There’s funny and then there’s hysterical. Comedian, writer and producer David Koechner falls clearly into the latter camp. You’ll recognize him, for his face jumps out from some of the funniest comedy films and TV series over the last decade and a half, including Anchorman and Anchorman 2, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Get Smart, The Office, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, to name a few.
An alumnus of Chicago’s Second City Theater, Koechner landed his first break as a cast member of Saturday Night Live and has since graced the screen in more than 150 films and TV shows. He currently appears on CBS’s Superior Donuts and Showtime’s Twin Peaks, among others. As if this isn’t enough, he also performs live stand-up comedy across the country and creates original content videos for his YouTube channel, Full On Koechner. And did we mention he’s the father of five children—yes, five—with his wife Leigh?
ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Lia Martirosyan met up with the congenial comedian at Shane’s Inspiration’s 16th Annual Gala in Los Angeles, where he spoke movingly about his involvement in the organization, which creates playgrounds for kids of all abilities, as well as his busy life as a funnyman and family man.
Lia Martirosyan: How did you get involved in Shane’s Inspiration?
David Koechner: My wife met Catherine Curry-Williams years ago. My wife and I have been blessed with five kids. And when our youngest [Eve] was in utero, we were told that she would have severe disabilities. [near tears] Oh, God, I’m getting emotional!
People from Shane’s reached out immediately to my wife upon hearing it. Our story turned out differently, in a situation where Eve was not handicapped. But we were told that she would be unable to even recognize us, and they got it wrong. Who knew? The year was 2010 and in Los Angeles you think you have the best resources. As it turned out, we didn’t have a child with a disability, but that’s how we got connected with Catherine and Scott Curry. We’ve been part of it for six years. We hosted it one year. We come back every year. We were able also to participate in Kitchen Nightmares. We did an event earlier this year that highlighted Shane’s. There’s a motorcycle going by. We’re out here. I hope you add this to your article.
Chet Cooper: That was my stomach.
Koechner: So that’s how we’re part of it.
Martirosyan: Have you let Eve experience the park?
Koechner: Of course. It’s interesting. We live in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. It’s fantastic to just roll up to different parks, not knowing that it’s going to be a Shane’s Park, and sure enough it is. Which is amazing. [near tears] Ah, I’m getting emotional again!
Martirosyan: I love it.
Koechner: It gives you pause. Because you don’t want any child to roll up or walk up to a play place and think, “Oh, this is not for me.” It’s heartwarming when you do roll up or walk up to one and you say, “Yeah, this is for me!”
Martirosyan: Oh, now you’ve got me going!
Cooper: Me, too! I haven’t had emotions for a while! I’m an asshole!
Martirosyan: And I’m a robot.
What are you doing, David?
Koechner: I’ve got five kids, so I will cry at commercials.
Martirosyan: Do you have any idea how long it took me to put this eyeliner on? This is your fault.
Koechner: So yeah, I’m happy this exists, and we’re able to be part of it. We’ve met so many lovely friends through this organization. I think it gets bigger every year. In fact, tonight when we came, I tend to forget it’s a big deal—a big fundraiser—and it’s fantastic. It has grown. You’re home getting ready, and you don’t fit in the suit you’re trying to put on— and there’s a red carpet. And I’m like, “Oh, shit! I’m too fat to fit in this suit!” “Honey, stand in front of me.” Everything gets bigger every year.
Martirosyan: Good stuff. Are you working on anything fun right now?
Koechner: Currently on Superior Donuts, a CBS show on Monday nights. We’ve got 13 episodes. It’s a great cast. It has Judd Hirsch, Katey Sagal, Jermaine Fowler, Anna Baryshnikov, Darien Sills-Evans, Rell Battle, Maz Jobrani and me.
Martirosyan: It sounds like you’re thanking people on an award show.
Koechner: I’m remembering the entire cast.
Cooper: Catered by—
Koechner: We’re having a blast doing the show. I’m grateful we’re on, and hopefully we will be back next season.
