From San Jose Mercury News
January 13, 2010
By Kevin Kelly
Andy Richter has had his share of hard luck on the small screen. Since leaving his sidekick post on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 2000 to try making a name for himself, three television series he starred in — “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” “Andy Barker, P.I.” and “Quintuplets” — were quickly cancelled.
Now, it looks like he might not even be allowed to play second fiddle. On Sunday, NBC confirmed rumors that Jay Leno would be returning to the 11:35 p.m. time slot, and two days later Conan O’Brien rejected the network’s plans to move “The Tonight Show” to 12:05 a.m. But don’t expect Richter to let this series of unfortunate events get him down. For “The Tonight Show” writer and announcer, family comes first and show business places a distant second.
“I like working in show biz, but my main purpose in life is to be a father and a husband,” Richter told The Daily News on Jan. 6, before the news broke. He is married to actress/writer Sarah Thyre, best known for her role as Coach Cherri Wolf on the television series “Strangers With Candy.” They have two children: William, 9, and Mercy, 4.
While Richter, known for his genial but biting wit, doesn’t regret leaving “Late Night,” he also considers it a blessing that his former boss asked him back in June 2009.
“It’s not like I was expecting it,” Richter said. “At the time, it seemed a step backward, and you could make the argument that it was a step backward, but I don’t care. I was happy that he asked me and I was happy to go back to work for a friend. … and he seemed relieved to have me do it.
“I think if I’d stayed, all those kind of urges I had to make it on my own, it wouldn’t have been healthy to suppress them. I don’t think I would be as happy as I am to be back. I guess you have to go to Oz to come back to Kansas.”
If the worst is realized, and O’Brien leaves late night, don’t expect Richter to take another run at helming a sitcom. He’s had his fill of network executives.
“The atmosphere of developing comedies has gotten worse,” Richter said. “I was tired of trying to get a comedy on TV and was very happy to come to a place where I could make comedy every day of the week and not have it filter through 18 different middle-management people.
“Just as a for instance, the show (“Andy Richter Controls the Universe”) was a co-production of Paramount and Fox. When Fox is deciding what to put on air, they’re not going to give as much credit to a show (in which they have to share a percentage with Paramount). And frequently, a regime change has caused a show’s downfall. … a new alpha-male kills off all the old alpha-males.”
Richter will still provide voices for characters on a pair of Nickelodeon cartoons: “The Mighty B!” and “The Penguins of Madagascar.” He will also appear at SF Sketchfest in San Francisco this weekend as part of a comedy game show and a tribute to O’Brien, who will also be in attendance at the comedy festival.
Before he accepted O’Brien’s request to join “The Tonight Show,” Richter had been flirting with the idea of getting into directing.
“I directed some TV commercials,” said Richter, who attended Columbia College Chicago as a film major in the late 1980s and worked as a production assistant on commercial shoots after college.
“It was a very natural thing, I understood it. I did a job for the Missouri Lottery (recently) and then all this happened. Directing a feature is definitely something I feel interested in.”
After a short stint working behind the scenes on commercials, Richter began taking improv classes in 1989, quickly becoming a regular performer with iO Chicago, which counts Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Vince Vaughn and Chris Farley among its alumni. In the early 1990s, working at the Windy City’s Annoyance Theater, Richter took the role of Mike Brady in the theater’s production of “The Real Live Brady Bunch” (a line-for-line re-creation for stage of the 1970s sitcom) when it moved to New York City.
That’s how he got discovered by Robert Smigel, a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” along with O’Brien. Smigel hired Richter to write for “Late Night,” then in development. He said he doesn’t know (and doesn’t want to know) which of the two came up with the idea to have him star on the show. It’s also worth noting that, separately and prior to “Late Night,” Richter landed a prominent role in “Cabin Boy,” now a cult classic, in the early 1990s after auditioning on a whim when “Brady Bunch” was touring Los Angeles.
“Conan and I, we started doing shtick together in the office and it just evolved from there,” Richter said. Richter will star in two performances of “Game Show Explosion!” on Saturday as part of Sketchfest, which kicks off today in San Francisco and runs through Feb. 2. Other comedians appearing on the celebrity panel of what Richter dubbed “basically ‘Match Game’ ” are Dave Foley, Dana Gould and “Tonight Show” warm-up comic Jimmy Pardo as host.
“It’s a good way for people to eavesdrop on comics talking with other comics in a low-pressure (setting),” he said. “I did Sketchfest last year. It’s just fun to go and do this stuff. It’s like a field trip for us.”
On Sunday at Herbst Theatre, Richter will pay homage to O’Brien during a tribute for his friend.
“I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m sure it will involve tears,” Richter said ominously on Jan. 6. “Whether they will be happy tears or sad tears, I don’t know.”
E-mail Kevin Kelly at email@example.com.
SF SKETCHFEST WHAT: Game Show Explosion!
DETAILS: 8 p.m. Saturday, Cobb”s Comedy Club, San Francisco, $30
WITH: Andy Richter, Dave Foley, Dana Gould, Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman and host Jimmy Pardo
WHAT: Game Show Explosion!
DETAILS: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Cobb’s Comedy Club, San Francisco, $30
WITH: Andy Richter, Aimee Mann, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Benson, Scott Aukerman and host Jimmy Pardo
WHAT: SF Sketchfest Tribute to Conan O”Brien
DETAILS: 2 p.m. Sunday, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, $30-$50
WITH: Conan O”Brien, Andy Richter and host Jimmy Pardo
FESTIVAL OVERVIEW: SF Sketchfest begins today and runs through Feb. 2. Celebrity/comedian/musical attendees include Monty Python”s Terry Jones, cast members of “Upright Citizens Brigade,” Michael Ian Black, Aimee Mann, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Dick Cavett, Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes, John Hodgman, Neil Patrick Harris, Fred Willard, Mates of State and Frank Conniff from “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Late additions to the fest include Laraine Newman, Maria Bamford and Brendon Small (“Metalocalypse,” “Home Movies”). Recent cancellations are Michael Cera, Clark Duke and Lesley Ann Warren. To view the full schedule, visit www.sfsketchfest.com/schedule.