Actor and comedian David Koechner is bringing his talents to Raleigh this weekend, where he will perform three nights of stand-up at Goodnights Comedy Club.
Best known for his roles in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and "The Office," Koechner said he will always love performing live and is excited for this show. In an interview with the Technician, he discussed everything from his comedy roots to upcoming projects.
The interview has been edited for length.
The Technician: Growing up, who were some of the most influential comedians in your life and what about them stuck out to you?
David Koechner: When I was growing up, my earliest comic memories would be Abbott and Costello, watching Saturday afternoons with my Dad. That and Marx Brothers. Then around 13 is when for me it got a little more serious because that’s when "Saturday Night Live" started in 1975, and I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind.
Around the same time, after SNL, I would watch whatever late-night movie was on. And one night "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" came on. That really blew my mind. That's when I thought, “Wow, comedy can be smart and funny and illuminating.” So those were my real early influences. It wasn’t a single comic, it was all these groups of comics.
T: I know you studied political science prior to improvisational comedy. Was there a particular moment or experience that made you want to pursue comedy?
DK: Yes, about the third year I was doing the administrative classes in my poli sci degree and they're very dry and boring and I realized that’s what your life’s going to be. I also realized around that point, 'oh, you have to have super ambition in politics and you have to be the smartest person in any room you walk into, and I wasn’t that person.' I said this is not what I want to do. I quit going to my classes.
It was kind of a chess life move that I didn’t fully consciously make. And then I visited a friend in Chicago and went to The Second City, and I saw that they taught classes. Cause I knew all these people at SNL had gone to Second City. A light bulb went off, and I thought, “That’s how you do this.” So I saved my money for a year and then moved to Chicago, started taking classes at the iO Theater and Second City simultaneously. Those were the first steps to the entire journey.
T: Were your parents supportive when you first decided to switch?
DK: Well they didn’t quite understand. They didn’t quite wrap their heads around “What do you mean you’re going to be an actor?” because we had never met one. I come from a small town with 2,000 people and didn’t know anyone in the arts.
And I knew they had to have a timeline. They're like, “This isn’t a way a person makes a living.” But I knew it was going to work. So I knew they had to have a number, so I said I'll do it for 10 years. And if it doesn’t work after 10 years, I'll do something else.
T: With SNL having just celebrated its 40th anniversary, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in comedy just since the time you started?
DK: Culturally, I'd say the single biggest change has been YouTube. And what people don’t necessarily realize is that some of these YouTube stars, in my opinion, that I guess they’re considered comics or something. That’s just based on the number of hits; the hits are coming from 12-year-olds.
The biggest change is the availability for access to an audience—access from anywhere to become a known quantity, a viable quantity from the Internet. Typically, stand-ups don’t put it on there. They work the room, because you can’t tell if it’s working on the Internet, joke to joke. You can see the hits, and that’s different. Like this is incredibly popular, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good. Whereas if you’re in a club, you have to prove it with laughs.
T: Being an SNL veteran, what was the experience like to participate in the 40th anniversary celebration?
DK: It was a blast. I have a lot of friends still on the show and working on the show and friends who came back to the show. It's really the coolest high school reunion in the world.
T: When you’re doing standup is there any particular subject matter that you like to deal with, be it politics or social issues?
DK: I don’t do politics or social issues because you’re going to get, especially now, divisive. I'm an entertainer. I feel my job is to find the most universal way of doing that from my perspective. Obviously, I've got a life experience of a wife and five kids. That’s certainly reflected in my show. I've always done characters, so that’s reflected in my show.
Also Andy Paley and I have written a number of songs together over the years and our latest great collaboration — and we’re both over 50 — is "The Dirtiest Song Ever Written," which only goes to show that men get more immature as they age. We close with that number. This particular tour, Andy comes out the last 15 minutes of the show and plays guitar and I sing three songs.
T: Do you have a preference of either standup, or television/film?
DK: I like all of them. Each one of them provides a different kind of experience that I find to be joyful. Obviously, live is immediate — that’s so much fun. And it’s a communal experience. Film is a communal experience later, much later, television a month later. Each one has a delayed reaction so you have to enjoy it while it’s happening, but in standup you get to do the experience and the reaction at the same time. I will always do live, always have, always will.
T: Aside from characters like Champ Kind and Todd Packer, are there any other characters you’ve played who have really stuck with you?
DK: Yeah. There's a movie I did called "Cheap Thrills" - so good. It was a great experience. We shot it in 14 days. It was an amazing cast. We could even tour that thing as a play. It was so good and one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. The other film role that was such a treat was playing ‘Nathan the annoying neighbor" in Mike Judge's "Extract." I would do that every day.
T: "Cheap Thrills" is a black comedy. What’s it like venturing into other genres?
DK: I don’t describe it as a black comedy. First, because there’s fewer laughs. Really at its core, it’s a twisted thriller and then you end up laughing because you’re so uncomfortable you have to have an expression of that discomfort. There's a number of people who've come up to me and said 'you should be in a drama.' And it’s a joy to hear, because I agree with it.
T: When did you first hear about "Anchorman 2?"
DK: First we were going to make it in 2010, I think, and do a staged musical version of the first and part of the second film on Broadway and then we were going to go into shooting that fall. That would have been so much fun. I think some producers thought they were crazy. I knew a couple weeks before they announced it on Conan. I wish that was a television show, I really do.
T: You have five kids. Do you see any of them following in your footsteps?
DK: My youngest shows the strongest proclivity for it. She’s a clown. Oh my god, she’s so funny. She's got great facial expressions. She makes everybody in the family laugh. She can demand the spotlight when she wants it, so she might be the one. Each one of them has a great sense of humor.
T: When you’re approached about a new TV show or movie, what things do you look for in a script?
DK: I've got five kids, [so] basically it’s how much does it pay. Everybody thinks if you’re in Hollywood and you do one project you’re super rich. Nothing could be further from the truth.
T: What advice do you have for aspiring comedians?
DK: Get up and do it. That's it. Stage time, that’s the magic. They will let you know immediately if it’s going to work or not, and that goes for actors or comics. In doing it, you learn something.