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''Late Night'' stalwart Andy Richter is set to try his luck in movies

And Ken Tucker, believe it or not, wishes him well

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”Late Night” stalwart Andy Richter is set to try his luck in movies

Andy Richter announced last week that he’s planning to step down as the sidekick on ”Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” He reportedly hopes to kick-start a career in feature films, and I hope no one in Tinseltown holds his appearance in Chris Elliott’s 1994 megabomb movie ”Cabin Boy” against him, since he and David Letterman provided that film’s chief sources of laughs.

I’ve come here to wish Richter good luck, which, given the way I’ve dealt with him in print before, may strike you as a surprise and him as a big load of bull, and I wouldn’t blame him a bit. When O’Brien’s ”Late Night” premiered in 1993, I referred to Richter as ”a real liability”; a year later, rereviewing the show, I asserted that Richter ”remains a smug guy masquerading as a dumb lump.” So a hearty send-off from me now would seem like way too little too late.

O’Brien has said that NBC network brass wanted to give Richter the boot early on, and heaven knows no self-respecting TV critic wants to look like he agrees with those boob suits. But I don’t apologize for my judgments of Richter’s performance; at the time those reviews were written, each of those assessments was true to my perception of the show.

What Richter was trying to do on the show was always obvious: He was the performance-art version of Ed McMahon, full of ironic affability and put-on goofiness. Too often, though, performance artists are comedians who don’t get enough laughs (think Ann Magnuson).

Richter eventually loosened up a little, letting the amiable doofus mask drop and allowing us to see more of the acid intelligence that clearly lurked behind his Oliver Hardy bumptiousness. Then too, the comic comradeship between him and O’Brien became one of ”Late Night”’s more charming qualities, and — dare I say it — will be missed. Feature films — especially ones he has a hand in writing — would seem even better suited to Richter’s deadpan put-on style than a daily talk show.

So even though I’m sure it couldn’t mean less to you coming from a guy who did little more than make your job tougher: Good luck, Andy. No kidding.