As Conan comes to a close after being filmed at Warner Bros. Studios for 11 years, the show’s sidekick, comedian, and writer, Andy Richter, is embracing the next stage of his prolific entertainment career.
It was publicly announced in November of 2020 that Conan would be ending in 2021, and O’Brien most recently stated in early May that June 24 will mark the final Conan show airing with TBS. The next chapter, O’Brien explained, will be a new iteration partnered with HBO Max.
Richter says plans for the show’s format are still pending, and he’s currently building independent projects while remaining open to his potential role in O’Brien’s upcoming venture.
“I have no idea what the next show is. I have no idea whether there will be a place for me, whether it’ll be appropriate for me to be there,” Richter said. “So I’m just kind of proceeding, and…whether [or not] it turns into a different chapter in my life, I’m developing a couple of things.”
Originally from Yorkville, Illinois, which sits 50 miles west of Chicago, Richter’s comedic abilities stemmed from his natural temperament and family setting. While he firstly saw journalism as a potential professional pursuit, entertainment ultimately presented itself as a career best suited for Richter’s creativity in storytelling.
“I was always a funny person and I came from a funny family, so I had a sense that it would be comedy,” Richter said of his early career goals. “Going into film school, I wanted to learn how to make movies. I had started out on a track to do journalism at University of Illinois and then realized, I don’t want to tell real stories. I want to tell fake ones.”
Richter subsequently studied film at Columbia College Chicago with the intention of pursuing a career in screenwriting. While attending, he began to act in fellow students’ film projects, and next pursued improvisation at Improv Olympics in Chicago while working in film production. When a friend of Richter’s was then cast on Saturday Night Live, he became acquainted with Saturday Nigh Live writer Robert Smigel. Their connection continued when both Richter and Smigel were hired at Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
O’Brien’s Late Night series began airing on NBC in 1993, and staff members like Richter, who were experienced in both performing and writing, were sought out to take on numerous show duties. During O’Brien’s early camera tests for the late night program, Smigel encouraged Richter to sit near O’Brien and keep him company. As these interactions between the two displayed their chemistry and positive rapport, Smigel soon approached Richter with the offer of becoming O’Brien’s regular series sidekick.
“Robert [asked], ‘Do you want to be the sidekick on the show?”’ Richter recalled. “At first I was like, I don’t know…And then I thought, who am I kidding? I’m going to turn down the chance to be on TV every night? Okay, I’ll be the sidekick.”
In 2000, Richter left Late Night to pursue other opportunities in both film and television. Acting projects ensued with such programs as Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Andy Barker, P.I., both of which were produced by and starred Richter.
When The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien emerged in Los Angeles in 2009, Richter returned as the sidekick of this series, and continued on with the position when the show evolved as Conan with TBS in 2010. Since this partnership with Turner Broadcasting, Conan has been filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. Richter and his family moved to Burbank in 2013, where he has continued to feel at home with the City’s charm and small-town feel.
“I just was so amazingly taken by how quiet and green [Burbank is],” Richter said. “It seemed like a world away from Los Angeles. I would be at Warner Brothers and I would drive less than 10 minutes away, and I would feel like it was an hour away.”
Conan has filmed close by numerous other television series on the Warner Bros. lot, such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Big Bang Theory, and Young Sheldon. Over the years, Richter has also visited movie sets during production, including The Hangover Part II, and DC films. These experiences have endured as some of the most captivating memories for Richter while filming at Warner Bros.
“Warner Brothers is a magical place and it has such a variety of things going on,” Richter said. “I’m very taken by the childlike wonder that walking around a movie studio can make you feel. It’s a world of make believe, just going through the downtown sets. It never fails to be exciting on some level to me.”
Since 2019, Richter has conducted his own podcast, The Three Questions with Andy Richter. Past guests have included Jane Lynch, Al Roker, and Judy Greer, and each episode consists of an interviewee’s self-examination as they are presented with three fundamental questions by Richter: Where do you come from? Where are you going? and What have you learned? Regardless of the tone the interviews end up taking, whether comedic or serious, the ensuing conversation is always introspective and allows Richter to explore the human side of the entertainment industry.
“I’ve been in therapy a long time, and I believe in it. It’s a very useful way to learn things about yourself and about others and about the world,” Richter said. “Those [questions] are like a therapy session..and I do think it’s interesting when people talk about where they’re from and [who they] are in a real way, and hopefully think about how that contributed to making them who they are.”
With Conan coming to a close and shifting gears to HBO Max, Richter sees more character roles in film and television in his future. Whether or not he will continue on as the sidekick of the new program, he says that he’s consistently found enjoyment in the pleasant work environment among Conan staff members.
“It’s a happy workplace,” Richter said of Conan. “And that to me is tremendously important, if not one of the most important things that I want out of work…I like getting paid, but I also want to be happy there, have fun and enjoy the people that I’m working with.”
Conan airs on TBS at 11pm/10pm Central, Monday through Thursday
The Three Questions with Andy Richter is available for listening on Earwolf and Apple Podcasts