Cooper: I remember the commercial now. There was a great one where Judd Hirsch is talking to someone who’s from the Middle East—
Koechner: Maz Jobrani.
Cooper: —and somebody is doing something else and saying, “There’s a Jew.” I forget how it went, but there’s a great cast.
Koechner: That was called “The Protest Episode,” I think. Maz plays an Arab and Judd is a Jew and Jermaine is a young African American. We’re a diversity show, so we have a chance to play with all kinds of cultural episodes. And I’m white.
Cooper: So somehow you need to have Lia on the show.
Martirosyan: Diversity, that means I have a chance.
Cooper: She sings opera.
Koechner: Do you? Wow! Fantastic!
Martirosyan: Tell them to write it in. You got this, David.
Koechner: That’s real talent. That’s a measurable skill. I don’t have that. If I had that much influence, I would give myself more lines.
Martirosyan: If you show that emotion and say, “You’ve got to get Lia in there!”
I think you’d sell it.
Koechner: I will mention it. Of course, why wouldn’t I?
Cooper: We were in DC one time, going to dinner in Georgetown, and restaurant after restaurant was not accessible. After 27 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there were still two steps to get into each restaurant. So I went into one and talked to the manager and said, “Do you have a ramp? Just a $75 ramp that you could unfold.” He said, “We don’t have people with disabilities in the restaurant.” I said, “Maybe it’s because of the steps?”
Koechner: “Of course you don’t. They can’t get in!”
Martirosyan: So bizarre.
Koechner: “You don’t have to leave it out there. Just make it available.”
Martirosyan: The best suggestion from a stranger is, “We’ll pick her up and bring her in.”
Cooper: No, you don’t pick people up.
Martirosyan: Next time I should let them and begin shouting, “Ow! Oh!”
Cooper: It would be a good episode, because it’s so easy to get, just one or two steps that makes it totally different.
Koechner: Yup, it makes life inaccessible. Well, you know, the TV show Speechless deals with it. They’re here tonight.
Cooper: That’s a unique show, because the original writer, Scott Silveri, had a connection with cerebral palsy (CP). It takes that, typically, for awareness to occur.
Koechner: Awareness, that’s all we want, right? It starts with awareness, and then it becomes action.
Martirosyan: That’s what the magazine does. It brings awareness through content.
Cooper: When did you start acting?
Koechner: When I was 24 I moved to Chicago to start—
Cooper: So two years now!
Koechner: (laughs) Yeah, two years. I moved to Chicago to start studying improvisation, and it went on from there.
Cooper: Did you work with any legendaries?
Koechner: All of them. Del Close, who is probably the major legendary teacher of improvisation. And I had an opportunity to be in Chicago and work with a bunch of people who have now become major stars, from Chris Farley to Mike Myers to Adam McKay, who wrote and directed Anchorman, to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and everybody who started the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) sketch comedy troupe, including Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, Rachel Dratch, Rachel Sands, Steve Carell, and Stephen Colbert.
Cooper: I’d like to thank—
Koechner: I try to remember everyone I’ve worked with and came up with. It happened to be a very fertile time when I was studying in Chicago. You look back, and it’s absolutely remarkable.
Cooper: This is pre-Saturday Night Live with John Belushi?
Koechner: No, no. That started in 1975. I’m not that old!
They’d already studied at Second City, so that’s why I went there. I happened to be there in what I’d call the next most fertile time.
Cooper: The second wave.
Koechner: Well, there’s probably a wave every time. My guess is, we’re probably the third wave. The first would have been John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, and the next wave would have been George Wendt, Tim Kazurinsky, and that crew, and then our wave would have been all those people I mentioned heretofore.
Martirosyan: How about stand-up?
Koechner: I have a stand-up routine now. I wish I had done stand-up when I first started improv, but there was a great prejudice against stand-up. I’ve been doing it for the last six years, and I’m having a blast. I still do long-form improv, and I use those skills I learned in Chicago in every acting job. But yeah, I’m doing stand-up now as well.
