Andy Richter

[COMEDIAN]

“WOW, I DON’T KNOW WHY THOSE PIES AREN’T SELLING. I PUT THEM BETWEEN THE WINDSHIELD-WIPER FLUID AND THE OIL FILTERS. THERE JUST DIDN’T SEEM TO REALLY BE A LOT OF PIE BUSINESS. WHOOPS, THAT’S TOO BAD. I GUESS THE PIES SUCK.”
Things TV has told us that we probably should not believe:
Archie Bunker is mind-blowing
Christianity is nearing its end
Andy Richter controls the universe

Andy Richter is recognized for two things: his comic genius and his explosive temper. While everyone in show business recognizes that he is one of the funniest people at work today—he can be funnier while doing nothing than most would-be funny people are while… well, trying much harder—he has been known to dress down friends and foes alike, and fisticuffs are one of Richter’s favorite solutions to even the smallest conflicts. He co-starred for many years on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and after retiring from that post developed and starred in a prime-time comedy called Andy Richter Controls the Universe, which was, according to many, much too good to survive. The show’s closest comedic sibling might be Strangers with Candy, the long-running HBO comedy starring Amy Sedaris. The Believer sat down with Richter poolside—true!—in Los Angeles and talked about comedy, and the likelihood that something as distinctive and actually funny as Andy Richter Controls the Universe ever had a chance in the first place. All the while, of course, we were concerned that at any moment something would set Richter off, and we would soon find ourselves on the floor, with him above us, panting, slapping us with the back of his hand, cursing and possibly even drooling. This did not, in fact, happen, but after we finished conducting what we thought was a very friendly interview, Richter, convinced we had “pulled one over on him,” insisted on adding his commentary to the transcript. Below is the actual interview, interspersed with Richter’s post-interview commentary and beginning with his thoughts about the endeavor in general.

—Jonathan R. de la Manzana, Jr.

SR. DE LA MANZANA,
YOU SNEAKY SON OF A BITCH. I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DID IT, BUT SOMEHOW WHILE WE WERE HAVING WHAT I THOUGHT WAS A VERY PLEASANT CONVERSATION BETWEEN TWO INTELLIGENT PEOPLE, YOU MANAGED TO MAKE ME INTO THE BIGGEST ASSHOLE ON EARTH. WAS I HYPNOTIZED? HOW COULD I NOT HAVE CAUGHT ON TO WHAT YOU WERE DOING TO ME? YOU ASKED FOR MY NOTES ON THE TRANSCRIPT, SO HERE THEY ARE, YOU OILY, SABOTAGING SCUMBAG.

THE BELIEVER: A strong argument could be made that Andy Richter Controls the Universe was not really meant for survival on prime time, and seemed from the start like a stranger and smarter show, one that you’d be more likely to find on cable. But still, the show was given a shot on basic TV, and it didn’t succeed in that marketplace. Can we talk about scale? What if I said that you really have to choose a scale for a mass-media sort of form like TV or film, while you’re conceiving it. It would seem that your show was perfect, but not for FOX. Whereas, if you all had put the show on HBO, it would still be on the air. So what about scale? I mean, is there a scale?

SCALE? WHO FUCKING CARES ABOUT SCALE? WHY DIDN’T I SEE IT AT THE TIME? YOU KNOW, WHAT YOU WERE REALLY ASKING? “WHAT’S IT LIKE TO GET TOO BIG FOR YOUR BRITCHES AND FALL FLAT ON YOUR MOON-FACED FACE?” YOU MIGHT AS WELL HAVE ASKED IT, BECAUSE THAT’S THE QUESTION I ANSWERED FOR EIGHT GODDAMNED PAGES!

ANDY RICHTER: There is, a little bit, but it’s more a question of, “Are you Friends?” I mean, you can be Friends or you can be a show on Comedy Central. Like, my wife was in the show Strangers with Candy. She played the gym coach. And I mean, that’s a difference of scale. They could have taken Strangers with Candy to every big network out here, and been turned down by everybody. But they actually got it on the air.

BLVR: It’s a very strange show.

