Nine years after leaving Conan O'Brien's side and disappearing into failed sitcom oblivion, the cherubic Andy Richter rides shotgun once again.
Author JENNY ELISCU Photography JEFF MINTON/CORBIS OUTLINE
ANDY RICHTER works the pedals of his red Prius and navigates the streets of West Hollywood. The 42-year-old moved here eight years ago after leaving the job he’d held in New York since 1993 — comic sidekick on Late Night with Conan O’Brien — thinking he’d star in his own sitcom. But after the failure of two quirky network series, his career stalled. Now Richter is finding redemption. He pulls into Clifton’s Cafeteria, a Los Angeles institution where you can heap your tray with coronary-inducing delights. The tacky interior reminds him of the comfort of his grandparents’ house in Illinois, where he grew up. And speaking of comforting, on June 1, as O’Brien took over Jay Leno’s spot as the host of The Tonight Show, Richter returned to his buddy’s side. “I hadn’t been there for nine years,” Richter says. “But in my mind, somehow, I’ve gone back to the same show.”
Did you ever think you’d return to Conan? I can’t say that it really crossed my mind until he called me. It wasn’t a hard decision to make, but it’s not like I’d been sitting around thinking, “If only I could get back to late-night television….” What I had been thinking lately was, “God, I hope a decent pilot comes along.”
Why’s that? Nobody does comedies anymore. Nobody’s got any patience for a smart little show that needs some time to grow. After Conan called, I thought, “Whew, I can stop looking at pilots.”
Has comedy changed since you started your career? Well, it’s always going to be a young person’s game. I won’t name names, because I’m a lady, but certain people used to be a lot funnier when they were in their twenties. I could probably say, “So much of what’s out there now is so dumb, and it’s the wrong kind of dumb,” but there’s probably somebody twenty years older than me that was saying the same thing twenty years ago. Humor is very fleeting.
Is the new show going to have to please the grandmas of the world? A little. I’ve heard Conan say that the Pee-wee’s Playhouse aspects of the old show are going to be lessened. For one, The Tonight Show airs earlier, which means a lot fewer stoned college students watching. And Conan feels like he’s done that kind of thing for 16 years; he’s ready to go at it from a new angle. When grandma’s visiting, you tend not to drop as many F-bombs around the dinner table.
Who were your favorite comedians growing up? When I was a little kid, the funniest thing in the world to me was The Carol Burnett Show. I loved imitating Tim Conway as Mr. Tudball and delaying bedtime by making my grandmother laugh. That’s also how I first learned that a good way to defuse a situation if someone’s yelling at you is to make them laugh. And I always knew I kind of had a knack for it.
It seems to be working out pretty well for you so far. I feel very lucky. Three months ago, I was auditioning for voiceovers — nothing. All of a sudden it’s like, “He’s going to be the announcer on The Tonight Show?” And I’m on the short list to be the new voice for Miracle Whip. Three months ago, I really needed that Miracle Whip job. Now, if I was going to be all communist about it, I’d say somebody else should get that money. But I’m not a communist, so I’ll keep it.
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