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Andy Richter talks 'Tonight Show,' 'Controls the Universe'

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This certainly registers on the Richter scale. On June 1, Andy Richter will re-team with his old Late Night buddy, Conan O’Brien, as O’Brien takes over as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show and his former sidekick assumes the role of announcer. For those who don’t want to wait that long to see the Andy man again on their TV sets, his critically admired but short-lived Fox comedy series Andy Richter Controls the Universe hits DVD shelves tomorrow. EW.com checked in with Richter to hear about the after-hours reunion and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the Tonight Show gig come about?

ANDY RICHTER: I got a phone call from Conan [in early February] explaining that [Late Night announcer] Joel Goddard wouldn’t be coming to The Tonight Show, so they were looking for an announcer. But they wanted somebody Conan could interact with in an off-the-cuff way, and someone that could do comedy bits. And I guess Conan said, “Andy would be perfect. Wouldn’t that be great if Andy did it? Do you think Andy would do it? I bet you he wouldn’t….” Finally [exec producer] Jeff Ross said, “Well, why don’t you just call him?” and I think the unspoken thing was, “And shut up about it already.” So he called me.

What was that conversation like?

He wondered what I had going on, and I said, “There’s a few things, but certainly nothing to prevent me from coming to work with you.” Quite the opposite. It was pilot season, and I was looking at pilots. Everything that I liked I was not right for and everything that liked me was absolutely awful. It’s just such a hard time to get a regular job in comedy. [Conan] just seemed so happy to have me coming back and has been so wonderful about it that I don’t know if he fully realizes what a great situation it is for me, too. I was doing fine, but it’s not the same reliability of being on an American television institution. You can plan your Christmas vacations a little easier when you’re going to do that.  I said to him, “You know, I probably will have to eat some crow, just because the professional snarkmeisters in the snark-media will love to snark about, ‘How’s everything been going? Well, you certainly were a resounding success out there.’” You can’t be a character actor and just get a job here and a job there; unless you’re on a series that makes 200 episodes, you’re a failure…. When Conan offered me the job, he put it in a very endearing way, putting it in the third person: “We always felt like whoever would take this job would have the flexibility to do other things.” I knew he was talking about me.  So they would give me a tacit okay should various things come up. Maybe I could take a few personal days.

What was your first reaction to the offer?

Gratitude, excitement, and enthusiasm. The minute he started talking, I thought, “Well, yeah, that’ll be great.” I feel glad to be getting out of the development race. I get to make television five nights a week, to have ideas in the morning and put them on TV at night, and to work with friends. It’s fantastic. To be part of an “institution”— that doesn’t resonate as much. I’m of an age where I fell in between a Johnny Carson-Jay Leno kind of thing, and Late Night with David Letterman was the more formative influence on me. But still, I’m going to be part of an American institution here. I don’t even think the whole thing has fully settled in. It probably won’t until I actually have to say, ‘It’s The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien!”

Have you been practicing your announcer voice?

Absolutely not. I’ve worked on nothing. That’s not how I do it. I’ll make it up. [Laughs] On June 1 at about 5:29, I’ll think about what I’m going to say.

addCredit(“Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage”)

How will this stint as Conan’s announcer differ from your Late Night gig as his sidekick?
I’m assuming I’m going to do something pretty similar to what I did

before. I don’t think anybody in the organization is going to get too

hung up on what I’m called. I’m a writer-performer and an announcer.

It’s a weird hybrid position….In some ways it’s going to be different

than the old show, [but] it’s going to be him and me, so it’s not going

to be like the difference between the Today show and Bill Maher.

What’s one thing that you can promise viewers about your return to late-night TV?

Well, I’m older and grumpier. [Laughs] I haven’t been on camera on

a nightly basis for a while, so I’m not used to having to watch what I

say. The first few weeks you might see me forgetting that I’m supposed

to edit myself.

If you won’t be on the couch, where you will be positioned?

We haven’t even talked about all that stuff. I will be in the building. That much I can promise you.

Somewhere comfortable?

No, it’s better to be behind something. I always envied Conan getting to hide behind a desk….I want to have, like, a lectern that I can wheel around. And hopefully the wheels will be nice and noisy.

Is Conan nervous about the move to 11:30 p.m.?
I think he’s incapable of not being nervous. He, of course, is

going to turn it over in his head a million times. And when he sleeps,

his leg is probably jumping up and down. But as he told me the other

day, “Oh, yeah. It’s a talk show. I can handle this.” It’s not like

1993. He’s got a little bit of experience under his belt now.

And you’re the one in the relationship who doesn’t worry?

Yeah. [But] I haven’t done anything like the remotes in awhile.

