If there were ever a nifty reason to stay up past your bedtime, tuning into NBC this Friday evening would be it. Oh, and be sure to bring a full box of Kleenex. For as much as it pains us to type the following words… after nearly seven years as the amiable sidekick on ”Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” Andy Richter, 33, is calling it quits to spend more time in the acting world. (First gig: He’ll appear in the upcoming Robert Altman film ”Dr. T and the Women.”) Before things got too mushy, we asked Richter to look back on his long, strange couch trip.
EW: Why leave now?
Richter: Because it’s time to go. It’s the seven-year itch. In some ways from the very beginning I always knew that I wasn’t cut out to be Ed McMahon — not there’s anything wrong with being Ed McMahon. I started out in improv shows and comedic acting and then this came along. I never expected that Andy Richter would become an ‘on-camera personality.’ This was a job that I was happy to do, but I knew at a certain point, it was going to be time to get back to acting.
Did Conan handle the news well?
He was supportive, but I think he was kind of bummed. He said, ‘Well, this isn’t a surprise. I figured this might happen someday.’
How did you score a role in an Altman film?
Robert Altman said he kept telling the casting person, ‘I want to get somebody like that guy from the Conan O’Brien show. And the casting person finally said, ‘Well, why don’t you just get the guy from the Conan O’Brien show?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, good idea.’
Will you be grabbing any souvenirs on your way out the door? A piece of the couch, perhaps?
No, but I might be able to get out of here with a suit or two — the ones that fit me. My self-image is dependent on whether I’m wearing one of my larger suits or one of my smaller suits. When I put on the smaller ones, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m a big fat pig,’ and then I put on one of the looser ones from ages ago, and it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m in great shape.’
How did you survive those early days when critics and network execs were down on you?
I used to say when it was tough and they were talking about canceling the show, ‘Hey, I show up and if my key still fits the door to my office, I know we’re still on the air.’ I was having a pretty good time, and it seemed like everybody else on the show was, too. And it didn’t get much deeper than that for me: ‘It seems like it’s working… well, what should we order for dinner?’
Are you amused that the frat guy segment of the audience completely worships you?
I’m a bit puzzled by it. I guess it’s the fact that I’m thick and white and I don’t dress very flashily. So they just assume that I’m a party guy. I think that they have a certain assumption of ”the comedic fat guy.” It’s sort of amusing, but it’s also a little bit disconcerting, because it’s like, ‘Oh, am I really putting across that sort of date rape image?’
Do you play any good pranks on the guests?
I like to do this with people who I don’t know that well, but who I think can take it. It’s usually the men, like a Scott Wolf, and I’ll go backstage and say things like (whispering), ‘Look, if Conan hits on you, just go with it, for my sake.’ I try to play the abused child: ‘Whatever Daddy says, just go with it because if you don’t, the minute you leave, he beats us all. Just make him happy, or we’re all in trouble!’
Got any good supermodel dirt?
There was some foreign model — I can’t remember her name — and she had clear plastic pumps and they were sort of condensating with sweat. I didn’t hear a word she was saying, I just kept looking at her and thinking, ‘Oh, your sexy little fetish shoes… are fogging up with sweat!!!’
What was your ‘Gee, I’ve finally made it’ moment?
I swear this happened, and my wife will back me up. We were visiting relatives in Indiana, and KISS was playing in Indianapolis on the reunion tour and we had third row center seats. Paul Stanley was playing something, and he looked into the crowd and he saw me and pointed at me and yelled, ‘ANDEEE RICHTAAAH!’ in such a way that I turned to my wife and said, ‘Did he just say my name, or did he go, ‘ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!’ or ‘GET DOWN! or ‘WOOHOO!’? And she said, ‘No, I think he said, ‘Andy Richter’. That was the moment where I was like, ‘Ahh, boy… my life… It’s weird how far I’ve come.’