AR: It’s absolutely a strange show. Still, they had to compromise; they had to do things that they probably didn’t want to do. They had to take notes from people. That’s just the way it is, because it’s just such an unwieldy and expensive proposition to put something on film, and it takes a lot of people. You know, people to hang up lights, and people to hang up signs with arrows on them to show everyone where to drive, where to park for the shoot. So, you know, there’s just way more people involved than in, I would venture to say, almost every other kind of artistic pursuit. It’s almost necessarily collaborative, unless you’re Vincent Gallo, and then I guess you can do it all yourself.

JESUS CHRIST, YOU ARE GOOD. SOMEHOW YOU GOT ME TO MAKE A BROWN BUNNY JOKE. DO YOU KNOW HOW DEADLY THAT SORT OF THING COULD BE TO ME? THE PEOPLE I’M TRYING TO REACH HAVE NO REASON TO CONNECT ME TO VINCENT GALLO, WILL NEVER SEE HIS WORK, AND, IN FACT, HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO VINCENT GALLO IS. BUT THE MERE FACT THAT I HAVE REFERENCED HIM WILL SUBCONCIOUSLY MAKE THEM NOT WANT TO BUY WHATEVER IT IS I’M SELLING. THEY CAN SMELL IT ON YOU.

AR: And the more people you get involved, the more compromise there is. You either have to resign yourself to that or not. In terms of me, and what sort of scale I’m interested in, that’s more of a question for me and my therapist to talk about.

BLVR: What is your therapist’s name, by the way? It would be good, for the interview, to talk to him or her.

AR: I just want to do good work, and I feel like, well, I plan to be alive for another forty years or so, so I feel like I’ve got time to figure out what my big raison d’être is. But for now, I’d just like to keep working in things that don’t embarrass me. But it’s getting harder to do that. I was in a sort of uniquely luxurious position for a while, where I always had something going. I left the Conan show, I had movies that I was working on, and then a development deal for TV. And then the show—two seasons—which kind of got spread out because of delays, and me and my wife having a kid. But you know, I’ve always had something, my base thing, my day job, and now I don’t really have that. I’m waiting to hear on this other pilot.

BLVR: You’re waiting for word about a pilot. It’s a different show?

AR: Yeah, it’s a different show. When I found out in January that it was pretty evident that my show was going to get canceled, I went, “OK, I need to get a job, I need to have something to do,” so I took a job just acting as a hired gun in this pilot for CBS. It’s a good show, it’s a different show, it’s very domestic. The point of it is sort of like “Boy, having kids—it’s tough, but rewarding.”

BLVR: Are you the father?

AR: I’m a father. I play the main character’s best friend, and I’m a dot-com casualty stay-at-home dad. The one thing I did—I have a baby in the show, and I’m constantly leaving the baby places, like the baby’s an umbrella. And I actually did like that, that little glowing ember is enough to keep me warm through the process. And it didn’t get on the fall schedule… Universal is the studio, but it’s for CBS. Right now we’re waiting to hear. This is what being an L.A. actor is about, sitting and waiting with your back on the wall at the dance, waiting for someone to come up and say, “Would you like to?” It’s awful, it’s absolutely awful. It’s so passive and so humiliating, and so unsettling. Fundamentally unsettling, where you’re like, “What do I mean in this world?” I came out to Los Angeles to work on a television show that was supposedly “my” show. You know, “my” show in the way that Shamu has a show at Sea World. But now that I don’t have that, I have moments of an intense feeling of “What am I doing here? Why am I in this place? Why am I stuck in traffic?”

“BOO HOO. POOR ME.” I HATE YOU.

AR: One of the big tensions in my life is that I have known the stresses of financial hardship since I was a little kid, and it’s like I said before, it is the cancer for which I am seeking a cure. So it almost has too much power in my life, the notion of getting a big pile of money and then escaping, buying a house in Key West and never being heard from again. But it creates a tension, because it’s also important to me to do good work, to not be embarrassed. But having a child, your embarrassment level really drops…. Initially when I took the deal for this show, it was, “Well, if it goes away, that means I have freedom to start up some other thing of my own, and if it stays, it’s financial security for me and my family.”

I GUESS I DID IT TO MYSELF. YOU JUST FLOATED THE HAND THAT FEEDS ME IN FRONT OF MY FACE. I’M THE ONE WHO DID THE BITING.

