A Chat with Andy Richter & Jonathan Groff
It’s been more than half a decade since Andy Richter left his post as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick, and in that time he’s managed to carve out a nice niche for himself as a comedic Everyman. He pops up in this movie and that (including, most recently, "Talladega Nights”), guesting on countless sitcoms, and even getting a few of his own, like Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and "Quintuplet"s.” Now, however, Richter’s re-teaming with O’Brien. Except that, this time, Conan has co-created and is executive producing Andy’s new show, entitled "Andy Barker, P.I.” Bullz-Eye sat in on a teleconference with Richter and the show’s other co-creator, Jonathan Groff, where we had the chance to ask about the show, Richter’s co-stars and whether or not Andy’s trademark look of innocence is all an act.
Bullz-Eye: Hi guys.
Jonathan Groff: Hey, how are you?
BE: Good. Jonathan, I know you and Conan co-created the series…
BE: …but the tone reminds a little bit of another show that Conan had a hand in, "Lookwell.”
BE: Are hopes high that "Andy Barker” will do better than "Lookwell”? (Writer’s note: the only episode of "Lookwell” that was aired, let alone made, was its pilot.)
Andy Richter: Yes!
JG: We’ve already done better.
AR: Yeah, we already have, actually.
JG: Well, I have to take…I don’t know that we’ve done better creatively. But we’ve certainly done better; at least we’ve got a spot on the schedule!
AR: We absolutely have done better creatively. We’ve done better in all ways.
AR: Oh, yeah.
JG: That was a funny show.
AR: It was. Yeah, sure. But it’s, you know, it was Conan in his creative infancy.
JG: That’s true.
AR: This is a mature Conan.
AR: This is like a rich claret, as opposed to Thunderbird.
JG: But I can tell you that when Conan and I were first talking about it, he almost sheepishly…because the very germ of the idea, the very initial idea of this character in this world, was Conan’s. And when we were first talking about it, he was almost sheepish when he said the word "P.I.,” that the guy should be private investigator…partly because, I think, of his own "Lookwell” experience. That, you know, "Is he a one trick pony?” But I think he just loves…I think there’s so much kind of corresponding, you know, fun to be had when you put somebody in that world, and the sort of…it’s such an interesting convention, and, actually, comedically hasn’t been done on TV in a long time, that it felt like it is a fun world to be in. So we quickly got over…I think he quickly got over his reservations and we just started talking about how much fun it would be to do.
BE: I was going to ask if you were the idea man and he was just recycling the old stuff.
JG: (Laughs) That’s one way to look at it, yeah.
BE: And, Andy, you and Tony Hale are both alumni of critically acclaimed Fox sitcoms that ended far too soon.
AR: Yes. We’re all part of the noble failure club.
BE: Does that result an immediate bond between the two of you, or are you’re now just both gun-shy?
AR: No. I don’t think…we both have children, so gun-shyness doesn’t enter into it. There’s no room for gun-shyness when there’s mouths to feed. I, well, I mean, we knew, we actually…because I was doing "Quintuplets” when he was doing "Arrested Development,” and a number of people on "Arrested” were friends of mine – Will Arnett is a friend of mine, David Cross is a friend of mine, and some of the writers over there – so I would, you know, kind of go visit and hang out for a while. None of them would ever come to "Quintuplets” because I think my teenage daughters made them uncomfortable. But I would go hang out. So I met Tony. So I knew Tony. So we had already kind of, you know, we had somewhat of a rapport and kind of had already, you know, hit it off.
JG: You did an episode of the show, too, didn’t you?
AR: And I did, yeah, I actually did a couple of episodes of the show. We didn’t really work together that much when I was doing the episode, but I was around enough to know that what people mostly do is tease Tony mercilessly…and he is one of the best people to tease. He really, his reactions are fantastic when he’s teased.
BE: "Andy Richter Controls the Universe” on DVD. Any chance…?
AR: You’re asking the wrong guy.
BE: Fair enough.
AR: Call, you know, call…
JG: Ask me.
"I'm just blessed and cursed with a toddler's body and a face to match. I'm not ever going to be the matinee idol that I really want to be, but I can definitely play the innocence with it." AR: Yeah, I guess. You know, talk to somebody over at Paramount. You know, I think what it’s going to take is, y’know, I'm going to have to become America’s sweetheart, and then they might wise up and actually put it out on DVD. Or maybe if they ever go to an actual video store and look at all the garbage TV shows that are on DVD, they might sort of go, like, "Hey, you know what? That one actually wasn’t that bad, and people might kind to want to see it.”
BE: Jonathan, how did you come to pick Harve Presnell for the series? He has certainly done comedy, but it's not really his stock in trade.
JG: No, it's not. I met Harv, actually. He won't remember this, but I met him when he came in and read and actually met with us on a show I was doing, a pilot the year before "Andy Barker” that I didn't write but I was helping out on, called "Early Bird,” about a young guy who lives in a retirement community. He came in, and he's got this incredible energy and he, you know, looks like he could strangle you with his bear hands. And he flies his own plane, and he's really cool. (Laughs) And it's, like okay, I have got to remember him. And so when this came up, you know, when Conan and I kind of created this character of this retired detective who Andy meets, when I saw his name on the list of people, I was, like, "Let’s bring him in as soon as possible.” He just walked in and he had it. He's a big huge theater actor with a long, long resume in the theater, and his ability to memorize these kind of long, you know, tough guy dialog things was incredible. He just really had it at the audition and had it on the set all the time, and we were really blessed. And he just…he's 6'4" and he…he's just cool.
AR: And he also just really likes to have fun. He likes to have fun, and he understands the fun of the show. And doesn't take himself too seriously. And he’s a trooper.
JG: A total trooper.
AR: You know? And I think he knows, as most people with good common sense who are actors realize, that we're lucky to be doing this silliness for a living and getting paid for it. So there's not a lot of kind of the serious "capital-A actor” stuff with him. He's there to have a good time and to have fun and be one of the gang, and that's the whole beauty to this.
JG: You know, I think the other thing that's kind of cool about him is he doesn’t really need to do this. He's got businesses and farms and ranches. He's just, he's kind of just cool.
BE: And, lastly, Andy, how many hours to you spend in front of the mirror practicing your look of wide-eyed innocence? Or does that come naturally?
AR: It's the combination of medications. What’s really just a kind of bewilderment is what passes for innocence. No, I don't know, I'm just blessed and cursed with, you know, a toddler's body and a face to match. I'm not ever going to be the matinee idol that I really want to be, but I can definitely play the innocence with it…or, at least, I can get away with it for another couple years.
BE: Thanks a lot!