Andy Richter Talks About the Joys of Embracing Weirdness and His ‘TV Husband’ Conan O’Brien

Andy Richter has found the perfect job: a radio call-in show on SiriusXM (accurately titled The Andy Richter Call-In Show, with new episodes dropping each Wednesday) where he brings in comedy friends (like Andy Daly, Laurie Kilmartin, and Nicole Byer) to be his sidekicks while, together, they field calls from America’s vast reservoir of weirdos. 

The goal, as Richter tells LateNighter, is to have fun—not solve any problems. There’s no heavy prep or rehearsal, just free-flowing conversation as people tell him about the time they accidentally flashed a border guard or went on a father-son crime scene tour. 

Richter, of course, already has a job: excelling as host of The Three Questions on the Team Coco podcast network. It’s another talk show for a late-night legend who, of course, spent years as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick on Late Night, The Tonight Show, and Conan

Both the Call-In Show and Three Questions work because of Richter’s curiosity as an interviewer and skill as an improviser, all mixed with a little Midwestern nice and a high-speed comedy mind that is always happy to get a little silly. Fresh additions to a body of work that, thankfully, is still easily accessible and able to be enjoyed thanks to the archival efforts of Team Coco with Conan Classic. 

With the subject of late-night comedy’s quickly disappearing history (including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report archives leaving Comedy Central’s website) in the air, it seemed like a good time to talk about late-night preservation with Richter while also discussing his latest project. Naturally, we also spoke about his history with Conan, and his reaction to O’Brien’s near-death by hot sauce on Hot Ones

What made you want to do a call-in show?

I am an avid, decades-long Howard Stern listener. And I always love it when somebody calls in and they get a random caller who’s like, “I had a three-way and I have to tell you about it.” Or “I caught my elderly father masturbating.” That stuff is just… I love it because it’s real. And that’s always better than made-up stuff. It’s fun to hear funny people talk about these extreme situations that have happened. 

I just thought we’d pose a topic every week. I’d have a guest host because it gives you something to promote, keeps us all busy, and I just have more fun talking to somebody or being there with somebody than if I was doing it by myself. So far it’s been really fun and carefree, which is exactly what I wanted. This thing shouldn’t be work, you know what I mean? We’re not tackling issues; we’re talking about funeral faux pas or dating disasters. Just tell us about your weird, creepy date. We’re not solving any problems. We’re spending an hour enjoying how weird life is.

Are you trying to keep yourself somewhat walled off (in the call screening process) to keep the surprise and the spontaneity of it when you’re on?

I have a wonderful producer named Sean Dougherty who does a great job. I don’t even know how to listen to the voicemail. He sorts through it all, he prioritizes good calls and I trust him. It’s been working so far. And honestly, it’s more fun for me to be hearing it for the first time. I’ve always maintained that—certainly with any live improvised television radio thing I’ve ever done. I was always that way on the Conan show, too. I didn’t want to talk about things beforehand. Just throw it at me while I’m there and that’s going to be the most fun.

Was there much of a rehearsal process with Conan as far as the back and forth between you and him?

That part, no. We would rehearse the bit and if we said something funny in rehearsal in introducing the bit, that might stay. But generally speaking, we never rehearsed. There would be occasional times where something would happen at the last minute and we wouldn’t have had a chance to practice or to rehearse it. And I used to frustrate him because he would say, “OK, I’m going to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got something to talk to you guys about.’ And then you’re going to say…” and I was like: I’m not telling you. You’ll find out when we’re out there. And I could tell sometimes he’d be like, “Come on.”

That’s writer versus performer to a certain extent, right? At the root. 

To some extent. I mean, we’re both performers, but he likes to practice. He likes repetition. And he derives comfort from it. And I’m like, ‘Nah, let’s just see what happens.’ But then again, it’s not my name on the show. I can be like, ‘Ah, that didn’t work. Big deal. Let’s move on.’ Whereas everything that’s sh*tty has Conan across the front of it.

With the Hot Ones thing, Conan spoke to The New York Times and mentioned that it was like being at his own wake experiencing that week of old Conan clips circulating? Did you have that experience, too?

No. Conan clips will pass by my feed, and a lot of times I don’t look at them because [adopts mock serious tone] I’m a busy guy.

You’re not sitting in a darkened theater room, smoke filling the air as you watch the Classic Conan channel?

My basement screening room, which is sponsored by Samsung, that has the Conan channel on it. No, I was at the studio when a bunch of people that worked there were gathering around. And so I settled in and I watched it.

I remember in the beginning of The Tonight Show, we did a cold open on the first episode, and it’s him running from New York to LA. They got a drone shot of him running across the New Mexico desert or something. And I was standing in the green room next to his wife and he’s running and running, and I said to her, ‘What is he running from? Where is he running to?’ And she’s like, “I don’t know.” And we both just shared this moment about her real husband, my TV husband.

As Greg Daniels said in that New York Times piece when they asked him: So is Conan less tortured? And Greg Daniels just smiled and said, ‘He just drank a bottle of hot sauce.’

That’s not a guy that’s absolutely at peace with whatever happened. My feeling was, and it was meant out of love and compassion and worry for this person that is like family to me. I just felt like, ‘Honey, you don’t have to work so hard. You’re torturing yourself.’

Seeing the recent news about The Daily Show archives going away and with the massive archival effort Team Coco did, I’m just curious for your perspective. Jason Zinoman once wrote something about how late night is an “ephemeral form” (in a tremendous profile on Letterman archivist Don Giller), but obviously very important to preserve. 

Well, I mean, it is ephemeral. When I started doing improv… At that time I was doing five or six nights a week and doing an hour and a half at least of unscripted, unrehearsed stuff. And there was a part of me that had this feeling of: Oh, it just goes out into the night air and dissipates. It’s just gone. There’s no text that’s held onto. And I thought it makes it so that none of it is too precious.

You certainly can take more risks if you don’t think of everything coming out as a jewel and not a turd. It frees you in a way. And I think it’s very freeing with the volume of stuff that we did… I am not a tech genius, but I don’t understand why there can’t just be a database somewhere holding all this old sh*t. It’s like, “Well, it’s our property and if we just give it away…” Just give it away. Who gives a sh*t?

If you knew, when you were making all this stuff in the early ’90s, that, “Oh, they’re going to look back on this stuff, it’s all going to be saved somewhere” would you have had a level of self-awareness that would’ve ruined what you did?

No… It doesn’t do anything but make you aware of yourself and you’re “in your head”, as they say. You’re thinking about what you’re doing rather than just doing it. And we always, even as dumb and as silly as our show was, we always felt like we were giving top-quality work. The Masturbating Bear is stupid, but we’re like, ‘No, no, the Masturbating Bear is f**king fantastic. That’s A+ material.”

The interview above has been edited for length and clarity.  

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