In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Though Andy Richter is perhaps best known for his role as Conan O’Brien’s longtime late-night sidekick, he’s done plenty of work by his lonesome as well. He starred in the excellent Andy Richter Controls The Universe and Andy Barker, P.I., and holds the record for all-time highest one-day score on Celebrity Jeopardy!.
Richter’s latest project is Andy Richter’s Home For The Holidays, a star-studded comedy special that will premiere December 20 on Seeso. In the variety-show parody, Richter is joined by a colorful cast of characters including Jon Daly’s Sappity Tappity The Talking Christmas Tree, Seth Morris’ Bob Ducca, and his (fictional) wife, Lauren Lapkus. It’s an off-the-wall take on the traditional holiday special, and one that fans of both Richter and the holidays will enjoy.
1. What’s a question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
Andy Richter: Oh boy.
I always find it kind of more interesting when people ask questions like, “What were you like as a kid?” Or just kind of personal history stuff, like, “What was the lowest point of your life?” Because that would be like, “Huh, well, I’d have to think about that one.” And then give an honest answer. I think a lot of people don’t want to give honest answers, or they just are in business showbiz mode when they’re talking about stuff, so that’s probably why a lot of that kind of thing doesn’t get asked, but to me, that’s always the kind of thing I want to ask people.
The A.V. Club: Those are always the kinds of questions I want to ask, too, but you never know how it’s going to go. It could be great, and fascinating, or you could ask someone about death, and just hit them at the wrong time and then the interview is done.
AR: It depends on the person asking or who you’re asking.
AVC: Do you know what the lowest point in your life was?
AR: Yeah, I actually do. I switched colleges. I started college at The University Of Illinois in liberal arts and sciences, and I switched midway through to go to film school in Chicago. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, so after two years away at college, I had to move back into my mother’s house. In the meantime, she had sold our childhood home and moved into a rental house, so I was commuting into a new school, waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant in Naperville, Illinois, and had literally no friends for about two years. So, that was a pretty rough time.
AVC: That’s the time when you make friends with people that you wouldn’t want to be friends with, too. You’re like, “Oh, these Mexican-restaurant employees are my friends.” And then when you have more going for you, you’re like, “No, they’re not.”
AR: Yes! At the risk of offending any of them who might be reading this, you hit the nail on the head.
2. If you could ride a giant version of an animal to work everyday, what kind of animal would it be?
AR: Oh, just some kind of big bird. A big bird that you could get a saddle on.
AVC: Like an eagle? Or a robin?
AR: I don’t give a shit. Big bird. It doesn’t matter. You said giant, so if it’s a sparrow, it just has to be a big enough sparrow to haul me around. And also a little bit of cargo in case you have to pick something up on the way home. You know, go to the grocery store.
AVC: Why a bird? Do you want to fly?
AR: Absolutely. Also, time. Although, you know what would be pretty awesome? A giant dragonfly. That would be pretty badass. So I’ll say that—a giant dragonfly.
3. What movie have you seen the most?
AR: It’s got to be one of The Godfathers. You know, one or two. I’ve even now on cable watched that chronological, zillion-hour Godfather twice. You know the one I’m talking about?
AR: That’s a great one. That one I watch because it’s great, but then there are really shitty movies too that if I’m flipping around and I want to go to bed in 20 minutes and I happen to happen on it, I’m fucked, and I have to watch the thing throughout. One of those is The Devil’s Advocate for some reason. I just have such a soft spot for The Devil’s Advocate. The combination of Keanu Reeves’ fluctuating accents and Al Pacino’s amazing… like, no one has ever sliced ham thicker than in that movie. So, that one I’ve seen quite a few times, too.
4. What’s a stupid thing you incorrectly believed for a long time?
AR: For some reason, I thought the word undermine was “undermind.” That’s the first one that I can think of, but there have been other words that I just, like a dummy, heard my whole life and maybe never noticed them written down. I can’t remember the other one, but one was definitely undermine and “undermind,” and I embarrassed myself by saying, “This is spelled wrong.” And somebody went, “No, you idiot. That’s spelled right.”
AVC: How long did you think that?
AR: Oh, decades. Into my 30s, I think.
5. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard about yourself that isn’t true?
AR: Wow. I’m so boring. Nobody even really writes that much interesting stuff about me, so it’s hard. Gosh. Let me think about that.
When I’m being political on Twitter, I get lots of accusations about living in a gated community. You know, that I’m a Hollywood elite that lives in a gated community. And I don’t. I live a pretty normal life. Just before I was on the phone to you, I was picking up dog shit in the yard. I don’t have people for that.
AVC: A lot of celebrities still do everyday stuff. Everyone still has to go to the grocery store. You don’t necessarily want to pay people to do that stuff for you.
AR: Yeah, why would you? I remember Ozzy Osbourne making a fuss on The Osbournes—people were making a big deal about him taking the garbage out, and he said, “Well, who else is going to do it?” The garbage is full, and you’re standing right there. You’re still a human being who is going to make yourself a sandwich.