BLVR: Those are fairly pragmatic, bread-and-butter concerns. Do you ever catch hell from your comedy purist friends?

AR: I used to, years ago.

BLVR: I think the question on everyone’s mind—at least the minds of creepy people—is what, if anything, is being done to keep it real?

AR: Yeah, I don’t get it so much any more, but that’s because I don’t leave the house much. That keeps you buffered. But, like I said, I’ve been dealing with it since I went to do this stage show called The Real Live Brady Bunch, back in 1991. It started in Chicago for two years, and then it went to New York. I left Chicago to go make $600 a week and see New York City, because I had never been there. And I had to come home to friends who were like, “Why are you doing that?” As opposed to what? Staying in Chicago, and doing improv shows to thirty drunks, making “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” jokes? I feel that the very weighty “What’s your message? Why do you bother creating?” sorts of issues are as personal as your bathroom habits, or the reasons that you love your spouse. It’s nobody’s business what I have to say or whether or not I’m fulfilling my complete artistic—whether I’m firing on every piston, working at full capacity. That’s nobody’s business.

So what I think is out for public use is the fact that these are our jobs. Which was a huge step to say that you could call this your job, and not feel like some sort of Little Lord Fauntleroy, who is doing something incredibly self-aggrandizing and immodest, and kind of nelly at the same time, almost effeminately self-aware, like, “Get a load of me, everybody.” It’s work, and I feel like I didn’t make up the whole system that says you gotta work, that there are bills to pay, that you have to do something. So here I have a table, with food on it, and I gotta eat, so why give me a hard time about it? And that kind of thing worries me in the sense that in my line of work, and most anybody’s line of work, people’s perception of you inhibits or promotes the longevity of your working. If I do a bunch of shitty crap, you know, go to Vancouver and make a bunch of movies about the world’s drunkest hockey player, odds are people are going to go, “Oh man, that guy’s got the stink of death about him, I don’t want it.”

I was offered the lead in a National Lampoon made-for-TV movie, and no offense to anybody, but just the name National Lampoon—it’s not really something to get aligned with. Someone said to me, “That’s what you do on the way down.” And I’m not on the way down yet. A few more pharmaceuticals and I will be, maybe. But then again, they’re also talking to me about playing a part in the new Olsen twins movie.

BLVR: They are very good role models.

AR: Yeah. And there’s a part of me—well, my manager’s said, “You don’t want to do the Olsen twins movie”—I was like, there’s something kind of funny to me about it; I kind of do want to do the Olsen twins movie.

BOY, I BET YOU WERE REALLY DROOLING OVER THAT LAST ONE. WELL, I HAVE NEWS FOR YOU, MISTER—WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE WORKING FOR THOSE GIRLS SOONER OR LATER. I’M JUST AHEAD OF THE CURVE. THE NICE THING ABOUT BEING A BETA MALE IS THAT THEY LET YOU LIVE. WELL, THAT AND THE SNACKS.

BLVR: I see Chris Elliott in some odd places. But in a good way.

AR: The last time I saw him, we were both in Scary Movie 2 together, and we only worked together one day, and I just hung out in his trailer with him smoking cigarettes and he said to me, “I just want to make money.” And he didn’t seem like a beaten man, he seemed like he’d come to peace with “Hey, come on.” I once said to the producer of the Conan show, “If I won the lottery, you might not see me again.” He went “Ha, ha, ha,” but I said, “Yeah, I think so.” I mean, I’d get bored after a while, I suppose. I dunno, I’d write a point-of-purchase book or something. I could see it, I could see it. You know, things like making a really nice dinner, I get as much satisfaction out of that as making people laugh in a comedy show.

BLVR: Andy Richter Controls the Universe had a lot of words in it that you just don’t hear on regular TV. The word Hitler, for example. I don’t know that anyone has used the word Hitler on a sitcom, or anything like it. That’s what was shocking to me. And I was thinking that it was so revolutionary, and maybe a sign of our ever-declining standards and decency, but then again, there was All in the Family, way back when, and that show was unbelievable. There was nothing off-limits.

AR: Oh my god, when you watch that show now, it’s like every five seconds there’s something that you just can’t believe, because you’ve been so conditioned with the niceness of television, and the uncontroversial nature, the pussified level of discourse on television, so that Archie Bunker is mind-blowing when you see it now.