Cooper: Do you tour nationally?
Koechner: I tour nationally and internationally. Right now, though, my focus is only on the television show, because that’s what I’m doing every week. My next gig is in San Diego in April, and then I have a bunch of gigs booked through the summer and fall that I hopefully cannot do. I keep getting other work. In fact, I had a show booked in Austin in June that I just had to cancel because I’m doing a movie in London. That’s the nature of the business. You book things and then they go away.
Martirosyan: What’s the name of the movie?
Koechner: Pre-Nup, with Emile Hirsch and Alice Eve.
Cooper: London will be fun.
Martirosyan: How’s stand-up versus on-set and the preparation involved?
Koechner: You know what? I go out every week here in town, so you’ll go out and do sets where you don’t get paid because you just do it for the practice. You’ll do a show with five other headliners. In Los Angeles audiences are spoiled, because you’ll do a show with 10 headliners. When you’re out in the heartland, you’re the only headliner who’s there. They’re week to week. It’s a lot of fun.
Cooper: Do they laugh differently because of that?
Koechner: No. What you do find everywhere is that the laughs are in the same spots.
Martirosyan: Oh, good.
Cooper: So blank, always, just nothing.
Koechner: Just dumbfounded looks like, “Whaaat is he doing?” How is that versus television? For television, someone else wrote it, so you’re doing their lines. But every time you act, I believe, you get better, so everything you do adds to your quiver of abilities. Oh, wow, I brought it right back to ABILITY Magazine! How about that?
Martirosyan: That was awesome.
Cooper: Will you do anything within the next week or so that we can see?
Koechner: A show? Let’s see. I don’t know what I have next week. I just did a show last night. My wife is doing stand-up now too, so that’s an interesting challenge.
Cooper: Who’s funnier?
Koechner: Oh, anyone would say her.
Martirosyan: Happy wife, happy life.
Koechner: (laughs) We just did a show. My wife and I have five kids. I don’t know what’s happening tomorrow. We tape a show on Tuesday, and I know we’re off for a week, so I won’t have a bunch of shows that week. I think I have one at the Hollywood Improv on—or no, is it the Comedy Store? I don’t know. We had a special event at the Laugh Factory for Superior Donuts.
Martirosyan: You’re a lot of places. Okay, let’s try something new.
Martirosyan: What question are you asked that you don’t want to answer?
Koechner: I don’t judge questions.
Cooper: I don’t see color in questions.
Martirosyan: You don’t get the same question over and over—
Koechner: Of course. But I’m not going to judge a question. I know a lot of them come again and again. The one I get all the time is, “What’s Will Farrell like? What’s Steve Carell like?” And I can honestly answer, and I’m happy to say, they’re as good human beings as you’d hope.
Martirosyan: That’s nice.
Koechner: And that’s the truth. It’s not a funny answer. It’s a truthful answer. The truth will always serve you. If you try to be funny, then you have the right of offending someone or offending the person you’re talking about. I find the truth always wins.
Martirosyan: And on the opposite end of that, what question are you never asked that you would like to be asked or to share with the world?
Koechner: I have not thought of that answer yet. I don’t know. I will say this, I’m grateful that someone finds it interesting enough to ask something. People often ask, “Don’t you get tired of someone saying, “Won’t you say whammy to me?” or ask you about a movie you’d been in. I say it would be so much worse as an actor if no one asked you anything. The fact that anyone’s interested to talk to you is enough to be grateful for.
Martirosyan: I like that. Do you like that?
Cooper: I don’t judge answers.
Koechner: Look. People are walking down this red carpet, right? For me, part of my body goes, “Oh, shoot, I have to do that.” But what if I wanted to and wasn’t asked? Then it’s a different story. So I have to remember to better be GD grateful someone wants to take my picture or ask questions.
Cooper: This went longer than I expected, which is really good.
Koechner: (laughs) You can edit it.
Cooper: No, no, just the opposite.
Martirosyan: Lovely meeting you. Have fun!