For Conan O’Brien fans counting down the days till next month’s TBS debut of Conan, Fox tonight offers an appetizer of sorts: Coco right-hand man Andy Richter is guest-starring on an episode of new comedy Running Wilde. Vulture caught up with Richter Monday as he was driving his kids back to L.A. from a weekend outing just north of Santa Barbara. He only had a few minutes to gab, but he did talk to us about the lingering fallout from last winter’s NBC breakup, his take on Jeff Zucker’s departure, and which Arrested Development alum was originally supposed to play the role he’s playing tonight.
So, it hasn’t been officially announced as we speak, but you’re going back to work with Conan at TBS, right?
It’s about as important a national secret as there is. All will be revealed. Like maybe even Tuesday. But at the Warner Bros. lot [where O’Brien’s show is based], there’s a parking spot with my name on it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.
How tough was the whole NBC thing on you and Conan?
It was incredibly traumatic for Conan, and I think he’s still [dealing with it]. I mean, he’s very well-balanced, but that’s all relative. He’s still a talk-show host, and they’re all kind of insane. So yeah, it troubles him. It’s like after you have a traffic altercation and there’s that surge of adrenaline and it takes a few hours to get yourself down: “What did I do to deserve this? Why did that guy flip me off?” It will probably take a few years to get down from [NBC].
But everyone’s started to move on.
Very much so. It feels so nice to be starting from a clean slate and not having to meet someone else’s expectations or live up to past history. It’s a new show. It’s our thing. We’ve always been stepping in on somebody else’s show, and now we’re not. It’s very freeing. It feels like we’re throwing a party and nobody’s parents are going to come in and break it up.
What was your reaction when you heard Comcast had chosen to fire Jeff Zucker?
Whatever the opposite of surprised is.
So how did you end up on Running Wilde?
It was a Tuesday morning around 6:20 a.m. and my daughter had just woken me up. I heard the phone ring; when it’s that early, it’s sort of, “Uh-oh. Is it a dead relative or something?” But I went to see who had called and it was Will Arnett. He then texted me: “Call me as soon as you get up.” So I did, and it turned out there was a part they’d written for Jeffrey Tambor, but he had a family issue and couldn’t make it. I’d do anything for Will, so I said sure. But he said I needed to be there by the next day … [After rescheduling a prior guest commitment to the upcoming TBS comedy Glory Daze,] I was on a 1:30 p.m. flight to New York out of LAX.
So you play Dan Thorngood, the father of young Puddle’s (Stefania Owen) new boyfriend.
Yeah, Puddle’s boyfriend falls in love with her mother Emmy [Keri Russell], and Will comes to see me. It’s convoluted. But basically Will’s character finds a father figure in me and doesn’t realize my character is a closeted homosexual who wants to sleep with him.
Any memorable moments with Will?
I think the showstopper will probably be the scene in which Will washes my vintage Corvette and does it like a Tawny Kitaen video. It then devolves into a soapy wrestling match.
Ah, much like Conan’s first TBS promo!
Sort of. But the parody of the sexy car wash thing isn’t new, so I don’t think anyone will feel ripped off.
Running Wilde has been struggling in the ratings. You’ve been on a couple of critically loved shows with solid fan bases that ended up dying young. Any advice for the Running Wilde camp?
No. When you have a show that you’re really proud of and you poured a lot of energy into it, and for one reason or another it doesn’t succeed, it’s heartbreaking. I know I tried to galvanize myself and guard myself against heartbreak, but there’s nothing you can do … You end up taking it personally and you think, Well, I guess America thinks I suck and that nobody likes you. But then you dust yourself off and realize you have no other marketable skills, and you try again.