Each summer, five of the Kansas City area’s prominent funnymen return to host the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend. Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Rob Riggle, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner spearhead charity events to benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital.
But it may be surprising to learn that of these acclaimed performers, Koechner boasts the most credits by far.
The actor, comedian, voice talent and frequent Halloween costume is simply relentless when it comes to making people laugh, even though he is arguably more famous by face than name.
A native of Tipton, Mo., Koechner (pronounced KEK-ner) briefly attended Benedictine College and the University of Missouri before heading to Chicago to learn improvisational comedy at Second City. In 1995, he landed a one-year stint as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” the same season Will Ferrell also joined.
That relationship helped win him the role of crass sports anchor Champ Kind in the cult favorite “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” From there, he has parlayed his hey-good-buddy demeanor and pugnacious delivery into more than 140 movie and TV roles, perhaps most memorably as the vulgar, misogynistic salesman Todd Packer on “The Office.”
“Almost every day I can be found somewhere on cable,” Koechner says, phoning from the Toronto set of “The Headhunter’s Calling,” a film in which he plays a purely dramatic role.
The 53-year-old entertainer currently stars as a gun-toting family man in the holiday horror flick “Krampus,” which opened at No. 2 last week. He can also be seen on ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and Comedy Central’s “Another Period.”
Koechner reconnects with the live comedy scene he initially left the area to pursue when he performs a weekend of stand-up shows in Kansas City.
Q: Some stars abandon their hometown roots when they achieve fame, but you seem to embrace yours. What is it about Missouri that is so entrenched in your character?
A: You can’t run from who you are. My three sisters still live in Kansas City. And my wife, Leigh, grew up in OP, baby. Her father was a surgeon at St. Joseph (Medical Center) and was once chief of staff there. She went to Shawnee Mission South — “Ain’t nothin’ greater than a Raider!”
Her sister even dated Rob Riggle when they were growing up. These KC roots get more incestuous as it goes.
Q: Having spent a lot of time with Riggle, Rudd, Sudeikis and Stonestreet, is there any specific quality these Kansas City guys all share?
A: They’re all truly down-to-earth, and their hearts are in the right place. They are all earnest in their relationships with their spouses and friends. None of them has become “Hollywood.” Just like anybody else in the area, you can count on them.
Q: Does that imply that’s not always the case in Hollywood?
A: I don’t think about it in terms of Hollywood versus anything else. But guys like that, I figure if I reach out, I expect you to get back. I know at your core, you have to because you come from a place with a humility radar that won’t let you make too much of a show of yourself.
By the way, your questions are nearly philosophical. These are unfair essay questions.
Q: Don’t worry, I’ll eventually ask you something stupid. Growing up, was Christmas in Tipton anything like “Krampus?”
A: No, of course not. I’d never even heard of Krampus (in folklore, an anti-St. Nicholas creature that punishes bad children) until I came on to that project. It’s been an education for me. Pretty fun project to do.
We shot that in New Zealand for 2 1/2 months earlier this year. They used the Weta Workshop, so we had dinner with Peter Jackson one night — who I think is a knight. So I’ve dined with knights.
Q: Did you grow up a Royals or Cardinals fan?
A: I’m not huge into baseball. But I was more of a Royals fan because I had cousins in Kansas City. I was always a big Chiefs fan. I know it’s tough to admit now, but I’m more of a casual baseball fan. But I couldn’t be more proud of the team.
Coincidentally, our mascot in Tipton is the Cardinals. Tipton is 50 miles closer to Kansas City, so we were never into the St. Louis Cardinals.
Q: What are your interactions like with real-life sports anchors?
A: I travel quite a bit when I do stand-up. Sports guys are usually a bit excited. They think Champ Kind is going to come in. Then I show up, and often times they go, “Where’s your cowboy hat?” They don’t understand I’m a real person; I’m not him.
Q: Is being “abrasive” a pretty common attribute of your on-screen characters?
A: There would be a series of adjectives to describe them: How about a jackass? A donkey. A horse’s ass.
Q: Are those adjectives?
A: Yes they are (laughs). That’s describing the two most well-known characters. I wouldn’t say they’re all that way.
Champ Kind and Todd Packer tend to be boorish characters — that’s the way people who are a little more literary might say it. They’re louts and they’re loud.
But I would argue they are more complex characters that are in deep stages of denial. They are trying to find themselves but are living in a haze of arrested adolescence.
Q: Have you ever dealt with a co-worker like Todd Packer?
A: I’ve had a boss or two like that. They feel a little bit entitled and feel they’re pretty special.
