The Early Years
Paul Andrew Richter was born October 28, 1966, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but grew up in Yorkville, Illinois. Following a fairly unremarkable childhood in the far western suburbs of Chicago, he joined a significant percentage of Illinois high school graduates and enrolled at the University of Illinois in Urbana, where he took liberal arts classes.
Near the end of his sophomore year at Illinois, Richter talked to an advisor in the College of Communications, saying he thought he was interested in TV or movie production. She advised him to transfer to a different school.
He took that advice, and while he was interested in either UCLA or NYU, due to lack of funds, he wound up at Chicago's Columbia College for two years. After leaving school (still missing a few credits needed for graduation), he worked behind the scenes producing television commercials in Chicago, but wanted something more creative. A friend introduced him to improv, and Richter ended up taking classes with Del Close at Second City, then performing with various improv companies in the Chicago area.
Richter's breakthrough came in the early 1990s with the Annoyance Theater and the play "The Real Live Brady Bunch," in which actual episodes of "The Brady Bunch" were acted out live on stage. It was such a hit that, with Richter in the role of father Mike Brady, the show left Chicago for an 8-month run in New York and a 2-month run in Los Angeles.
The "Late Night" Sidekick Years
While in Los Angeles in early 1993, Richter landed a small but pivotal role in the Chris Elliott film "Cabin Boy," and after filming was complete, took a job as an assistant manager at a movie theater to support himself. But soon, opportunity knocked in the form of "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels, who was putting together a new late night television show for NBC to replace "Late Night with David Letterman," since the star of that show was leaving for another network. Michaels already had the host of the show, in the form of former "SNL" writer Conan O'Brien, but he needed writers who might also be tapped as additional performers for sketches on the show. Since Michaels had good luck in the past with writer-performers who came from the Chicago improv community, Richter seemed like a natural fit. It didn't take much convincing to get him to move to New York and join the "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" team.
While the format of the show was being put together and tinkered with during the summer of 1993, Richter turned out to have a good rapport with O'Brien, plus an affable personality, a quick wit, and an ease in front of the camera. Although no one had planned on a sidekick being part of the format, it seemed like a natural fit, and so when the show premiered on September 13, 1993, Richter was sitting on the couch next to O'Brien's desk.
The critics weren't kind to the show in the early days, and although O'Brien's nervousness and awkwardness drew most of the reviewers' barbs, a few were aimed at Richter. Some critics called his presence pointless, and a few even called him fat. Richter's performances on the show were the best revenge. He'd occasionally come up with the perfect quip during the interviews, but it was during "Late Night's" comedy sketches, both scripted and improvised, where he really shone. His range included "staring contests" with O'Brien, in which he would silently react to all manner of strangeness that occurred behind where Conan was sitting until finally being forced to break concentration; then there were the live remotes he did, including one memorable trip on the Goodyear Blimp in which he opened the door while at cruising altitude. Eventually, most critics improved their opinion of Richter and their opinion of the show as a whole, with some even singling him out as the best thing about "Late Night."
Eventually, Richter grew somewhat dissatisfied with his sidekick role and wanted to try new things. He got a role in the Robert Altman film Dr. T and the Women and took some time off in 1999 to travel to Texas for the filming. Then, wanting to go to Hollywood to try his luck as a full-time actor, Richter left "Late Night" for good on May 26, 2000. (Although there was some discussion of replacing him with a new sidekick, eventually O'Brien decided to go it alone with an empty couch.)
The Acting Years
Once he and wife Sarah Thyre (the two were married in 1994) were firmly entrenched on the West Coast, Richter got parts in several movies, including "Scary Movie 2," "Pootie Tang," and "Big Trouble," guest starred on "Just Shoot Me," and signed a sitcom development deal with Fox. The development deal turned into a collaboration with producer Victor Fresco on a workplace comedy set in Chicago in which Richter would play a technical writer who wants to be a novelist and has a rich fantasy life that would play out in live action. Richter came up with an intentionally ludicrous title for the show: "Andy Richter Controls the Universe."
"ARCTU" premiered as a midseason replacement on Fox on Tuesday, March 19, 2002, and racked up fairly respectable ratings. However, it was pulled from the air for May sweeps after six episodes had aired, and looked like it would go down in history as one of countless failed sitcoms until Fox announced that it would return, again as a midseason replacement, at some point during the 2002-03 season.
- andyrichtersucks.com, which I'm pretty sure is tongue in cheek, and various articles linked therefrom.
- Watching almost every episode of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" during Andy Richter's tenure on the show (and beyond)