NOW YOU’VE GOT ME INSULTING AN ENTIRE MEDIUM. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH MONTESSORI PRE-SCHOOLS COST? DO YOU JUST NOT CARE?

AR: I remember when The Simpsons really started to get merchandised. At the time I was living in Chicago, and a friend of mine lived in an apartment, she lived in a high-rise—and I remember looking down—it’s at the bottom corner of the park there, and there was a guy that had a bunch of knock-off unlicensed merchandise; it was all BartMan, all this Bart Simpson stuff. And I remember thinking, here’s where all the over-merchandising of this stuff is like, “Yes, there should be BartMan dolls.” When there’s something good, it should spread, like mayonnaise.

WHY HAVE YOU GOT ME SUCKING THE SIMPSONS’ DICK? IS IT BECAUSE YOU KNOW THERE’S NO MONEY IN VOICE-OVERS?

BLVR: People never got upset that The Simpsons got so popular.

AR: Well there is the “worst episode ever” crowd, you know, that element to it that they capture so nicely. And there are people who will say, “It’s not any good any more.” Yeah, but it’s still ten times better than anything else. Even on its worst, most phony day, it still makes fun of religion in a way that’s shocking, for instance.

BLVR: It could only be done with a cartoon.

AR: Absolutely. The stuff that they do, Flanders’s wife going to a retreat to learn how to judge people more; people should be picketing somewhere, because that’s so fantastically perfect. I always feel, like when there was that art stuff in Brooklyn that Giuliani was all against, and there was the Madonna made of elephant dung—my feeling about that was always, “You know what, I think that the Virgin Mary can take care of herself.” Like a little elephant-dung portrait is really going to hurt her.

BLVR: It was the least offensive thing you’ve ever seen in your life. And of course the people protesting it, including Giuliani, had never seen it.

AR: Right, of course not. But that’s always the thing. I feel like the elephant dung, that’s nothing. But having Flanders’s wife—I can’t remember her name—going to a seminar to learn how to judge people, I feel like, now that they should worry about, because that might work. That kind of talk might put an end to Christianity. That’s the sort of thing they should worry about.

“… AN END TO CHRISTIANITY”? ALWAYS A CROWD PLEASER. I WANT TO KILL YOU.

BLVR: The Simpsons has created a world where it seems that anything that happens inside it is funny. The Onion’s the same way—they can write about a guy eating at the salad bar, and it’s funny, because of the context. Your show had this kind of context purity, and in some ways Late Night with Conan O’Brien has its own kind of purity.

AR: Well, I don’t know, my ability to notice that kind of thing, the sanctity of the bubble that you create, has not been so good in a way, in that I notice it concurrently with actually doing the thing. I always notice it in retrospect. Like when I left the Conan show, that’s when I think I realized what a special environment it was. Because when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t see the forest, you see the trees. It’s weird to me to hear you refer to my show as uncorrupted, because it’s a network television show, and that’s such a relative term. Because there were parts of the show… I feel responsible enough for the identity of the show to not be embarrassed accepting compliments about the identity of the show. I mean, I feel like, of all the colors on that palette, I am a large part. Not the largest or anything, but there’s a lot of me, of me hanging out in the writers’ room, and saying, “Eh, I don’t know, go this way,” or “How about this?” There’s enough that I don’t feel weird that my name was in the title of the show. I feel totally proud and really good. I’m not saying it was all me, because the “created by” wasn’t me, it was Victor Fresco, this guy that…

BLVR: Is that a real person?

AR: Yeah, absolutely.

BLVR: It sounds like a fake name.

AR: No, he’s a real person.

BLVR: I was expecting a wax mustache.

AR: No, he’s Sephardic. He’s one of those spicy Jews. But he’s a great guy. When I got a development deal, they had me meet with… suitors, basically. It was like trying to set up an arranged marriage, and I met at plenty of hotel bars with different people who had different ideas of varying levels of lameness and goodness. And you know, really funny ideas that just felt like, “Well, after episode two, where do you go?” There’s all kinds of different reasons to say no to people, and then Victor Fresco had the idea of basically just a story, stories told by a narrator, and it was a very subjective narrative, completely dependent on that person, and you couldn’t completely trust him to tell the truth. And that he could back up, start the story again, he could trick the audience…

BLVR: Which one was the episode where the credits rolled after a few minutes?

