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Ballers obsession, and why the former Daily Show correspondent and Childrens Hospital star/co-creator is happy to let others do the jobs he used to handle, especially in the age of Trump.
What was the reaction when you guys heard that the show has such a superfan in Senator Elizabeth Warren?
That came after we wrapped. So I don’t know what everybody else was thinking about it, I know Dwayne tweeted about it at one point.
Yeah, we had some fun with it.
I got to meet her a couple months ago. I went on Sam Bee’s show. Sam was interviewing her and she asked her about Ballers. She was like, “What’s the deal with you being a fan of Ballers?” Because we were both still kind of convinced that she was just saying that for a certain demographic, it is Massachusetts we’re talking about. And she was just like, “Oh my God, it’s my favorite show!” Once they saw Hillary was losing on election night, they just watched Ballers the whole rest of the night — her and her husband. And so obviously, she was like “This I can escape into.”
But the basis of the bit was Sam surprised her with me and I walked from the back and she goes “We have gift for you” and I walked out from back stage and she stood up and she went, “Joe!” It was amazing. But I asked her, I was like, “Why do you like Ballers so much?” And it made perfect sense. She is the fiscal policy senator, and every character in that show is at a different fiscal stage in their lives. Whether they’ve had it and they’re trying to get it again, they’re having it for the first time, they had it and lost it, they are right in the middle and they keep reaching for that brass ring. It’s a financial company, and everything they do moves the needle on their income. And I was like, “Of course, of course, you like this show.”
Chances of her making a cameo next season?
Listen, we’ve had weirder. I’d say not bad.
Steve Guttenberg as a Vegas mogul still feels funny, but he’s playing it well.
He reminds me of a David Lynch character. He’s the villain, and yet, he’s playing it in this kind of sweet… on the edge of smarmy. You know? It’s really interesting, I never would have made those choices. And he’s so fun to watch. He’s so gleefully focused on himself. I love it.
I think you need to put in a good word and try and get Guttenberg and Warren to share some screen time next season.
Yeah, that would be great, man. Oh God, I love him. Also, I can’t talk about Steve without mentioning that he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s right up there with Henry Winkler in terms of just kind, beautiful souls, and I loved getting to meet that man.
Do you see Joe and Spencer coming into conflict either in the season finale or in the near future?
The one thing that I keep in mind when playing Joe is that he may be the kind of guy that gets himself in a lot of trouble. And he can drink all night and still go to work the next day without a hangover. But he’s also very good at his job, and he’s smart and he knows Spencer and knows when he’s maybe making decisions based on a personal basis rather than business, which is usually the case. And I sort of see Joe towards the end of this season as the angel on Spencer’s shoulder, whereas previously he was the devil. And he definitely does not agree with this sale, and that gets stronger. But I guess at the end of the day, his job is to back him up no matter what.
Which do you prefer — when you and Spencer are partners in crime or when there’s some separation between the two of you? What is more interesting for you to play?
I was less comfortable the first season playing his boss. I kind of like being the guy behind the guy, if that makes any sense. The guy, the support, the loyal number two.
What was the most surprising thing about Dwayne Johnson that you’ve learned through working with him? Is there something that you didn’t really see coming?
Yes, there is. I will preface it by saying he’s pretty much what you imagine him to be, which is why he’s so likable on screen. But you know what I love, and this might just be because I love seeing a crack in the armor. I like seeing the seam. And every once in a while, he’ll come in really tired. And of course, whatever, maybe he’s been flying all night because he was across the country doing another job the night before for a 7am call, which just happened. But I love watching him tired because it’s like, wow, you remember, “All right yeah, you’re 100% human. You’re not just the representation of this male specimen, this type of male specimen. You’re also a human who just had a baby.” And last season, he had a young kid and was really really tired. And yet, I like that he’s a hard worker and he just puts his nose to the ground. I’m sure it bugs him, but he doesn’t let it affect his demeanor on set or his performance in a bad way.
