Andy Richter – August 28, 2008
Andy Richter: Hi there. How are you?
GM: Good, thanks. That's the same music playing both times I called.
AR: It should be.
GM: Oh, okay. Is Hank Williams a favourite of yours?
AR: Um... yeah. I mean, I don't listen to him all the time but definitely an all-time favourite. I don't know if they have it up there but it's a way to make more money off of you. They call it 'ring back', I think. You can pay four dollars a song for a year. They get you to choose songs. I have them on a random mix. You can't do them fully random but day-to-day. So like all day it'll be the same one and then tomorrow it'll be different.
GM: Yeah, I haven't heard that before so maybe we don't have that up here. Or I don't know the right people.
AR: It's Verizon. And it mostly irritates people.
GM: Depends on what the song is, I suppose.
AR: Yeah, yeah. Well, my dad hates everything. But I have a lot of friends who are mostly irritated by it. They say, "Why can't I just listen to a ring tone? That would be fine."
GM: What does your dad like?
AR: Classical, classical, classical.
GM: The Russian composers?
AR: Yeah. He actually translated songbooks of about four or five Russian composers into the phonetic transcriptions for opera singers so that they'll know exactly how to pronounce... I guess there's some sort of phonetic alphabet that is there for opera singers so whether they're singing Italian or French they don't have to know the language in order to know how to sing it. I guess no one had ever done that for the Russian songbooks. So he's the only person who's ever done it and there's about four people in the world who are interested.
GM: Somebody's interested. That's the main thing.
AR: Yeah, exactly.
GM: So your kid is in swimming class right now?
AR: Yeah. In fact, I had to drop him off and run home because I forgot the goddamn cheque book to pay for the swim lessons. But I'm on my way back there now.
GM: You don't have a nanny for these mundane tasks? I thought all big-time celebrities would just pass that off on their nannies.
AR: Well, big celebrities do. Medium to small celebrities don't so much. We have somebody who comes in and cleans the house and babysits but it's a pretty normal childhood our children are going through in terms of having access. In fact, they probably get more of me than most kids, than parents with legit jobs. Because I do get a lot of free time when I'm not working, which, unfortunately – thank you Screen Actors Guild – has been a lot more than I would have liked lately.
GM: Are they on strike? I can't keep track.
AR: No, they're like on this fake kind of ersatz bullshit strike. Still making a lot of noise. I can't even follow it because I'm so disgusted by it. I just say what's wrong with the deal ACTRA got, what's wrong with the deal the Writers Guild got? Let's just get to work.
GM: But it probably allows you to do the festival up here.
AR: I would have done the festival anyway, time permitting. I love Canada. I've worked in Vancouver a few times.
GM: On shitty movies?
AR: On shitty movies, that's exactly right!
GM: Which one?
AR: My Boss's Daughter, with Ashton Kutcher and Tara Reid. I shouldn't say shitty. I don't care about the people that made them but I do care about the people that enjoy these movies. Like, I always feel bad saying, "Oh, that's a shitty movie" then have somebody say, "But I loved that movie!" Then I feel bad. Everyone should be entitled to enjoying whatever Ashton Kutcher/Tara Reid movie they want.
GM: But you know, I like some shitty music and shitty movies, and you must, too. But we accept it for what it is.
AR: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I don't see myself as some sort of major artiste, anyway, so to say that I'm in a couple of shitty movies does not... It would be almost expected. (laughs) No, I mean, I just think I started out in television comedy and, you know, most comedy, even, isn't funny. So of course if you're doing comedy you're going to be in some stuff that's not great.
GM: I gotta say I loved you in Cabin Boy.
AR: Oh, thank you very much.
GM: I liked the whole movie.
AR: Well, that one I do like. I like very much.
GM: But it would be considered among most people, I'm thinking, a shitty movie, wouldn't it?
AR: You know, I don't know about that one. That one I would defend against that title because it isn't. It's funny, it's different, it's weird. Chris Elliott one time told me that people either really enjoyed his work or they seemed to be really angered by it.
GM: That's a good reaction.
AR: There's not a lot of in between. And I think a lot of the time in his stuff the people who don't get the joke tend to think that the joke is on them.
GM: Oh, really?
AR: It could very well be. I'm not sure. I actually just saw Brian Doyle-Murray, who was in Cabin Boy, and we were just talking about Chris Elliott, having not talked to him in a few years.
GM: What's he doing now?
AR: There's a new Mike Judge midseason replacement show called The Good Family and he's doing a voice on that. He told me that his wife was taking a doctorate or something in Manhattan, Kansas. So he's been living in Kansas for the last few years.
GM: Are you in Los Angeles? Is that where you live?