AR: I don’t even remember which one, they all become one big jumble. Looking back on it, I can see the specialness of it, but at the time, I had never done that before, I had never made a network prime-time sitcom show before, so at the time I was just like, “This is how you do it, this is what you do.” I think it was special in that sense for me, and what I will take credit for is that I am so naïve about the way that things are supposed to run—what meeting I was supposed to be in on, or not supposed to be in on, or what is or just isn’t done—I didn’t know any of that. Because there’s a really huge division in comedies between the writers and the performers, which is something that I’m completely not used to, because they’re one and the same in the world that I come from. If you watch the Conan show, odds are that if you see someone doing a bit, it’s one of the writers, and it’s probably the guy that wrote it. And that’s so foreign to the sitcom world. And there’s so much distance between them, and it’s a fostered difference, it’s one that they sort of protect.

I used to tease the writers on my show about how it truly is the revenge of the nerds, because it’s the quiet weirdos putting words in the mouths of the popular kids. Then not only are they going to put the words in, they’re going to walk up to them in the middle of rehearsal and tell them how to say the words. And a lot of the writers, a lot of these guys have been in the system, and it affects the way they think…. Everybody said, “Wow, this is a lot different, this is a lot better than most places, this is just a lot more comfortable, a lot more, you know, there aren’t so many boundaries between different types of people, there isn’t this caste system.” But I would still sometimes hear them talking about actors in a very judgmental kind of way.

BLVR: Your work on Conan was pretty essential to the show’s tone. It was strange, because in contrast to how these things usually are, Conan became the straight man to you, who had or created the best lines. Do people get confused about who writes the material on a show like that?

AR: It’s funny, because people do get it wrong in completely different ways. They’ll think that Conan and I made every bit of that shit up, just the two of us, or else they’ll think that when he sits down and goes, “How are you?” and I say, “Well, on the subway today…” and then I tell a story about what happened, they think that somebody else sat down and wrote that.

BLVR: It just proves that people are fucking stupid.

AR: Right on, man. I think you’ve got your headline.

WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST GET ME TO SAY, “VIVE LA FRANCE!” FOR FUCK’S SAKE?

BLVR: Is there anything on TV you like?

JESUS, ONE OF THE OLDEST TRICKS IN THE BOOK OF CRAPPY JOURNALISM—GET ’EM TO DO A “WHAT’S HOT AND WHAT’S NOT” LIST, THAT’S A FUN LITTLE PEEK INTO WHAT THEY’RE LIKE AS PEOPLE! BULLSHIT. THOSE FUCKING THINGS ARE ALWAYS A TEST THE TAKER IS GUARANTEED TO FAIL. UNLESS, OF COURSE, YOU SAY SOMETHING LIKE, “OH THAT SILENT, SEPIA-TONED, TRIO DOCUMENTARY ON MARTIN AMIS’S LEFT NUT WAS DELICIOUSLY UNWATCHABLE.” I CAN’T BELIEVE I FELL FOR THIS SHIT.

AR: For me, the things that are on my TiVo.

BUT FALL FOR IT I DID. TIVO! WHAT WAS I THINKING? I MIGHT AS WELL HAVE STARTED TELLING YOU ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE MY PRIUS.

BLVR: Do you have a TiVo?

AR: Yes, it’s fantastic.

BLVR: I’ve seen one once.

AR: It’s fantastic. If anything, your TV viewing is shortened into its hardest, crystalline, purest form. There’s no fat anymore. There’s no channel surfing. I never just sit down and see what’s on TV anymore. And also, I hate almost everything, so that keeps you reading magazines and doing crossword puzzles or whatever. You know, there’s not a lot of comedies that I like. I like that show The Office. It’s pretty funny. It’s on BBC America. It’s the perfect example of something that’s all about setting an amazingly naturalistic tone with really well-observed, completely realistic foibles of vain, insipid people, and petty politics. And it’s a perfect example of something that will be totally fucking ruined, that will be totally ruined, totally fucking ruined, by the time it comes here.

BLVR: It’s coming here.

