The Colbert Report’s Meredith Scardino
by christina pellegrini
Comedy central: Scardino can crank out a hundred jokes a day.
Late-night television show writer Meredith Scardino may have comedy chops, but even her wit couldn’t save her when it came to composing a speech on chemical and biological warfare for Radnor High School’s Model UN auditions. Yet despite her unsuccessful turn at international relations, this fall Scardino’s alma mater inducted her into the school’s hall of fame, among the likes of actor Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen in Back to the Future) and locally grown war heroes. “It’s kind of absurd,” Scardino muses, with a broad smile. “These people have done actual things.”
Of course, Scardino’s being modest. At 36, Scardino has worked her way up the variety-show ladder, with stints at VH1’s Best Week Ever and The Late Show with David Letterman. She now holds a plum position as a writer—and the sole female—for Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.
“Growing up I was obsessed with watching [Saturday Night Live] and stand-up comedy on TV,” Scardino says. “But I had no idea how you got into it. It’s not like becoming a lawyer, [as if] you go to comedy school and get your comedy degree and then you go to your comedy job.”
Although Scardino always had a penchant for penning jokes, the Cornell grad moved to New York City to enroll in Parsons The New School for Design to pursue an MFA in painting. At Parsons, Scardino started animating on the side to earn some cash, working for talented cartoonists including the acclaimed Bill Plympton, and eventually working on an animated series for comedycentral.com. When a VH1 executive took notice of a spoof she had written about the music network, Scardino was offered a job on Best Week Ever—which, for her, was indeed one of the best jobs ever.
Today Scardino writes a hundred jokes a day as a writer at The Colbert Report, but in between daily deadlines, she and the other writers collaborated on America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, Colbert’s second book, which hit bookstores in October. “I’m really proud of the book,” Scardino says of her first long-form published work, which the writers penned mostly on their own time. “Then it was put in a big joke smoothie: They just smooshed everybody’s material into one book.”
The two-time Emmy Award–winner (for her work on The Colbert Report) may be modest about her own sense of humor—“she’s written a couple of the funniest jokes in the book,” says her fellow writer Opus Moreschi—but she marvels at Colbert’s unparalleled wit and drive. “He’s brilliant enough that he really just needs clones. The reason why we’re all here is because he physically couldn’t do this on his own. I don’t know where he gets the amount of energy he [has]. He’s firing on all cylinders at all times. It’s terrifying how smart he is.”
Although Scardino seems focused on funny business in NYC, that’s not to say she ever stops thinking about her roots. Scardino takes frequent trips to Philadelphia to visit her mother in Rittenhouse Square (their favorite haunt is Rouge), her father in Gladwyne, and her sister in Bryn Mawr. And her Philly connections aren’t forgotten while she’s in the Big Apple: During her run at Letterman, Scardino used to play a little game with personalities from her past. “I liked to work in names of people from high school. If we needed a [random] name, it would be Lauren Rosenberg from Ardmore. It was always someone I grew up with.” So, Radnor High graduates, the next time you hear a familiar name on your favorite late-night show, just imagine Scardino smirking behind the scenes.
photography by stephen k. schuster