David Koechner is a master of the uncomfortable laugh. Onstage and on the screen, the comic actor has often specialized in characters of unquiet desperation, ill-mannered and needy, clueless and hilariously crude.
In 2004’s “Anchorman” and its 2013 sequel, he was Champ Kind, the boorish, conflicted sportscaster in a 10-gallon hat who punctuated his sentences with a booming “Whammy!” On several episodes of “The Office,” he was Todd Packer, loudmouth friend to Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and a walking sexual-harassment case study.
“The roles I’m known for are these boorish louts that are in extreme pain,” Koechner says. “I would hope that you can see that there’s nuance to those characters. I think most people think it’s just me hitting an anvil with a hammer. But I’m hoping they’re catching what’s happening with these guys because they’re unaware of who they are.”
His career on television began with a year on “Saturday Night Live,” where he first met his “Anchorman” co-star Will Ferrell in 1995. A few months ago, he filmed a role in the Showtime revival of “Twin Peaks,” of which he can reveal nothing. And he continues to provide the voice of Dick on the animated sitcom “American Dad!”
People say, ‘What’s your standup like?’ That’s almost like asking ‘What’s your personality like?’ That’s best described by somebody else.
Aside from his scripted roles, Koechner’s specialty for the last three decades has been improvisational comedy, but in recent years has added standup to his repertoire. On June 11, he appears at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank.
“I stay busy, man,” he says, noting five kids at home in the Valley, aged 5 to 17. “I’ve got mouths to feed.”
Marquee: You’re best known for improvisational comedy. Will you be doing traditional standup at Flappers?
David Koechner: [Laughs] I think it’s puzzling everybody: What’s he doing? How can he possibly stand up like everybody else? That’s a consistent question. But yeah, I do standup. I’ve only been doing it for the last five years. I’ve done live for 30 years — in sketch and improv. I look at standup as just another way to do a performance. In sketch and improv, it’s with a partner onstage. The only difference in standup comedy is that your partner is the audience.
Is your standup hugely different to what you do in improv?
I have a wife and five kids, and that certainly plays into it. I’m from the Midwest, so my perspective’s a bit different. I grew up in a large family, and was working since I was 7 years old for my father, who was a livestock-trailer manufacturer in a small town in Missouri. That certainly infused my perspective.
People say, “What’s your standup like?” That’s almost like asking “What’s your personality like?” That’s best described by somebody else. It’s storytelling with jokes. I normally say its like you’ve got a 40-foot flatbed trailer going down the road at 80 miles an hour, and on it is a circus tent — and in the tent is a carnival barker with a bullhorn and the tent is on fire. That’s what my act is like.
Do you wear a hat?
[Laughs] Sometimes. On Monday night I did four sets at four different clubs. That’s what you can do here in town, so you end up getting an hour of stage time. Which is fantastic.
I know that you studied political science in college. Were you ever interested in politics as a career?
Oh, yeah. I was always interested in politics. I’m from a small town, so that might have been part of my pursuit of getting out. How does one leave here? I thought, with politics, you move to the city, which was one of my goals. And I was always interested in helping people, but as you get into the process you realize politics is not actually about helping people. [Laughs]
I never met an actor. I didn’t know how someone went about doing something like that. Then I took a trip with a buddy of mine to Chicago. I’d always been a fan of “Saturday Night Live,” and I knew a bunch a people from that had come from Second City. I went to the show and noted that they taught classes — and it’s almost like a light bulb went off: “Oh, I’m going to move here and take classes, and that’s how you become an actor.”
Is your comedy ever topical?
No, especially these days. It’s relationship-based — the relationship we all have in the institutions of our lives, whether it’s work, marriage, children, friendships, employers, employees, school, church. That’s always topical. It’s relevant to your relationship to life.
Were there comedians or comedic actors you looked up to on your way up?
I loved the Marx Brothers and how smart they were. Monty Python — I was blown away that you could be that funny and that smart — when you think about Dennis the Constitutional Peasant [laughs] in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” it’s incredible. It was one of my first introductions into socialism [laughs]. Abbott and Costello, who I used to watch on Saturday afternoons with my dad. And of course I was 13 when “SNL” debuted. I was mesmerized.
With the “Anchorman” films, you’ve had a chance to work with the same people on different things together. Is there something special about that?
Absolutely. I remember distinctly thinking when we were doing the second “Anchorman” — we were about two weeks before finishing — I wished this was a television show we could do the next 10 years. It was so much fun.
In those movies, how much is in the script and how much happens on the set?
It’s a combination of things. It all essentially comes from [writer-director] Adam McKay and Will, and the attitude that they bring to the whole thing, the playfulness. Their attitude is, we’re going to get the scene in three or four takes, and then let’s improvise. That adds a different chemical reaction and focus to all the players. You’re on your toes in a different way.
Adam McKay has a microphone when he’s directing and he’ll throw out new lines for everybody, for every character in the movie for every scene. It’s remarkable. The mind on that guy is almost unmatched, of the people I’ve worked with.
You’ve been doing some non-comedic roles.
It’s lovely when people are surprised: “Oh. You can act!” Most comics can because they’re drawing from a wealth of experience, which is what you’re supposed to do as an actor anyway. Comics typically draw from their lives for material or draw from their relationships. Whether you’re doing improvisation or standup, you’re putting your life out there, and that’s what you’re supposed to do as an actor. You’re supposed to equate these lines as something meaningful and purposeful to you and your own life.
Who: David Koechner
Where: Flappers Comedy Club, 102 E Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
When: June 11
More info: (818) 845-9721, flapperscomedy.com
Steve Appleford, firstname.lastname@example.org