It’s hard to forget about someone as funny as Andy Richter. For nearly two decades, he’s played the sideline goofball to the reliably self-deprecating late night icon Conan O’Brien, always there to fill with a sly out-of-left-field quip when the other guy’s at a loss for words.
And while he hasn’t enjoyed any sort of independent commercial success of his own, Richter’s ’never quite left the forefront.
A&E chatted with Richter before his appearance at the Fitzgerald Theater this Friday, to talk about being on TBS, NBC and the inevitable pitfalls that come with being in show business.
So how’s it going?
It’s good. I’m with six guys in an SUV driving back to San Diego right now. We just got done filming the show for today.
This current version of Conan seems like more of a callback to your guys’ early years on NBC. How do you think the show’s changed?
Well, I guess it’s natural for a show to evolve over time. But having the Tonight Show not happen and getting Conan to own his own show and not having anyone to fill anyone’s shoes. Because up until that point we were always replacing somebody and also working with a network that is openly just completely supportive. It just makes it funnier. All those things: autonomy, a sense of being treated with respect … somehow it makes you funnier.
What’s different about working with TBS opposed to network NBC?
It’s just easier. Well first off, I don’t have to deal with them that much, and that will tell you it’s easier. They’re all nice, they come by to visit, but other than that there’s nothing that we think of where we’re like, ‘Oh, how are they going to feel about this?’ We’ve been doing this long enough. We’re not like 22-year-old kids trying to say dirty words, or 45-year-old kids saying dirty words. It’s just easier. To take an idea and have it be funny and put it on TV, it’s just easier.
You do a fair amount of improv related to pop culture on Conan. Do you actually make an effort to keep up with that stuff at all?
Not really. It just floats in through the transom as they say. That would bum me out if I was like, “I gotta read “Us” magazine as homework.” I would feel like I was going to the most retarded university on the planet.
So it’s not so much a matter of time constraints — you just aren’t interested.
Pretty much. I try to just do what I want. I’m a talk show sidekick. If it isn’t easy then I’m sort of missing the point.
When you say you “do what you want,” what does that entail?
I basically go and be myself and crack wise on TV everyday. If you overthink that, it’s not going to be good for it. I go home to my wife and kids and read books about violent crime and watch cartoons with my kid, go to bed, wake up and go be funny on TV again. I don’t have to eat a lot of crow in my life, it’s pretty nice. That’s what I mean by doing what I want. I don’t mean some dick artistic thing, I just mean like a spoiled brat thing.
Your first sitcom “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” has had a cult following since it was canceled. Were you surprised when they originally pulled the plug?
Not entirely. I would say surprised is less the issue, more just disappointed, profoundly disappointed. I spent the better part of a year in a funk over it. I mean, if you feel good about something and you like what you’re doing — even if you’re doing dumb stuff and you don’t like it — if it goes away, you’re still like, “Oh that’s a bummer.” But if you really like what you’re doing you feel proud and have a sense of ownership over it, and once it’s taken away from you, it’s pretty crummy.
Is some part of you still interested in pursuing sitcoms or has that experience left you a little jaded?
I would say both. There’s plenty of people doing interesting good stuff. One of the big components of the drive to do a sitcom is to fall into a giant dumpster full of money. If you don’t admit that to yourself, then you’re lying. Everyone who puts a show on the air, there’s [some part of them] where they’re like ‘Maybe I’ll … never have to work again.’ There’s a lot of people doing good stuff on TV; they’re making a living. You know, things on cable, different little niche areas, stuff they’re doing on Adult Swim. Even stuff they’re doing on kids channels. A show like “Yo Gabba Gabba” is more interesting and funny than most of the big things on TV. So yeah, I want to make television, that’s what I want to do. I don’t see Conan and I doing this show for 40 years, but I plan on working for a long time. I’m sure I’ll do something else. But the standard, run-it-up-the-same-flag-pole sitcom world, yeah, I’m definitely a little jaded about that.
What about when Conan got the boot from NBC? Did that incite any cynicism?
No, not really. There was nothing that surprising. It was a basic evolution … when you take particular institutional characteristics and put them under the right pressure, things like that happen. It’s not that shocking. It’s kind of like “Oh yeah, that happened.” If you run a salmon processing plant, you’re going to eventually get bears to come in, so you can’t really be surprised when the bears come in and attack. That’s what they do — they’re bears. They attack. And some of these people make bad decisions.
Your career has had an interesting trajectory. You’ve been involved in a variety of work and experienced so many varying degrees of success. Have you ever considered writing a book?
Yeah, and people have talked to me about it. I’m a little bit of a loss as to what to do with it. I probably will sometime. But I kind of don’t want to write a typical memoir. Between me and a reader, I should be more interested in the story than they are, and if I were to write a memoir, I wouldn’t be that interested. I can’t think of anything more tedious than writing something like “So I was born … ”