AR: Yeah, and it’s going to be ruined, it’s going to just become like Designing Women or something. They’re just going to ruin it. That’s the thing I don’t understand about television executives. They’re gonna get fired anyway, they all get fired, but they’re all so scared about losing their jobs. I know so many of them, just from my personal experience, which is fairly limited in a relative sense, who just keep failing upward. So why are they scared? Even the biggest fuck-up, do-nothing idiots end up rich.

GREAT. I GUESS I COULD TELL MYSELF THAT NONE OF THEM WILL EVER PICK UP THIS ARTSY-FARTSY FAGAZINE. BUT AT LEAST ONE OF THEM WILL. AND I GUESS I COULD TELL MYSELF THAT THAT ONE WILL THINK I’M TALKING ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE. BUT HE’LL KNOW. AND HE’S THE ONE WHO’S GOING TO SIT ACROSS A DESK FROM ME AND SAY NO WITH A BIG SMILE ON HIS FACE.

BLVR: Maybe they think they’re the ones who think they’ll be there for more than a year. I don’t know, it’s bizarre, the repetition of successful formulas. If there was a hit show about a transvestite pornographer, there would be five more the next year.

AR: Yeah, just because one movie with a submarine works, it doesn’t mean that people are crazy about submarines and that’s all they ever wanted. Something that I always try to remain aware of is the fact that it’s really, really hard to do good stuff, to do good work. And it has to be rare. And it does kind of kill me too when people—I would occasionally look at the Internet discussion group when I was on the Conan show, or doing my show—and there’s this thing, “How come there’s nothing good on television?” And the answer is, it’s because you’re on the planet Earth. And it’s because history is linear. What do you mean, there’s nothing good on television? It’s always been that way, and it always will be that way. It’s like, how come when I get on the bus and there’s a hundred people, there’s only two who I feel like talking to? Because. It’s because goodness is rare. Have you ever been to Lincoln, Nebraska? You know, whatever you and your irrelevant little pimple of friends want is so pointless considering the huge beast which the tiny pimple is on.

BLVR: It’s also the people who want Ralph Nader to be the president. He’s not going to be president, because he doesn’t represent enough of the country, which is necessarily made up of many types of people, not all of them progressive. But that goes back to scale. What’s the ideal scale? What’s an ideal project?

AR: I have about five answers to that, and they all coexist in opposition to each other. On one hand, I want as many people as fucking possible to see and adore everything I do. And then there’s the other part of me that thinks, well that’s not really going to happen. Do you really want that? And also, I live on kind of a busy street, and there are times when I’m putting the trash out, and I see somebody in a car—because sometimes the red light will back up to our house—look and obviously recognize me, and I think, “Great, there’s somebody who knows exactly where I live.” A larger scale would just make that sort of thing even worse. Those are the little kinds of things, ancillary concerns that you’d have never thought of in a million years, yet all of a sudden here they are. But for me, an ideal one would have been the show that I had, the show that I had on FOX. The idea of being on FOX, in theory, before I got on there, was perfect to me. No joke, really. Being on a network that has The Simpsons and When Animals Attack and 90210, I felt like, all right, I can fit in there somehow. And it seems to not make sense, but to me it makes sense. And I couldn’t explain to you these disparate things, what it is exactly that they share, but there is something, and it made total sense for me to be on the network, more so than… like, my show being on the same network as Diagnosis Murder? Although that’s a bad example.

One thing that really does irritate me is that I’ve seen articles since the show was canceled that say, “It just didn’t find an audience,” which is just such a lot of bullshit. And I know that’s the way this town, the fucking retarded morons in this town and the way that some kind of bullshit line becomes the status quo, and it just gets this sticky kind of momentum where it’s just, “Well, it just couldn’t find an audience,” and that’s bullshit. You know, if you hire someone to bake pies and you’re going to sell those pies, don’t go and put them in the middle of an auto-parts store and not tell anyone about it. There was no advertising for our show, and it’s become, “Wow, I don’t know why those pies aren’t selling. I put them between the windshield-wiper fluid and the oil filters. There just didn’t seem to really be a lot of pie business. Whoops, that’s too bad. I guess the pies suck.”

BLVR: What night was it on?

