Actor and comedian David Koechner is known for larger-than-life characters like Champ Kind (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Anchorman 2) and Todd Packer (The Office) along with countless roles over more than three decades, on shows such as Saturday Night Live, Justified and more. This weekend, Koechner is bringing his stand-up to Springfield for the first time, accompanied by a special The Office trivia show that he hosts as Todd Packer. 417 Magazine spoke to Koechner, who grew up in the small town of Tipton, Missouri, and still visits his home state regularly, about his Missouri roots, his career and the tour.
417 Magazine: How often do you come back to Missouri?
David Koechner: My sister has a place on Table Rock Lake. There are six of us siblings and we all have kids, so every July or thereabouts we get together for a family reunion for a week. That's definitely always one. Then there is The Big Slick which takes place in Kansas City. It's a charity for Children's Mercy Hospital. I host that along with Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Eric Stonestreet, that's always in June. Those are the two scheduled times, I usually try to play Missouri once a year in some fashion. I'd go back for one or two Chiefs games as well. Last year I had a pretty intense tour schedule, so I couldn’t get back to a game. I haven't seen the schedule yet this year date-wise. I have a ton of standup happening again, but by God, I hope I get back to a Chiefs game this year.
417: What’s something about Missouri that you miss and always like to come back to?
D.K.: The seasons. There's nothing like the fall is there? You can say summer's your favorite time of year, but really it's the fall, I do miss that. It changes slowly and you see it physically as well, which is a beautiful thing.
417: You’re from a small town and your dad ran a business manufacturing turkey coops. Can you tell me a bit about that?
D.K.: In Missouri, you typically see these 40-foot trailers loaded with turkeys going down the road. There's only two places in the country that make these long racks—that's us and a place in Nacogdoches, Texas. So chances are if you see turkeys going down the road, those livestock trailers were manufactured there in Tipton, Missouri.
417: Is it still the family business?
D.K.: My brother took it over, and he just sold it to his sons. Every year when we go down to Table Rock, I'm flying to Kansas City, and then I take my kids through Tipton. It's not the shortest route, but I take them on the tour of Tipton, which takes two minutes. Then I take them by Koechner Manufacturing. I started working for my dad when I was 7 years old. So I give them the tour of that thing to make sure they're good and bored, but just to just have a reference point of where I came from as opposed to what they go through. My kids grew up in beautiful weather every day with mountains and palm trees, it's so completely opposite from what I went through and I know they're sick of me reminding them of how great they have it.
417: What set you off on the path to where you are now?
D.K.: I was always a fan of comedy ever since I was very young. I was, you know, the class cut up, then I always enjoyed watching old comedies with my dad, Abbot and Costello, the Marx Brothers that really solidified it. But then when I was 13, Saturday Night Live debuted and that's when I decided: “That's what I'm gonna do.” I didn't tell anyone because you don't tell people in Tipton “I'm gonna be on Saturday Night Live.” They think, “Right, you're crazy.”
417: Is there any one experience in your career that you remember thinking “I did it” or “I made it”?
D.K.: I'll tell you the first thing I did. I went to visit Second City because I'd read a lot of books about Second City and biographies of certain actors and I realized a lot of people from Saturday Night Live started at Second City. So me and my buddy drove up to Chicago, I don't even know if we had a place to stay—you're talking about no planning. We'd go to Chicago and go to a show at Second City, and I just loved it. Then I noticed when we were leaving, there was this big poster that advertised classes, and I was like, “Oh, that's, that's how you get here.” I had no idea. People have to remember this is pre-internet. I saved money to go back that summer to do the concentrated course. So, when you say, “When did I know?” Those two weeks. When I took that class, I remember thinking, “Yeah. This is for me.”
417: How did you make the money to save?
D.K.: I was in Columbia, Missouri. I'd gone to the university there, so I was working three different restaurant jobs. There was a Mexican restaurant called Los Bandidos. There was a fine dining establishment called, I think it was called, Jones on Third. And then there was a bar called Harpo’s. I worked three jobs to save my money to move to Chicago and start taking classes.
417: And you were just switching from one shift into the next?
D.K.: I'd work a day shift and night shift. I bet I was working seven days a week. But my mindset was, “I'm gonna do it.” I'll tell you this: Once I decided “I'm gonna be an actor,” I never had one doubt. I just decided this is gonna work. Maybe it's a fool's errand, but it worked.
417: Do you get something different from doing standup comedy than you do doing improv?
D.K.: I guess it's just you, right? You get that experience of you and the audience in communion as opposed to your group of friends creating this thing together out of thin air. It's the same in that it's live performance, which I do love and I do crave. I guess I don't really intellectualize that in my head or dissect it. To me it's just a joy, I love doing it. I'm privileged that anyone would come and see it, you know?
417: What advice would you give aspiring performers or artists?
D.K.: Read these books: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Then you buy the audiobook by Stephen King called On Writing. Whether you're a writer or not, it's talking about the artist’s process. Then the third one is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Those are brilliant minds and if you can't get what you need from those books, there's no advice I could give other than this: Get on stage. Be on stage. That's it. If you're not on stage, then you're not in it.
417: Other than the tour, what do you have coming up: either something that’s out soon or anything you’re currently working on?
D.K.: I continue to recur on The Goldbergs. I've been doing that for a number of years. I still do a voice on American Dad, I do a voice on a new animated show that hasn't hasn't come out yet called Krapopolis written by Dan Harmon. There are two independent films out there that I have no idea if they have a release date or not, one's called Dotty and Soul, the other one's called The Allnighter. With independents you never know where they're gonna wind up. Sometimes I’ll do a movie then I'll get a call from my kids where they say, “Hey Dad, are you on this? On Netflix? I just heard your voice.” There's a really good one I did last summer called Ganymede, I think they're gonna do the festival circuit this year.
417: What can people expect from The Office trivia show?
D.K.: It's not just a trivia night thing, it's a show because I tell stories of how I got the show, stories about the show, stories about my career, anecdotes, and I do a Q and A, so it's a very unique experience. It's not going to be a regular trivia night. That's why it is hosted by "the real Todd Packer", if you will. We have a blast doing it, and at the end of the show the top two teams come up and they get to do a scene with the real Todd Packer right there.
You can still grab tickets to David Koechner’s standup show and The Office trivia show now (if you hurry) at The Blue Room Comedy Club.