If you watched MTV in the '90s, you probably know Ken Marino from the excellent sketch-comedy series The State. If you've kept up on cult comedy since then, you've seen him in the much-missed Party Down, as well as the films Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten – both directed by fellow State collaborator David Wain.
Recently, he has appeared in his wife Erica Oyama's highly successful web series Burning Love and in Rob Corddry's over-the-top medical spoof Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim. Childrens Hospital tells the many gripping tales of a group of dedicated doctors trying to make a difference in the heart of Brazil – which looks oddly like the heart of Los Angeles. Marino took time from his many projects to talk with Buzzine's Jesse Livingston about prison love, the place of absurdity in modern life, his undying love for Party Down, and the mysterious, misty origins of Dr. Glenn Richie.
Jesse Livingston: Many of us know you from things like The State and Party Down – much-loved shows that seemed to get their due respect only after it was too late. Do you feel a sense of regret over the short life of those shows, or is that just the way it goes in TV?
Ken Marino: Of course, I feel like I'm still in mourning over Party Down, just because – for me – it was this magical show to be a part of, and I just had a great time with everybody. The State really ended because of us... It certainly ran its course on some level. It would've been nice to do more stuff, but over the course of these next fifteen – or eighteen years [laughs] – since it ended, we've been working together in smaller groups. It feels like it's still going strong. For Party Down, I know that they're trying to get a movie going, so hopefully that'll happen.
JL: It seems like Childrens Hospital is finding its audience and doing really well. How did you first get involved in the show?
KM: I met Rob Corddry on the movie The Ten that David Wain and I wrote. Rob and I played inmates – prison lovers. We had some real chemistry. [laughs] We became friends, and he called me to be in Childrens Hospital.
JL: The Ten was a very funny movie. If I'm not mistaken, you play your character from Childrens Hospital – Dr. Glenn Richie – in that film as well?
KM: I do. He's put in prison for life basically for just goofing around, as far as he's concerned. He killed a few people, I guess, but it was only as a goof. David or Rob, when they were writing Childrens Hospital, thought it would be funny to name [my character] the same name as the doctor from The Ten.
JL: So it's not actually the same character, it's the same name?
KM: Well, I think you can interpret it however you want. [Childrens Hospital] might be before Dr. Glenn Richie goes to prison for life. Or he broke out, and now he's working at a hospital in Brazil.
JL: [Laughs] Yeah. In Brazil.
KM: All these questions are like Lost questions. We won't answer any of them until the end, and maybe we won't even answer them then.
JL: Right, and people are gonna be extremely angry about it.
KM: [laughs] Yeah.
JL: How much writing do you do for Childrens Hospital? Are you purely an actor on that show?
KM: This season, I was actually on as a co-producer, so I was very much involved in the structuring and writing of almost all the episodes. My wife Erica Oyama and I wrote three episodes this year, and I directed a couple... Last season, I wrote a couple, and the season before that, I think I directed one or two and wrote a couple.
JL: Is it very different shooting a show with fifteen-minute episodes rather than thirty-minute ones?
KM: With shows like Party Down that we'd shoot in four days and would be twenty-two minutes long, and shows like Childrens Hospital that we shoot in two days and is fifteen minutes long, it's all the same pace. It's just a question of how many pages you have to shoot, and you figure out how many days you need. With these shows that are slightly more run-and-gun-type shows, you have to shoot as much material as possible [in the time you've got], because they're not big, expensive shows. In a lot of ways, it helps the comedy, because you don't have time to second-guess it.
JL: With shows like Childrens Hospital, Workaholics, The League, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia finding success recently, do you see a movement toward absurdist comedy on television?
KM: I think there's always room for it. I don't know if there's any more of a movement now than there was in the past. It's a niche. Throughout the years, you can find it here and there.
JL: Do you think people are more stressed-out these days, and need some of that?
KM: I don't know if people are more stressed-out these days. There's a lot of s***ty things going on in the world, so it's possible. I certainly need it and like watching it. If there are a lot of people out there like me, then I think the answer is yes.
JL: What projects are you working on in the near future?
KM: I shot this web series that my wife Erica wrote, called Burning Love. It exceeded expectations in how well it did, which I was really happy about. I think we're gonna shoot a couple more seasons of that. We're doing that pretty soon. And then, I'm writing some stuff with David Wain, writing some stuff with Erica, getting ready to shoot another season of Childrens Hospital. There are a lot of things coming up.
'Childrens Hospital' airs Thursdays 12am PT on Comedy Central's Adult Swim.