David Koechner is Doing Everything


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The name (and especially the voice) of comedian/actor has been a familiar one to audiences for more than 20 years on TV and films. The father of five and husband to one Leigh Koechner, recently took some time away from the grind of travel he’d had over the past year doing monthly stand-up travel and filming movies out of town…including 2 months in New Zealand making the holiday horror-comedy Krampus (with Adam Scott and Allison Tolman).

Taking a break from travel was in order before kicking back into high gear with stand-up travel this autumn…but a break from travel didn’t mean a break from work. Along with his film work and plenty of guest appearances, he also costars in the series Another Period as Commodore and The Goldbergs and currently filming a second pilot for Jermaine Fowler’s Superior Donuts which just got picked up by CBS (he filmed the first one this spring, but cast changes led to a second pilot being ordered).

But Koechner’s been working hard for years, since arriving in Chicago from his small town of Tipton, Missouri. A one-time political science major, he dropped out the University of Missouri or as he says “I just stopped going to class and my father said it doesn’t seem like you want to go to school anymore”. Unable to decide what he really wanted to do, a trip to Chicago to visit a friend led him to the famed Second City Theater (something he’d heard about) and noticed they taught classes. Suddenly he had a goal…to earn enough money to move and try improv and acting. And pretty soon he did just that, starting at the famed iO Theater and moving on to Second City classes, finding himself performing on stage weekly within 6 months. The Chicago comedy world was one of the most fruitful in the 1990s, and Koechner found himself in a mix of fellow up and comers he worked with all the time including Adam McKay, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, , Rachel Dratch, , Neil Flynn, Andy Richter, Kevin Stack, Brian Glazer, Armando Diaz, Kevin Dorff, Chris Farley, Mike Coleman. Besides Second City and iO, he and Pete Gardner had a group called Jazz Freddy, which he described as “a more theatrical sketch show. Still funny, but a little richer and more patient, which became a minor hit in Chicago. We were well reviewed and well attended.”

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An impressive rise for someone who claims he’d never even met a professional actor before that trip to Chicago. He says he had never even thought it could be a career possibility because “I had no access to that path, so you just do things your familiar with.” Even before then, he’d had the performing bug for years. He explains “I had always had the desire to perform, and like so many others was the class clown, doing little skits on my own. And there was one school play a year I’d do and the spring variety show. But that was all that I had available to me, but it just stayed in the back of my head. And I always knew I had the ability to make people laugh.”

If Koechner needed to leave his small town to find his career, he happily used it as inspiration. One of his longest running characters he’s performed, T-Bone, was born out of his days working at his Uncle Emil’s gas station-bar-restaurant (Emil’s Gas Station and Café), where he had the typical small-town teenage job; pumping gas, busing tables, waiting on customers…anything that had to get done. There he observed the town drifter, a roofer who was always alone and always stood at a four way stop. Four Way George (the nickname teenagers gave him) “talked funny and had a funny outlook on life” that caught Koechner’s attention…So he borrowed some of his characteristics when creating T-Bone, a carnie type with the mind of Noam Chomsky.

I’ll admit, at times I can be hard to get along with. I’m a pretty nice guy and easy going, but I will speak up.

If you remember the character from SNL, you were watching in 1995-1996, the brief season Koechner was on what he called then “the mothership” because that was the next goal after Second City. Koechner auditioned three times before being cast, not yet realizing just how political the show was. Despite making it to air regularly, he didn’t have a grasp on showbiz yet, calling SNL a microcosm of the business. Today he reflects that “I wish I understood that business side while I was there. It’s not an adjustment I made well. You really have to hit the target, and I don’t think I was focused enough at that point in my life. I had a very successful season, but at the same time had a fair amount of discontent with things they pushed me to do. They tried to write a talk show for one of my characters, and I said “that’s what’s wrong with this show.” And now I look back and realize, they weren’t really asking me, they were telling me. I’ll admit, at times I can be hard to get along with. I’m a pretty nice guy and easy going, but I will speak up. When I was let go after just one year, I was confused. Because I’d had a successful year. The worst part was it just didn’t make any sense. I had recurring characters, I did political impressions. But like I said, that’s where politics are involved. I think I pissed off a producer or two. But I don’t have to live with their choices, they have to live with knowing who they are and what they mean to comedy. But I was supposed to leave that show and meet my wife, and that worked out better for me.”