I don’t think people get how much hard work it takes to perform at that high level and do that many projects like what he does. What Jon Stewart was doing on The Daily Show. Peter Berg, the people that are running Ballers, also. And you know from running Childrens Hospital.
Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. I got to peek behind the curtain for seven or eight years there on Childrens Hospital and really got to learn how to do three other jobs well. And yeah, sometimes, like, I love Ballers because I only do one. And sometimes I see those guys and I know what they’re going through. And Stephen Levinson, he’s a bit more experienced, he seems to let things roll off his chest. But the work it takes, I’m not jealous of them. I’d probably like to do it again someday, but I’m not, in that moment, jealous of them.
I really liked Newsreaders. Would you go back into that kind of space again where you’re commenting on the media, or would it be something completely different?
Yeah, well thank you for saying that. I loved Newsreaders, it was the spin-off, and everybody loved it. It got as good of ratings as Childrens did. However, the catch was the guy who runs the network [Adult Swim], Mike Lazzo, just didn’t get it. It was not his cup of tea. And to his credit, why that network is so interesting is because it is really programmed by him. He puts on things that he finds funny and/or interesting and he cancels them if he doesn’t. So he gave us two seasons and he was like, “I’m sorry guys, I just don’t get it. I can’t have it anymore.” [Laughs.] But yeah, I mean, I’d like to do it in that way.
Coming off of The Daily Show to do a show like Newsreaders is a completely different beast. It’s more like a parody of the field pieces on The Daily Show. Our rule number one is not to make a point about anything, let’s just make jokes.
The field pieces on The Daily Show. You see how they are now and the work that Jordan Klepper did during the election. Are people getting stupider or scarier? Like, did you ever watch those and just kind of think thank goodness it wasn’t you having to keep a straight face?
Do you watch those and just kind of think “Wow, how things have changed?”
Yes… well no. Not necessarily how things have changed.
I definitely think “better you than me.” Those things are so hard. God, I hate listening to actors bitch about how hard their job is because really it’s not digging holes. But those were the hardest things I’ve ever had to do professionally. It was a lot of just running around, having nothing, hoping you have something, turning it into something else — a lot of improv.
Colbert told me the day before I left to do my first field piece, he just said, “Hang your soul up at the door.” And you have to. You have to. I reminded him of that — I think it was on his show that I reminded him of that — and he said, “Ah, but you’ve got to remember to put it back on again.”
That’s got to be hard, though. If you’re in the middle of one of those field pieces and you see someone just off the rails, you still feel bad, right?
Oh yeah, for sure. The people I feel bad for… because they take a very simple ironic stance, which is to vilify the people that you would normally agree with, if I can be as reductive as possible. And those are the people that I felt the worst for, because we’re tearing them apart and yet, nine times out of ten, I agree with them.
I did this one story about one of the Steelers’ crazy fans. And the guy, he was the sweetest, sweetest man ever. Luckily, we got to take his side and vilify… they were making him take off his horns, I believe. It was basically a national event to us. But this guy, his wife had died a couple years before and he had this shrine in his basement to his favorite football team. And he just loved doing this, and he was really sweet. These people welcome you into their homes, it’s really hard when you have to tear somebody apart sitting on a chair in their kitchen.
Yeah, I would imagine. Did you ever feel such remorse afterward that you were like “Maybe let’s back off of this”?
No, because Jon actually was usually the arbiter of that. He had a good ear for things that just didn’t… [things that were] just mean for mean’s sake, which I don’t think I ever really did. Mean wasn’t sort of my game, mine was like dumb and condescending.
The only thing I ever refused to do on that show, and I don’t remember if it was a field piece or not, was put on a KKK outfit and walk around the streets of Manhattan. Jon fought me forever. He was like, “Come on, please?” I was like, “No, I’m just not. Jon, think about it.” Even back then, that is an indelible image. And then he was like, “Okay, what about Hitler?” [Laughs.] And I was like, “You know what, Hitler’s enough of a joke already. We can do that.” [Laughs.] So I walked around like Hitler, which was pretty bad in itself.
