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Andy Richter talks 'Conan' as test shows begin: 'We're gonna be a lot happier'

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Andy-RichterImage Credit: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage.com; Art Strieber/TBSConan is coming. Today, Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter shoot the first of four test shows in preparation for their Nov. 8 premiere on TBS. Richter, currently waging an “all-out war” against his sinuses with antibiotics and Prednisone (that’s for his Twitter followers), phoned EW earlier this afternoon for a quick chat and sounded relaxed and ready to return to the late-night ring.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We spoke near the end of the Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour, and you said you and Conan hadn’t begun discussing the TBS show. What can you tell us about it now?
ANDY RICHTER:
It’s a talk show. I’d say that between Late Night and The Tonight Show, on The Tonight Show there was a little less absurdity – humor that was kind of absurd for absurdness sake. We felt we needed to tailor the humor to an earlier hour, which basically means, you’re gonna be the same person, but now grandma’s in the room. [Laughs] That’s sort of what it was. This is probably gonna be like a mix of the two. It’s hard to say: It’s not like we have big planning meetings where we think “This is what the personality of the show is gonna be like.” We have discussions about it, but mostly they’ve been things like, “Let’s give the impression that we don’t give a s—.” [Laughs] “Let’s give the impression that we’re having fun.” Because that’s how we feel. We went through this thing, which certainly in the grand scheme of things was a tempest in a teapot, but it was a stressful thing – to get bumped off of The Tonight Show or take yourself off The Tonight Show, however you want to look at it. It was kind of a s—y thing, so we’re adjusting, and in reaction to that, we’re now feeling like, “You know what, let’s just have some fun. Let’s just do a show now that we’re not replacing anybody. We’re not replacing David Letterman. We’re not replacing Jay Leno. We’re just startin’ up a show from scratch, which we’ve never gotten to do before. There’s no precedent. There’s no shoes to fill. We just get to do what we want.” The way the show has been built hasn’t been through some grand plan about some philosophy that we’re trying to follow. We’re just thinking up bits. “We got a studio. We got a desk. We got a band. What are some funny things we can do in that space?” 

And what are some of those funny things?
I can’t tease anything because we’re doing four test shows, and we don’t know how anything’s workin’ yet. [Laughs] We’re not The Daily Show, we don’t do humor based on the day’s news. It’s more a show of general silliness, based on our lives and personality. So, of course, we’re gonna be dealing with what has happened to a certain extent, because it would feel weird otherwise. It’d be like sittin’ there with a big bandage on your head and not talking about how you got a big bandage on your head.

It’s been nine months since you guys left The Tonight Show. Has time at all changed the way you look at the situation?
It took awhile for me to feel we weren’t missing out on the best-case scenario for us not doing The Tonight Show. I have definitely changed. I think we’re much better off here doing this show than we would be if were doing The Tonight Show. For awhile, I felt like, “Well, we’re gonna go somewhere else, we’re gonna do a show somewhere else, that’s great. But if I had my druthers, I’d still rather we’d have been able to continue on The Tonight Show.” I don’t think in terms of the quality of our lives and the quality of our work, that that would have been the best thing for us in the long run. I think that we’re gonna live a lot longer, we’re gonna be a lot happier, and we’re gonna do a lot better work where we are now. I just think that the atmosphere here is more conducive to good living.

Today is the first test show for Conan. [They’ll shoot the others Oct. 28, Nov. 2, and Nov. 4]. Are there nerves around the office?
I’m sure that right before showtime there’ll be some, but this is nothing new. Everybody here has made a lot of talk shows. It’s a volume business. I can speak for me personally, I’ve been doing this for awhile. I’ll get a little nervous right before, but I’m certainly not gonna waste time right now being nervous. Why ruin my day?

We’ve seen the Conan promo stills that look like he’s fallen into the Gap: Will the two of you be experimenting with business casual on-air?
I doubt it. Out of the studio kind of stuff, we’ll be doing more of that. But I follow Conan’s lead, and I think he still feels like, “You’re doing a TV show. You might as well put on a suit and tie.” There’s still a traditionalist stripe in him that isn’t gonna be coming out in a leather sport coat and a T-shirt anytime soon.

Are you surprised that Jack Nicholson is beating Justin Bieber in the first guest poll? I worry that the Bieber fans are playing it like an eBay auction and will mobilize at the last-minute.
It doesn’t matter to me: Jack Nicholson or Justin Bieber – the check cashes the same either way.

Is there someone among the first-week guests you’re particularly excited to see?
I’m happy with all of them. They’re all big stars, they’re all fun people. It was designed that way. We didn’t want to just go with people who would get a lot of notice, but who are no fun to talk to. It was meant to be fun. Honestly, all of that kind of discussion – there can be so much discussion about what guest should be on, that I get a little bit involved, but I stay mostly out of it. There’s a whole talent department where it’s their whole job to worry about that kind of stuff. At a certain point, it feels like overthinking it to me. I can’t sit there and tell you, “Well, what are the pros and cons of Jon Hamm versus Zach Galifianakis?” Either one. I don’t care.

I’m assuming we’ll see a montage of what you and Conan have done since you’ve been off the air. What are the odds your game of “water tag” with Will Arnett on Running Wilde [which starts around 13:13 in this episode] will end up in it?
It hasn’t been mentioned to me. If you see a montage of what we were doing when we were off, it will probably be complete and utter nonsense that we made up. We’re not particularly interested in the reality of what we did while we were off.

What do you remember about filming that with Will?
[Laughs] There was actually supposedly a hurricane coming into New York at the time, so it was just starting to rain, so we had to do it quick. And then also, we didn’t have the luxury of having lots of attempts to dry off and do wardrobe changes because we were rolling around in the dirt. I think we did two takes and that was it. The car-washing sequence, we just let the camera roll on him washing the car and me reacting.

That reminded those who saw it of Conan’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” promo. I was surprised you weren’t there holding the hose on him. When will you make your promo debut?
I don’t know. The name of the show is Conan. It’s probably more important to get his face out there. Especially with the inevitable backlash of people being oversaturated with his Irish face. And then they’ll start to hate him, and they’ll look at me as the refreshing palette cleanser when they just get tired of watching baseball games with him in them. And then they’ll start to demand a blimp for me, too.

Follow: @EWMandiBierly

More Conan:
Conan announces first week of guests
Conan O’Brien drives off a cliff in car filled with explosives, popcorn
PopWatch’s ongoing coverage of Conan walk-up
Conan O’Brien at Radio City: Stephen Colbert challenges him to a dance-off (to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – someone loves that song!)

Originally posted October 26 2010 — 6:40 PM EDT

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