It’s one thing to stand in front of people on a stage and say stuff,

but it’s another thing to walk up to them at a county fair while

they’re eating a corn dog and try to make comedy with them. You have to

overcome this natural embarrassment reaction. I was talking to somebody

who said, “Are you nervous about the studio part?” I said, “I haven’t

even been thinking about that. They turn on the cameras, we say what’s

on the cue cards and we talk to each other and interview people, and if

something happens you make it funnier.” All that seems like falling off

a log. Then I actually started to feel like, “Maybe I should be a

little more uptight about this.” But then I thought, “No, I’m supposed

to be the guy who’s not uptight about it. I think one of the things on my resume they highlighted was, “Doesn’t give a s—.”

Andy Richter Controls The Universe is finally being released on DVD, and it will include five episodes that never aired. Can you tease one of them?

There’s one where Paget Brewster, who played my boss, and I

volunteer at a prison. Not really to help anyone — just to be competitive

with each other. We end up [teaching] some prisoners creative writing,

and the results of their writing — it’s a lot of stuff about murder and

cocaine. We tell them to really express themselves, and I have a line

where I read his poem and I go, “Boy, you really do love cocaine!”

How would you imagine a Universe movie?

I always joked about this with [series creator] Victor Fresco: Andy

Richter the character would finally have to come to terms with the fact

that he was a s—ty writer. He had all these aspirations of being a

writer, but all that he was truly good at was daydreaming. It’s not a

very upbeat ending, but I think he’ll find out he has a knack for…I

don’t know, maybe he’ll become a sushi chef or something.

What’s the legacy of Universe, a comedy tragically cut down before its time?

I would say it’s somewhere between Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and That Girl. [Pause] I don’t really know what that means, but if you don’t tell them

I don’t know what I mean, it’s going to really seem profound.

How will this stint as Conan’s announcer differ from your Late Night gig as his sidekick?
I’m assuming I’m going to do something pretty similar to what I didbefore. I don’t think anybody in the organization is going to get toohung up on what I’m called. I’m a writer-performer and an announcer.It’s a weird hybrid position….In some ways it’s going to be differentthan the old show, [but] it’s going to be him and me, so it’s not goingto be like the difference between the Today show and Bill Maher.

What’s one thing that you can promise viewers about your return to late-night TV?
Well, I’m older and grumpier. [Laughs] I haven’t been on camera ona nightly basis for a while, so I’m not used to having to watch what Isay. The first few weeks you might see me forgetting that I’m supposedto edit myself.

If you won’t be on the couch, where you will be positioned?
We haven’t even talked about all that stuff. I will be in the building. That much I can promise you.

Somewhere comfortable?
No, it’s better to be behind something. I always envied Conan getting to hide behind a desk….I want to have, like, a lectern that I can wheel around. And hopefully the wheels will be nice and noisy.

Is Conan nervous about the move to 11:30 p.m.?
I think he’s incapable of not being nervous. He, of course, isgoing to turn it over in his head a million times. And when he sleeps,his leg is probably jumping up and down. But as he told me the otherday, “Oh, yeah. It’s a talk show. I can handle this.” It’s not like1993. He’s got a little bit of experience under his belt now.

And you’re the one in the relationship who doesn’t worry?
Yeah. [But] I haven’t done anything like the remotes in awhile.It’s one thing to stand in front of people on a stage and say stuff,but it’s another thing to walk up to them at a county fair whilethey’re eating a corn dog and try to make comedy with them. You have toovercome this natural embarrassment reaction. I was talking to somebodywho said, “Are you nervous about the studio part?” I said, “I haven’teven been thinking about that. They turn on the cameras, we say what’son the cue cards and we talk to each other and interview people, and ifsomething happens you make it funnier.” All that seems like falling offa log. Then I actually started to feel like, “Maybe I should be alittle more uptight about this.” But then I thought, “No, I’m supposedto be the guy who’s not uptight about it. I think one of the things on my resume they highlighted was, “Doesn’t give a s—.”

Andy Richter Controls The Universe is finally being released on DVD, and it will include five episodes that never aired. Can you tease one of them?
There’s one where Paget Brewster, who played my boss, and Ivolunteer at a prison. Not really to help anyone — just to be competitivewith each other. We end up [teaching] some prisoners creative writing,and the results of their writing — it’s a lot of stuff about murder andcocaine. We tell them to really express themselves, and I have a linewhere I read his poem and I go, “Boy, you really do love cocaine!”

How would you imagine a Universe movie?
I always joked about this with [series creator] Victor Fresco: AndyRichter the character would finally have to come to terms with the factthat he was a s—ty writer. He had all these aspirations of being awriter, but all that he was truly good at was daydreaming. It’s not avery upbeat ending, but I think he’ll find out he has a knack for…Idon’t know, maybe he’ll become a sushi chef or something.

What’s the legacy of Universe, a comedy tragically cut down before its time?
I would say it’s somewhere between Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and That Girl. [Pause] I don’t really know what that means, but if you don’t tell themI don’t know what I mean, it’s going to really seem profound.

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