So, at the start of that question, I asked if people are stupider now or scarier now. Do you think we’re just forgetting the perspective at this point with everything and just being inundated by the Trump machine and all that comes with it?
Oh, I don’t think people are stupider now. What do you mean? Maybe I missed the question initially.
The people that Klepper showcased… just the gullibility of people falling for some of the things that have been put out by conservative media and the blog space.
I saw the other day that 26% of people think the sun revolves around the Earth.
Right, right, right. No, I don’t. I think people choose… What would be the word for it? They choose a steadfast belief. They choose, these days, belief over facts. And you can say it is a fact that the Earth is round and people are winning arguments these days by saying, “Well, I believe it’s flat.” And that, to me, is infuriating. I don’t know if that’s stupidity. I think it’s just the result of the divisiveness in this country that’s always been there — people forget. But it’s an example of that divisiveness. Lines are being drawn in a way that they never were before, I think. They’re between beliefs and facts, and people are willing to believe what they read if it supports what they believe.
And we’re the same way. As a liberal, I’m the same way. I definitely try and police myself, I try and only read balanced… what I consider to be balanced news. And even sometimes I’m reading The New York Times and I’m like “Oh, come on man.” What would this headline look like if you weren’t the New York Times? And it would be totally different. The Huff Post, I can’t read it anymore. There are a lot of liberal media outlets, you could say the same thing about… And we are just as ready to believe that.
That’s a good point. Not to get too down deep into it, but I don’t agree with Trump’s policies. But, I also don’t believe that he is the devil incarnate with every decision that he makes. And sometimes it feels like that’s what you’re seeing. Like Melania wearing four-inch heels to tour a hurricane site.
I get that that’s weird, but why is it a headline?
Yeah, it’s too much.
I definitely agree with you.
I know, I agree too. There’s a difference between not being a good president and, you know, being evil, like you say.
Sometimes, it just feels like a pile on. Like everything to support that narrative.
And then the real arguments lose validity. It just seems like the liberal media doing their thing again, which is a shame.
How do the big things stand out as much when the media is always shouting?
Also, how do the big things kind of stay in the press when all of a sudden we can’t talk about those things, we’ve got to talk about Melania’s heels?
Yeah, I know. Well also, we’re just so tired. It seems like there’s an easier… like, I bet the heels are just like, “That’s easy. I can write about that without banging my head against the desk.”
That’s a good point.
I think we’re worn out already.
I interviewed Jordan Klepper back before the election and there was definitely a vibe of “God we’re all so exhausted.” And I think a lot of people were hoping Trump would lose because a break would have been nice.
Yeah, right, I know.
It’s been nonstop. At this point and time, I think a lot of people would just opt for a president, no matter the party, who wasn’t in their face every day, all day.
I know, I love Rachel Maddow, and I listened to her on Howard Stern. It was an amazing interview. She works her ass off, she has very little time to herself, she’s always getting sick because she’s so overworked and tired. And my friend Sam Bee, she’s told me… literally, she said… she used it in one of her pieces, “I’m standing on the ledge of democracy.” John Oliver — all these people just feel battered by this. I’m so glad I’m not in their position. I wouldn’t know what to do with that position for the reasons we’re talking about: heels versus rescinding DACA. I mean, what!?
I imagine it must get really frustrating especially to be in Sam Bee’s place, John Oliver’s place, what Jon Stewart was doing. Trevor Noah, all the people who were or are in those positions. Because you’re pointing out things that need to be pointed out and you’re putting an interesting perspective on them that isn’t necessarily available always in the media, and yet you’re not always seeing results.
And to Jon Stewart’s credit, he was always very vocal about not doing it for any results. Because that’s the frustrating reality of it, is that if you do it for results, you’re really, really going to be bummed out. Just do it and get to the funniest joke in the quickest amount of time.
The Ballers season finale airs Sunday at 10PM on HBO.