Koechner and his wife Leigh, met on a plane in one of those Hollywood meet cutes (which has been told many times before). He recalls “my wife made up her mind that we would eventually be married before the flight was even over. I didn’t realize that yet, like any man I was just thinking I hope I’ll get to hold her hand.” The move to LA also reconnected him with former SNL writer (future Freaks and Geeks producer) David “Gruber” Allen, and after appearing on his weekly Naked Trucker Live show as T-Bone, they partnered up and created The Naked Trucker and T-Bone Show. He also started appearing at iO West and formed his comedy troupe Beer Shark Mice with old friends from Chicago Neil Flynn, Mike Coleman, Pat Finn, Peter Hulne, and Paul Vaillancourt. Between that live performing and writing screenplays (two were bought, but never produced) and developing pilot scripts (that never made it to air), it’s impressive how much TV and movie work he got…a lot. By the time Anchorman came around in 2004 he was a familiar face as a recurring guest actor and appearing in almost 20 films, starting with a debut in Wag the Dog.

When we were making it, it was really magic. I’ve never been a part of something this good ever, that’s what we were all thinking.

But he wasn’t so familiar yet that he didn’t need to audition. While the role of Champ Kind seems perfectly tailored for Koechner’s bombastic style of comedy, first time director Adam McKay “couldn’t just hire his friends” although knowing both McKay and ’s sense of humor tone from their SNL days certainly helped him land the role. While Anchorman underperformed (largely due to comparisons to the monster hit Ferrell had a year earlier with Elf) everyone felt Anchorman would be good. Koechner remembers “When we were making it, it was really magic. I’ve never been a part of something this good ever, that’s what we were all thinking.  It felt so good we didn’t even want to talk about how good it was because it’s like watching a no hitter, you don’t talk about it you just let it happen. So I was surprised when it underperformed when it hit theaters. But then it became a cult favorite and went onto become a pop culture phenomenon. Who would have thought a t-shirt would get made with the words “Milk was a bad choice.”

His work in Anchorman certainly elevated his profile, landing a recurring role on as Michael’s terrible best friend Todd Packer (“he was so fun to play because you would never get to say those things in real life”), and a host of new films, including some more dramatic parts. His first, Thank You for Smoking came about thanks to Jason Reitman’s appreciation for his work in Anchorman. In that underappreciated film, he played a firearms spokesman who faces no moral conundrum about is product. A challenging role, Koechner found he’s “a character you want to ask, where your moral compass is? But he feels completely absolved. They’d all made peace with their jobs.”

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He took the same approach when playing his character in Cheap Thrills, a movie he calls his “deep cut” because people are still discovering it. A dark comedy, the cruel character offered him a challenge Koechner he embraced, channeling inspiration from a fellow Missourian and one of his favorite actors, . “What I see when I watch him, I’ve never asked him about this it’s just what I’ve observed, is a guy taking care of his character. He has decided to come in and defend this person, be his surrogate or parent. And I’m a huge fan of his. There’s such a sweetness to whoever he’s playing. I think he’s just a fantastic actor.”

He’s found a nice balance at this point between the broad and absurd comedy and more serious films (even dramas). After finishing playing the craziest character he’s ever played on Angie Tribeca (as the infantile police chief that wears a diaper), his next theatrical film will be Priceless, a heavy drama about sex trafficking. He also is in a dark film titled All Creatures Here Below, a feature from a fellow Missourian named Collin Schiffli.

Koechner’s a fan of keeping his roots strong long after making the move to the coast. He also considers Kansas and Kansas City home (his wife’s from there) and has been a part of a charity with Kansas natives Eric Stonestreet, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis to support Children’s Mercy Hospital. They host an annual softball game, bowling event, and show with 20 celebrities who fly in from LA and New York. This year, they went beyond their usual $1M donation and raised $1.4M. He and Stonestreet became the full-time hosts after a few years because both are loud and like to have the mic in their hands.

The truth is, daddy’s got to earn. I have five kids, so I have to take some jobs I might not consider as good.

Koechner continues to work on making new opportunities. Just recently he and writing partner Jerry Collins formed Power Nap, a company which provides comedy to corporate events. They formed it after Koechner hosted the regional Emmys and had so much fun writing the comedy and hosting the event. In just six months, they’ve landed five gigs. If corporate comedy seems strange, he sees no conflict as “one could argue we’re able to add a bit of subversion to the corporate world. There’s a little something for them, a little something for us, and we can even add an idea that might also be satirical. But we haven’t had any moral dilemmas about the companies we’ve worked with, and wouldn’t take a job from a company we felt that way about. So far we haven’t had to make that choice yet.” But there is a reality to the business side of entertainment Koechner doesn’t ignore. Regarding how he decides what jobs to take, he ask himself the questions “Is it good or does it pay? If it’s good I want to do it. But there’s a project or two I’ve done that paid well and the truth is, daddy’s got to earn. I have five kids, so I have to take some jobs I might not consider as good. But regardless of how good the project is, I hope I can bring something to the project or character so my artistic integrity remains intact. When it’s just a really cool independent movie, I want to be a part of it and just hope it shoots in town and I have room in my schedule. I’m about to do this film called Bernard and Huey, which has an amazing pedigree. But that’s small, modestly budgeted picture, but one worth doing because I believe in it.”

 

 

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