AR: Yes, I am.
GM: Does Vancouver have the reputation of being the shitty movie capital?
AR: A shitty movie place?
GM: I read in an interview you did...
AR: What did I say?
GM: It was in Interview magazine, I think, and you said something about going up to Vancouver and making a shitty movie, and you meant it in general.
AR: Oh, yeah. I could have said going to Tanzania and making a shitty movie. It wasn't anything in particular about Vancouver.
GM: That's okay. I'm not being an overly defensive Canadian or anything like that.
AR: I actually have had wonderful times working in Canada. I worked in Toronto, too. Vancouver gets a lot of genre stuff, especially television. Werewolf and vampire stuff. That stuff is so effects heavy they're looking to cut costs. So a lot of that stuff goes up there. I was just in New Zealand earlier this year for three months. It's kind of becoming the new Vancouver.
GM: What were you doing there?
AR: It was something called It Came From Upstairs. It's kind of like a Goonies, kinda like a kids action movie. Kids do battle with cute little aliens. They're evil but they're still kinda cute, because they need to go onto Happy Meals.
GM: When you making movies in Vancouver, did you get out and do things? Or did you just drink in your hotel room?
AR: I played some golf. I didn't do too much. At the time, my son was little the last time I was there for any substantial amount of time. So we didn't get to do a lot of kind of the stuff that we would normally do now that he's older. We didn't get to kind of go to, you know, Vancouver Island or visit the more adventurous things that we would do now. But I played some golf, enjoyed the fantastic Pacific Rim dining up there. Just fantastic sushi and noodles. Every kind of Asian food that you could possibly want. And tried not to get shit on by crows. One time my wife and I were walking under a street lamp in Vancouver and we saw a crow and we knew enough by then to be careful while walking under the crows. And we saw another guy coming towards us and we didn't speak up and he nearly got shat on. And he looked at us and it was a moment of recognition in his eyes. It's kind of like if a piano is falling and someone's walking under it, you just think, "Well, is it going to hit him?"
GM: I've never heard that about the crows here. They attack you, but never heard about the shitting.
AR: No, they attacked us in that particular way. A few times. Or maybe it's just me.
AR: No, you're not wrong at all. In fact, that's usually when people say they recognize me. [Unintelligible] And I usually shortcut it with that. It's just a fact of life.
GM: Even though it was eight years ago.
AR: Yeah. Ed McMahon's probably in the same boat.
GM: But he never did anything else.
AR: Yeah, but you know, if I had had a show that had stayed on the air more than ten minutes, then I might have an axe to grind. I also have to remember that that show and where it belongs in the comedy landscape... You know, that show, to me, is what David Letterman was to me when I was a kid. There's a group of young people who are interested in comedy now and the Conan show was a very formative influence on them. And I feel very proud to have had a part in that. I'm also proud of the other shows I've done, like Andy Richter Controls the Universe. A lot of people really enjoyed that show and really hold that show in a special place. And that I feel great about, too. But it doesn't have the impact that the Conan show does, and the first seven years that the Conan show had. Andy Richter Contols the Universe, by the way, is coming out on DVD.
GM: How many episodes were there?
AR: There were, uh, 19, I believe. There's about four or five of them that weren't aired. So it's actually a pretty good thing to put on DVD. I have absolutely no idea why it's taken so long other than the fact that Paramount appears to be run by members of the old Soviet Politburo and they don't exactly move very fast.
GM: And Andy Barker, P.I. was most enjoyable.
AR: That one's actually probably my favourite. I really enjoyed doing that show. It was a real bummer that it got cancelled. I was a little more prepared for it just because I had the callouses built up. When Andy Richter Controls the Universe got cancelled, I kinda knew it was coming but it threw me for a loop for a good long time. For months at a time I was pretty depressed about it whereas when Andy Barker got cancelled I probably ultimately hurt a little bit more but it didn't last as long. It was also so much quicker. Andy Richter was just drawn out. It was like it was doomed from the beginning but it just kinda dragged out over two seasons.
GM: Now you're hardened. You're inured to the pain.
AR: No, not really.
GM: But you accept it as part of the business?
AR: I don't know if I would put it like that. I would just say that there's nothing else to do with it.
GM: You started in improv. A lot of performers that started in standup or improv and who go on to TV, they still like to go back it, like it's the most rewarding time for them on stage. Do you find that with improv, or is it just another thing to do?
