Andy Richter, the genial sidekick for Conan O’Brien, has been filling the armchair on his friend's late night talk shows on and off since 1993. The 45-year-old Michigan native first got the gig when a producer noticed a strong rapport between the two.
Richter spoke to FOX411.com about his career with O'Brien, inspecting the backs of celebrities' heads, and whether or not he’s on speaking terms with Jay Leno.
FOX411: How does it feel being the modern day Ed McMahon?
Andy Richter: It’s fun; it’s actually a pretty great job. When I was younger and did this, I resisted that notion because [McMahon] had a kind of avuncular sort of ineffectualness, and when I was younger I thought, ‘I’m not ineffectual!’ Now I realize ultimately we’re all ineffectual, and I might as well embrace it.
"I have no regrets for anything I’ve done in my professional life. In my personal life, plenty"
- Andy Richter
FOX411: Ever feel like you can’t criticize Conan?
AR: Oh no, I can think he sucks, and I even tell him sometimes. We’re friends first and foremost. It’s his name on the show, I’m not delusional. I understand that my role is a supporting role, but it would be a kind of disrespectful not to have a fully blown adult relationship with him, and I think the reason I work with him is because he doesn’t want me to go along to get along. He wants me to be a partner in the process; he’s a believer in some checks and balances. When he asks me, ‘Do you think that’s funny?’ he means it. He doesn’t want to hear, ‘Sure is boss!’ and it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to work together so long
FOX411: Is it hard to keep your cool when a really, truly big guest comes on the show?
AR: I don’t say anything. I might say, ‘Hello I’m Andy,’ but I don’t say, ‘I’m a really big fan,’ because I feel like, who am I telling that for? For me or them? I’m not going to say to David Bowie, ‘Ziggy Stardust is a really good album,’ because it’s like, no s**t, really?
FOX411: Who has been the biggest disappointment, guest-wise?
AR: Honestly? Well first of all, why am I going to shoot myself in the foot? Don’t flatter yourself. Second of all, my experience with the people is so minimal and fleeting. I shake their hand and say hello and then I look at the back of their head for six or seven minutes. For me, it’s just another back of a head and I’m looking for plastic surgery scars around the ears.
FOX411: Why did you leave Conan the first time?
AR: I was antsy. I felt like I had been dealt a really big wonderful bucket of luck and I wanted to see how far I could push it on my own. I was the star of three different network shows of varying quality. I’m proud of all of them. I have no regrets for anything I’ve done in my professional life. In my personal life, plenty.
FOX411: After everything that happened with ‘The Tonight Show,’ do you hate NBC?
AR: My grandma used to say, ‘Jesus says you shouldn’t hate.’ Honestly, hate sounds like too much energy, like giving them too much. Maybe more disgruntled and having your worst attitude about corporate buffoonery completely validated. Basically, the worst you can expect from them, they came through, just in terms of mismanagement. That’s from my perspective. There’s still some people who say, ‘Oh you should have let Jay go on at 11.30 and done ‘The Tonight Show’ at 12.’ They’re plain wrong but there are people that have that opinion.
We were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of their f**kups. They didn’t clean house because of Jay Leno. They cleaned house because of the disease of which the Leno/O’Brien debacle was just a symptom.
FOX411: So if Jay Leno is walking towards you on the street, do you cross to the other side?
AR: No, I say, ‘Hey Jay,’ but I keep going.
FOX411: Would it be uncomfortable?
AR: Oh absolutely. I know you’re asking me about this because it’s part of my history in entertainment. If you’re talking to me about the things that are on the front page of the newspaper of my life, it would be like, we have a new puppy, my daughter’s being very resistant at school to finishing whatever little homework she has, and my son keeps clearing his browser history. These are things that really matter, the other stuff is just nonsense.
FOX411: So is your son looking at porn?
AR: Could be. He’s 11. Listen there’s an Internet now. When I was his age, my brother was going through dumpsters looking for porn that had potato peelings and coffee stuck to it, which is far more unappealing in my mind. We do have parental control, so there’s not that much that he can be looking at.
FOX411: You’re also the voice of Mort the mouse lemur in the ‘Madagascar’ movies.
AR: There’s also a T.V. show, so I’ve been doing this ridiculous little voice for many years now. He’s an adorable little creature who basically gets treated like a soccer ball. I feel like at some point they’ll be able to continue making cartoons through eternity because they have a catalog of me screaming and saying, ‘Ouch!’ because that’s basically all the character does.