Guillermo Del Toro is a friend of mine, and he does things like, if somebody has a baby, he goes out and buys a baby gift. He’s unusual in that way. He said to me he gave somebody a baby gift, some movie star, and they were like, “Thank your assistant.” He went, like, “Fuck you, I bought that!”
It is rare, with people who are on television or celebrities or actors—it’s rare to go to their house for a party and find they cooked. That’s rare. Usually people don’t cook for their own parties, and they don’t buy their own gifts. There are people that do that, and that is a special thing. Those kind of little human touches are nice.
AVC: Well, I will say that if I were having a big party, and I had the money to pay someone to cook and clean, I’d totally do that, and I’m not famous.
AR: Oh, yeah. Listen. We throw parties and we cook, but we definitely have our cleaning lady who is in our house twice a week. If we throw a party, we definitely have her come and do dishes. So yeah, no. I can’t say I’m that humble. I don’t want to do dishes. I do dishes during the week. I’m doing dishes constantly, but at a party, goddamn. That’s the worst part about throwing a party is at the end when you’ve got to do the dishes.
6. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
AR: Squirrel, probably, when I was a kid. I grew up in a rural place. In the same way that a volunteer fire department will have a spaghetti dinner, as a child, I went to rural places for squirrel fries. I have eaten squirrel.
7. What’s the first concert you went to?
AR: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
AR: It was the Damn The Torpedoes tour. It was great! It was great.
AVC: How old were you?
AR: I think I was 12 or 13. I had a brother who was 16, so he could drive. It was in Wisconsin. There’s an outdoor theater there called Alpine Valley. I think that’s where we went.
8. What’s the most interesting opportunity you’ve gotten through your work?
AR: Two things that stick out are: getting to be in a Robert Altman movie and knowing Robert Altman. He had been a guest on the Conan show, and he is truly one of my artistic heroes. I’m not even a big hero-worshipper guy, but I went to film school. I was very affected by his work, and it really spoke to me. And then my agent told me Robert Altman is thinking about putting me in his next movie. I was at home one day, and the phone rang, and I picked it up, and it was Robert Altman wanting to hire me for a job. And then getting to know him could not have been better. He was everything and more that I would have wanted him to be. Just a real wonderful, amazing person and artist.
The other thing is that I did a couple of remotes with KISS before they reunited and got back into makeup. When they played Madison Square Garden the first time after reuniting back in the makeup, my wife and I went on vacation, so we weren’t able to see that. When we got a chance to go, it was while we were visiting family in Indianapolis, and we saw KISS at the Hoosier Dome. We got to go backstage before the show and talk to Gene Simmons in his full regalia. We had really good seats, like third or fourth row in the center. And about midway in—I don’t remember what song it was, and I had to confirm with my wife that this actually happened because I couldn’t believe it—but Paul Stanley was singing and about to step away from the microphone, then looked and saw me, and pointed and went “Andy Richter!” And then just continued playing. Like I said, I had to turn to my wife, and ask, “Did he just point at me and yell my name?” And she said, “Yeah. He did.” So, that was pretty neat to have Paul Stanley point at me from the stage and say my name.
9. What embarrassing phase did you go through?
AR: To some degree, every bit of my life, but I don’t waste a lot of time on profound embarrassment. I have always been somewhat the same person. I can think of maybe particular items of clothing that I think, “Oh God, I used to wear that?” But nothing serious. It’s not like for a while I became some sort of goth wannabe. I’ve always pretty much been me.
10. Have you ever stolen anything, and if so, what?
AR: No. The last thing I stole was a Brach’s candy from the bulk bin when I was a child. My mother made me go give it back.
Oh, I stole money from productions that were run by bad people. When I would work freelance in production in Chicago, there were a lot of times when I was working for cheap, bad people, and I was working for slave wages anyway, so there were some times when I might have filled out a couple of blank taxi receipts and kept some petty cash. But like I say, I was very selective. It was only people that I thought were assholes. The people that I liked I went far and above saving them money, much less taking it. But that’s it. I’m pretty moral. I don’t even like stealing jokes.
11. Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?
AR: Probably James Brown.
AVC: Did you meet him on the show?
AR: Yeah. He was on the show. In terms of when you say “the most famous,” I think of the Yanomami knowing them, too. I think James Brown is probably there.
Bonus 12th question from Jimmy Pardo: Have you ever been punched in the face? And if so, why?
AR: No. I mean, aside from accidentally by my kids, like wrestling around with my kids, no one has ever punched me in the face. Outside from with my older brother—and this would have stopped about age 12—I haven’t been in a physical fight in my life. We used to punch each other, but that was little kid punching. You’re too scared to hit anybody really.
AVC: And you hit them in the arm. You don’t deck them in the eye.
AR: Right. So, yeah. No.
I’m large. I’ve always been a large person, and that tends to have a deterrent effect.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person, not knowing who you’re asking?
AR: Let’s go with, “What was the lowest point in your life?”