AR: It's fun but I don't have... Like, there's an actor named David Kechner, who I've known since I was a baby improviser. He's done pretty well. He's done a lot of character roles. He's been in a lot of big movies. But he still does improv on a weekly basis and he's got four kids, or something like that. I don't have that kind of devotion to it. There's a lot of people who really feel like it's kinda like a gym where they keep their comedy licks sharp or something. And I don't feel it like that. I enjoy doing it but for me it's just about going and being funny with funny friends. And I can do that in my backyard having a barbecue. (laughs) I don't need any kind of a group of half-drunk strangers to do it. And also, too, it's just a young person's game. It's one thing to see two 24-year-olds on stage trying to figure out where they are. They're going, "Hello." "Hello, how are you?" And slowly trying to figure out... They're basically playing make-believe. And if it's a 42- or 43-year-old with children it seems a little more ridiculous that they should be playing make-believe. But I still have fun with it. That's why I do things like the festival because it is a good chance to get out. And now that I have kids, I don't get out as much. So it's actually a great excuse to get out and do some fun stuff with people.
GM: Do you do many festivals?
AR: Not a lot. I've done a few. I've done Juste Pour Rire. There was one in New York. But not a lot. I'm not actively involved, like the guys from the Upright Citizens Brigade. They're out doing television shows and writing screenplays and other things. And they still have a theatre and they still are very much involved in the sketch comedy world and the improv comedy world, in terms of doing it in small theatres. And I don't really do that anymore. I never really stayed with any particular group. You know, I still do things with the UCB fairly frequently and I have friends who do shows. Paul F. Tompkins has a regular show. I think he may be coming up to Vancouver. Although I think he just got a job in New York so I'm not sure. But a few weeks ago I did a sketch with him in his show. That's enough to kinda keep me busy and have fun. And there's enough outlets that if I think of a sketch that would be good for a kind of stage presentation, I can do that. But for the most part, it's work.
GM: What exactly is it you're doing here? Are you with Comedy Death-Ray or UCB?
AR: Both. UCB does a long-form improv based on a first-person monologue. I'll probably be the monologuer. But I may do scene work. I'm not sure which. Whatever they need. Comedy Death-Ray, I'm not sure what I'm doing with them. But Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter, who are sort of Comedy Death-Ray, I'm working on a pilot for sketch comedy for Comedy Central with them. So Scott asked if I would get involved this time up there with them, which I was happy to do. So I'm going to do something with them. I'm not sure what I'm doing with them yet. I'm sure they'll tell me. And if not, it wouldn't be that unusual to show up with just a vague idea of what I'm going to be doing. I've experienced that before.
GM: Are most of your friends comics?
AR: Comics in that they make comedy. Not so much standups but writers and comedic actors.
GM: Does the lineup at this festival at all factor into your decision to come?
AR: Oh, definitely. Definitely. I mean, Scott and BJ are there, and then to have the UCB involved. It definitely helps. I wouldn't want to go and do a comedy festival for the grand glory of having myself get on stage with people. I'm doing it because I know the people and because it sounds like a fun weekend. To me, that's what a comedy festival should be. And that's the feel of it. It shouldn't feel like "Here's Andy Richter jonesing yet again to get on stage somewhere." "Well, Vancouver'll do. They'll take me!"
GM: You said at one time you were more interested in becoming a character actor. Now that you've had a taste of the limelight with your own shows, has that changed? Or do you still strive to be a character actor?
AR: Yes, definitely. I mean, if someone wanted to start paying me 20 million dollars a movie to be the lead in films, I wouldn't turn it down. But that hasn't happened yet. So I don't think it's likely to happen. But you take everything else out of it and I think that's the most interesting way to be. You get to be different people where I think that the people who play leads in movies frequently have to be the same person again and again and again. You see people like an Alec Baldwin go from being a leading man into a character actor. That doesn't happen very often that someone can transition. It's usually you get to be a leading man and then you're done. They put you in the cinema stud farm and you just make more future stars.
GM: Have you been to any of your high school reunions?
AR: I have not.
GM: Because you've been unavailable or because there's no way in hell you'd go?
AR: Well, I'm a terrible sentimentalist. I mean in that I'm not good at it. So I don't really have a lot of interest. And I don't like a fuss being made. Now there probably wouldn't be that much of one. But early on when I was on the Conan show, my tenth anniversary... I mean, I couldn't do it anyway because I was shooting a remote that weekend for the Conan show. But I had spoken to my mother and she said, "You should try and make it work." And I said, "Well, I'm working so I can't. And besides, I'm just afraid there'll be a big fuss made over me and it'll be a big deal." And she said, "Oh, you're flattering yourself." The fact that I wasn't coming to the reunion was front page news of the local paper: "Richter not attending" was the front page news. If I had made it... Although maybe if I had made it they wouldn't have cared. Maybe it was just the not making it that was newsworthy.
GM: I recommend going to your next one, Andy.
AR: Alright, I'll try it.