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Andy Richter: COVID-19 makes for 'interesting' times on 'Conan'

Comedian Andy Richter said filming late-night talk show "Conan" at the Largo theater in Los Angeles amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been a "fun" way to weather a "strange situation." File Photo by Phil McCarten/UPI
Comedian Andy Richter said filming late-night talk show "Conan" at the Largo theater in Los Angeles amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been a "fun" way to weather a "strange situation." File Photo by Phil McCarten/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Comedian Andy Richter is keeping busy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but efforts to slow the spread of the virus have brought some big changes to his podcast and his work on late-night series Conan.

Richter, 53, began his interview podcast, The Three Questions with Andy Richter, in 2019, and he has continued to release episodes amid the coronavirus outbreak, albeit in a more impersonal fashion.

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"I started doing them over Zoom rather than face to face, which is not optimal," Richter told UPI in a recent interview. "It's better to be in the room with a person."

Richter said conducting interviews virtually rather than in person is more challenging for an "almost mechanical reason."

"When you're sitting on your computer, on a Zoom call, and you've been doing it for half an hour or 40 minutes, you've got a desktop there with messages coming in and emails and things that you could -- even while you're talking, or 'listening' -- you can be looking at those things, or looking down to check your phone," he said.

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The host said becoming distracted is far easier in a virtual setting than "when you're looking someone in the eye."

"The connection is just stronger, because you can't be as easily distracted by the stuff around you. And I'm guilty of it, too. When I'm on long Zoom things, I start to stray."

The questions

Richter said he had been hearing from his manager and friends that he should start his own podcast, but he didn't take the plunge until he started to consider the possibilities of an interview show and ask himself "what kind of conversation I would want to have?"

The titular three questions -- "Where do you come from? Where are you going? What have you learned?" -- came from a source that normally would be associated with more private, rather than public, conversations.

"I've been in therapy a long time, and I know that language, and I like that language, and I like people that are willing to talk about who they are and how they got there and why they are the way they are," Richter said.

"And so, I just was trying to think of a way, some kind of format or gimmick, where I could basically trick people into having a little mini therapy session with me."

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Richter said his questions "seem to be the three basic structures of any kind of self-reflection and any kind of introspection: 'Where have I been, and what's happening now and what's the point of it all?'"

He said the format is not a "strict" structure for the podcast, but rather "a thematic jumping-off point for the conversation."

The conversations cover a wide spectrum of subjects and tones.

"Sometimes, with some people, it's just like insider gossip, especially if I know the person," Richter said. "Some are more revelatory than others, some are just kind of funny. And I do want to mix it up. I don't want it to be the same thing all the time."

The comedian said Al Roker, the weather anchor for NBC's Today show, and Scott Thompson, a Canadian comedian and actor who was part of famed comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, were among his favorite interviews because of the men's willingness to open up on a personal level.

Richter said some of his dream guests for the podcast include Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, musician Willie Nelson, actor Michael Caine and radio host Howard Stern, who Richter said fills a niche in his own life that many others fill with podcasts.

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"Howard Stern is like an ongoing podcast that never ends," he said. "So he takes up a lot of space that is probably filled with podcasts for other people."

'Weird' early days

Richter said his most famous role, that of Conan O'Brien's sidekick on late-night TBS talk show Conan, has gone through some major changes this year, especially "in the early days of the pandemic, when everybody was at home and working solo."

"I felt like I had some kind of weird home industry where I would shoot comedy sketches by myself. I would get an email with a comedy sketch, and I might rewrite part of it, and I'd film it myself," Richter said.

"I'd get the props, and I'd do multiple takes, I'd do my own camera and my own lighting, get it shot and then send it off. Then I'd wait two days until the next one came through."

He said those days of the show were, in a word, "weird."

"That felt like I had an eBay business or something. I was just sitting around waiting for orders to come in," he laughed.

Conan moved production in July to the famed Largo theater in Los Angeles.

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"I'm very comfortable in that space, and I'm very comfortable just goofing around with Conan. There's nothing else to distract us, there's just this empty room and this strange situation and his and my relationship. So I'm actually kind of loving it. I think it's really fun," he said.

Richter said he isn't overly concerned with the lack of a live audience in the current iteration of Conan.

"We're each other's audience," Richter said. "I've never been one that lived or died by a live audience. My whole career, I like to make the camera guys laugh, I like to make the stage manager laugh, I like to make my family members -- which is what those guys kind of are -- laugh."

He said there's something especially rewarding about getting laughs from people he knows personally.

"I feel like they're used to me, they know me, so if I can make them laugh, that means it's really funny," he said. "They're probably a little bored with me, so if I can be impactful with them, that actually says something."

'Interesting' times

Richter said the "weird situation" has brought a renewed energy to the show.

"I have noticed over the years our show is best when it gets to be about something other than just itself," he said.

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He compared the current situation to incidents in previous years.

"There was a night back on the old Late Night show where there was a fire in Rockefeller Center, and we went out and did the show by the skating rink outside at night. That was really fun, because it kind of comes alive because it's about something, it's different, it makes you kind of rethink it. And this has kind of been like that," he said.

Richter said that despite how "interesting" the show has been lately, he looks forward to returning to the studio with a live audience and a full crew for the "normal show."

"There's people I haven't seen since March. And I think that when we get back to work, we're going to be really happy to see each other," he said.

"I always think these kind of shows, and our show in particular, are always better when people are happy, and I think we're going to be happy for months just to be back and doing it."

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