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INTERVIEW: Andy Richter

Andy Barker, P.I.Rooftop joyously celebrates the DVD release of our favorite bumbling-private-investigator show since, well, ever. We have a chub for Andy Barker, P.I. because we have a MAJOR chub for the show’s star, Andy Richter, who plays an accountant who is mistaken for a detective for hire and decides to just go with it.

Richter himself often just goes with it; maybe a product of his training as an improviser. He’s an actor, a writer, a Jeopardy champion, (cue Trebek!) and, perhaps most recognizably, the yin to Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show yang (a reprisal, of course, of that same O’Brien/Richter dynamic that audiences first went coconuts for when Richter played sidekick on Late Night with Conan O’Brien).

We were lucky enough to snag an interview with Richter during some Tonight Show downtime, and got him to dish on the show, the biz, and the Trebek. Plus, he used the word “fuddy-duddy” with no irony whatsoever, and gave us a recipe for the Rooftop Comedy Holiday Fatluck, which further cemented him in his position of Rooftop-decreed awesomeness.

ROOFTOP: What was your favorite part about playing Andy Barker, and how much of ” character Andy Barker” is Andy Richter?

ANDY RICHTER: My favorite part was working with Jonathan Groff and Conan O’Brien. Especially Jonathan. He was the head writer on Late Night when I left, and I loved getting to work with him and writing staff on that show. As always, the optimal situation with any job is to work with friends. Having worked long enough in this business now, I know what a rare treat that is. One of the things that’s nice about working for friends is that you know and trust them, and they know and trust you. So,  they’ll let you do whatever you want, within reason. With the Andy Barker character — granted it was written a certain way — I always had a say,  because I’m the one that had to play him. So there is a certain amount of me, in that the character is a co-creation of mine.  The character was much more of a fuddy-duddy than I am, and probably more of an idealist, and probably braver. There’s a lot of situations he got into  in which, in real life,  I would have said, ‘fuck this!’  and gone home. But that doesn’t make for a good TV show.

richterROOFTOP: We have to ask – how does it feel to be back on late night television?

RICHTER: It’s great. It really is. It’s so nice to go some place and make a  TV show, and put it on air that day, and then go home. I work with the people who think of the show, and those who execute the show, and that’s it.  I don’t have to talk to too many people, don’t have to justify what I’m doing, the jokes I’m making. That’s one of the things I shoot for when I work;  just to be left alone!  I love it.  I don’t want to be nickel and dimed on every point. I’m a good worker, and I like it when people let me work.

ROOFTOP: Is that “nickel and diming” something that you’ve come across often? What have you learned from those experiences?

RICHTER: I left a steady job that I had for years on Late Night and I came to Los Angeles to try my hand at the much more speculative world of prime time sitcom television.  I did some movies and other things in there too, but there was nothing that was really steady. And when you have a family and kids, your work becomes paycheck focused. You’re always thinking, ‘Oh shit, I’ve gotta make some money,’ to keep ahead of that rolling ball of money-eating-machine that’s always rolling right behind you. Not that I was going for a paycheck or looking for the highest bidder, but I felt fairly consumed by money issues. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve cared less about money and more about having idiots shut up,  just leaving me alone so I can work!

I always liken it to people hearing about a restaurant, having read good reviews, and finally deciding to go to the restaurant, and then running back into the kitchen to tell the chef how to cook the food.  It gets irritating when you’re the guy who’s supposed to be funny, and the ones who aren’t think they have good ideas on how you can be funny.  Granted, [comedy] is a very ephemeral skill in that sometimes what you’re doing works and sometimes it doesn’t. So, I’ve learned to put myself in situations where I can do what I do and be happy doing it, and make people happy doing it.  Life’s too short. Have a good time.

I was just talking to Jonathan [Groff] about this actually; somebody sent me a link to a bunch of stories about the Andy Barker P.I. DVD release, and some reviewer wrote,  ‘This clever show represents another one of Andy Richter’s hopeless attempts at prime time stardom.’

‘Hopeless attempts,’ like I have ‘prime time stardom’ needlepointed above the mantle. I’m just trying to make a good show that lasts! The notion of ‘prime time stardom’ is horseshit anyway. [Those articles] drive me crazy because it makes me feel bad about humanity, just how shitty everybody is about everything,. Everybody’s always trying to say something snotty.

ROOFTOP: We promise not to write anything snotty about you! Let’s switch gears and talk about happy things; namely, your crushing defeat of Wolf Blitzer in the name of charity on an episode of Celebrity Jeopardy. If you could hand-pick competitors for another Jeopardy round, who would you choose?

RICHTER: Let’s see. Should I pick dumb people so I could beat them, or should I pick smart people so it’s a challenge?

ROOFTOP: That’s the question of the hour.

RICHTER: What’s interesting about this whole invitational tourney is that it’s spread out over a year, so they’re doing nine initial shows, so there will be nine people in three semi-final rounds in April, which will all be shot on the same day. And then the final. should I make it that far, will be taped on that same day as well.  I’m  just curious as to see, as the time goes one, who my competition is going to be.  I like the fact that it’s different walks of celebrity life; sports people and news people and actors and comedians, a whole different mix. And it’s also good because I think the others think I’m probably dumb. They see me on a talk show being the lumpy guy, and I’ve played a lot of idiots. So it’s good to not be dumb.  Maybe that’s a testament to my incredible acting skills?

I actually did Celebrity Jeopardy 10 years or so ago, too, and that time I was more prepared. This time it actually kind of snuck up on me, and the day before, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I have to go be on Jeopardy!’ But that was good, because I didn’t have any expectations. To have it go so well, well, I recommend it. It certainly is a mood changer. You can pretty good about yourself for a few days after.

ROOFTOP: Why did you pick St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as your charity?

RICHTER: St Jude’s  is a place that provides free care to kids with cancer. It’s hard to deny the worthiness of them.

ROOFTOP: Amen, sister. So, one final question before we let you go; the holidays are creeping up, and, to celebrate Thanksgiving, Rooftop is holding our first annual Holiday Fatluck. Any suggestions on dishes to bring?

RICHTER: I grew up in a small town in Illinois and a good thing that farm folk used to do at a ‘fancy’ dinner, was, for the bread portion of the meal they would have huge cinnamon rolls instead of regular dinner rolls. I remember going to a wedding rehearsal dinner where the food was ham, roast beef, fried chicken, broccoli and cauliflower smothered in cheese, and cinnamon rolls. And the mother of the family went, “It’s just simple farm food!” but she said it with a real edge like, I know what I’m doing to you, but I’m still playing the country naivete card. You can’t eat anything in Illinois and get out of the way of a heart attack bomb.

Oh, you know, my mom used to make, as our ‘vegetable dish’, this thing with  frozen spinach and frozen chopped onions. You saute them in a ton of butter, and you stir them up with an egg, I think, and then two bags of shredded cheese. Then you dump it in a casserole dish and bake it.

ROOFTOP: Wow. Do you ever make that for your kids?

RICHTER: No way. My wife insists that we eat ‘within reason’.

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