David Wain on ‘Childrens Hospital’ and His Love for Short-Form Comedy
Childrens Hospital was the brainchild of Rob Corddry, who produces the show alongside David Wain and Jon Stern. Now in its seventh season, Childrens Hospital has proved to be Wain’s longest-running project. Together they have led their fans through a very strange and hazardous Chidrens Hospital, which is a children’s hospital located somewhere in Brazil. Wain recently directed the upcoming episode “One Million Saved,” in which we follow Jon Hamm as Derrick Childrens, the descendant of the hospital’s founder, Arthur Childrens. A recent epidemic has been set loose upon the hospital and it is up to Derrick Childrens to solve the mystery, using clues left for him by his father before he passed.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Wain, his hair slicked back for the taping of season two of Another Period on Comedy Central, about his experience thus far working on Childrens Hospital, his love of short-form, and the pleasure of working with Corddry and Stern.
What can we expect from season seven of Childrens Hospital?
I think this is our best season we’ve done. There are fourteen episodes and most of them are just really cool, we’re always exploring different departures and different ways to change up the form of what we’re doing and to be funny in different ways. I’m pretty excited about it. We have one of my favorite bands growing up making an appearance in one of the upcoming episodes. There’s a great upstairs/downstairs about the nurses and the doctors episode that I’m excited about. This week’s episode coming up is one where Jon Hamm explores his past in a sort of Da Vinci Code way.
And you directed this episode? Do you guys swap roles regularly?
Yeah. We do this show in that way like a traditional show where each block of two episodes we have a different director come in and do it, and sometimes I step in and I’m the director. As executive producers, Rob Corddry, Jon Stern, and I are creatively overseeing everything from the initial ideas all the way through the end of first production.
Do you find that to be one of the easier ways to collaborate? By rotating?
From day one it’s been a really nice, respectful, fun collaboration. It was Rob Corddry’s idea and he’s the creator of the show, so we ultimately just defer to him, which makes things easy. But John Stern and I each have our own things that we look for and things that we all can use to complement each other’s strengths and it’s been a really fun project.
This is one of the more long running things that you’ve been involved in apart from voicing the warden in Superjail!, right?
By far the longest. Most things that I do don’t get even a second season. You could say Wet Hot American Summer has been more years now but seven seasons of Childrens Hospital is something to be proud of.
Definitely. Do you think you’ve gotten used to more short-form stuff for that reason? Is it hard to keep stretching it out like this?
Short form, keeping the stories super dense, has always been my comfort zone. My first experiences were in sketch comedy where you’re trying to tell a complete story including introducing the characters and the situation and the setting and be funny and tell a beginning, middle, and end, all in two to three minutes. That’s always been my training ground. Just doing all different kinds of sketch comedy and then doing web series, it’s all been short form. The 11-minute format of Childrens Hospital I particularly like because it just feels… I like the limitation of trying to keep these multiple involved stories down to 11 minutes. It requires an enormous amount of discipline when writing it, shooting it, and editing it to keep it all packed in there. It’s a challenge and a puzzle that I always enjoy.
You always introduce a lot of random things that one might not expect, but you do keep a lot of cohesiveness within that crazy world that you’re building up.
Right. We’ve always had that dichotomous feature about the continuity of the show where certain things they brazenly ignore in every episode and more things we are more fastidious about making sure that they’re consistent and even “real shows” do.
Do you think, thanks to that, you’ve finally found this show that could kind of go on forever? You’ve had characters that die but then, thanks to the way you guys write, there’s always a way for them to come back.
Yeah. It doesn’t feel like it’s… so far anyways, knock on wood, it does not feel like we’re running out of steam. Every year we sit down to come up with new ideas and I’m always scared, “Haven’t we covered it?” Then we end up finding all new directions to go in. You’re right, keeping this incredible cast together is always a scheduling challenge, but we somehow pull it off and people show up. It does feel like particularly because we shoot it so fast it’s something that doesn’t require necessarily a year-long time commitment from anyone. I would love to see it keep going and going.
Would you say you find as much enjoyment in writing and putting together every episode as when you first started doing them, when it was still a web series?
Every season has a different feel to it. Also, it happens during different places in my life. One season I was jetting back and forth from the edit room of Wanderlust and another season I had to leave because I was shooting something else for a part of the time. We’re always figuring out how to fit it in with other things. The actual process we go through is pretty joyful, it’s pretty fun, because of the fact that it’s that combination of real discipline and trying to make it as great as you can but also knowing that there’s a real whimsical nature to it so we can… Adult Swim has been so great about letting us do our thing. When we have a weird, cooky, or outside-the-box idea, we don’t have to go through a lot of channels, we just try it and that’s a real joy.
Childrens Hospital airs Fridays at 11pm on Adult Swim.
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.