AR: It was on Sunday nights; it was The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Malcolm in the Middle, and then us. They said, “It’s not a family show, our shows have to have families in them,” which, until they said that to me, I wasn’t even aware of. “Oh, yeah, I guess most of their comedies do involve families.” And it’s just one of those stupid things they say, because I have a wife and child, and I guess that would constitute a family, and sometimes I watch shows where the people aren’t related. And I don’t get nervous, get the sweats, and have to run out of the room. I mean, I can handle it.

BLVR: There was that one executive who personally fired Norm MacDonald from “Weekend Update” because he didn’t think he was funny.

AR: Oh yeah, that guy, Don Ohlmeyer, he was a big scotch-drinking carnivore. Conan went to dinner with him once, and they went to a Mexican restaurant, and he ordered a big drink and nachos, and he said, “I want extra cheese on it. Put a lot of cheese on those nachos.” And Conan said that the waitperson started to leave, and [Ohlmeyer] grabbed the person’s arm, and said, “I want you to know that you cannot put too much cheese on those nachos.” You know, I bet you could put too much cheese… I bet that even for him, you could put too much cheese on those nachos.

BLVR: So did you answer that one question? Your ideal scale?

WHAT IS IT WITH YOU AND THIS “SCALE” BULLSHIT?

AR: Yeah, like I said, I think my show was sort of that.

BLVR: But what if—

AR: If that didn’t work in a real-world application? Then I honestly don’t know, it’s taken a while for me to be in the system. When I got out here, I realized, like after the first table reading, somebody came up to me—I don’t know if it was a network person or a studio person—after the first table read and said, “Wow you can really act,” which is like, “Yeah, that’s what you’re paying me all that money for. Wouldn’t you check that out first?” But they don’t. And I have to tell myself this is a town full of singers who can’t sing and musicians who can’t play, writers who can’t write and comedians who aren’t funny. OK, whatever.

It took a long time for me to be not treated as some sort of swimsuit model. And actually, a lot of the times when I would say, “I have an idea about this particular artistic problem,” I’d kind of be treated in a way of, “Oh, isn’t that cute. You have something to say.” And within the realm of people who actually worked day to day with me, that quickly dissipated. But it took some convincing on my part that I wasn’t just some fucking glad-handing egotistical asshole who just wanted to look good and get all the funny lines and upstage everybody in the show. And the next thing, because I did this show, now I have… I went into the whole process with FOX to pitch my own show, to run my own show. I was a bit naïve, because I didn’t know what it took to do that. And I had ideas that I would pitch to them, but they would be received with a pat on the head, like, “OK, why don’t you run along and write those up, and here’s a lolly.”

But now, I think, in this next go around, with the show being nominated for an Emmy for writing, even though it was Victor Fresco who was nominated. The show’s been posthumously nominated for a television critics’ award for best comedy. Those kind of things give me a little more, two ounces more, gravitas so that I can go in and say that I have an idea on what this should be and how it should run, and I don’t know where that thing will land, because it’s sort of irrelevant for me to speculate in those kinds of terms. It’s more important for me to think about what the thing is, how I want it to be and how I want it to seem.

WHAT THE FUCK AM I TALKING ABOUT? I SHOULD NEVER HAVE LET YOU BUY ME THREE DRINKS, YOU DICK.

AR: And the thing that’s more important for me to focus on is the balancing of the tension between satisfying myself and satisfying an audience, and making something that I think is good and funny, worthwhile, small-“i” important, versus something that’s going to do well. That’s the other thing about going through television production, and producing these shows. After you do one and it gets canceled, you don’t choose the biggest rock you can find to push uphill, you find a nice manageable one, because it’s just heartbreaking to finally get it up the hill and then have somebody come flick it back down.

So it’s not like I’m saying that I’m going to make some corny piece of shit, but I definitely will have my eye on it working, on it succeeding. And I actually find something rewarding about that tension between satisfying myself and satisfying others. Because first of all, I can’t provide my own structure, and that tension provides a structure for me to actually work within.

OK, tell me what you want, and then I’ll put in what I want… after I’m done with my codependent providing for you, I’ll get a little for me too.

I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY.
CALL ME. I HAVE SOME IDEAS FOR THE PHOTO SHOOT.

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SEPTEMBER 2003
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