Q: Your character in “Thank You for Smoking” is a gun lobbyist. Do you have any advice for actual gun lobbyists?
A: Are you trying to get me in a lot of trouble? I’ll tell you this, I think we should get rid of all lobbyists. There is way too much money in politics. “Won’t you guys find something else to do and quit trying to write our bills? Won’t you lobby for the people, not for corporations? Pack up and go home. We don’t need you.”
Q: As a former Missouri Tiger, have you been following the campus turmoil in Columbia?
A: A bit embarrassing, isn’t it? But I’m glad that it was given voice. I tend to believe this stuff doesn’t happen out of thin air.
It’s surprising to me that our institutions of higher learning seem to be these safe, experimental places where young people don’t become adults but become more immature. In these places of higher learning where you’re aspiring to be the best human being you can be, you have these pockets of horrors where they think they can be even less responsible as a human being than they were at home. Like when you hear about the epidemic of rape on campus. Or when we hear about racial incidents that keep happening year after year.
Thank God they’re being exposed and addressed. But it’s shameful this one went down the way it did. It just didn’t seem it was being addressed in an urgent manner and wasn’t given the importance it deserved. The administration wasn’t acting responsibly. You look back at that thing, and it’s like, “You (screwed) that up three ways to Sunday.”
Q: What will we encounter at your stand-up show in KC?
A: It’s damn near a barn burning. No, it’s just stand-up. It’s my personality onstage. I’m not Champ Kind or Todd Packer in real life. People say some comics might be wry and dry; I’m more loud and wet.
Q: Do people who attend the shows expect you to just recite lines from movies they’ve seen?
A: Some do, certainly. When I know a good portion of the crowd came to hear me utter a few lines from “Anchorman” or “The Office,” I’m not opposed to that. If that’s what it took to get them out there, and that’s what they need to satisfy their desire to see me, I’m fine with that.
I can usually tell when an audience is spoiling for it. There was a time when I built it into the act. Plus, people have been exposed to a larger body of my work and don’t necessarily think they have to hear it. I’ve only been doing stand-up for five years.
Of course, I’ve been doing live theater and live comedy for 30 years. I can gauge a crowd pretty well. After awhile, they get educated and go, “OK, he doesn’t have to start with piping Champ Kind.”
Q: What’s your least-preferred type of humor?
A: The really aggressively stupid kind. I’m sorry, I don’t have time for it. Something that has no intention of elevating the human concern — that’s what I’m not interested in.
Q: What if people think “Anchorman” falls into that category?
A: Then they’re missing the point. “Anchorman” at its heart is a satire. It’s a very smart movie. It’s got a candy-coated outer layer that’s delicious, but it’s a beautiful satire.
Q: Does that apply to the sequel?
A: I would say the sequel’s intentions seem even more satirical. The first one was a satire of the male ego and the casual misogyny that was acceptable. It certainly takes that on.
The second one was satirizing the media for not doing its job, for sensationalizing the news. Where do we get content anymore? Real news we get from good newspapers and newsmen. What are anyone’s standards, not only in the news, but our own standards for truth anywhere?
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
David Koechner performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Saturday; and 7 p.m. Sunday at Kansas City Improv, 7260 N.W. 87th St. in Zona Rosa. Tickets are $20-$25. Go to improvkc.com for more information.
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004) and sequel (2013)
The real first name of sports anchor Champ Kind is Champion, and that describes the type of role David Koechner landed when he became part of cinema’s most famous fictional news team. Both a sexist redneck and a man clearly in love with Will Ferrell’s mustached Burgundy, Champ makes a living by his constant on-air use of the word “Whammy” — an ill-advised catchphrase to rival “Boom Goes the Dynamite.”
“The Office” (2005-2013)
Koechner appeared in 15 episodes of the Emmy-winning mockumentary series as the in-your-face sales rep Todd Packer. His most memorable episode could be the one in which the notorious prankster is only off-camera, revealed to be the culprit behind a perilously foul smell left in the office of Michael Scott (Steve Carell) that he believed might be a result of hate crime.
“Out Cold” (2001)
A parody of 1980s “ski school movies,” “Out Cold” features Koechner as a storytelling barfly who serves as the film’s default narrator. He delivers many slurring monologues, including one about what drove him out of Utah: “It got so bad that a fella that liked to smoke a little grass or drink a little Ripple, crow like a rooster, maybe challenge the mayor’s son to a gentlemen’s duel, was ‘uncouth, against God.’ ”
“Thank You for Smoking” (2005)
Aaron Eckhart stars as a silver-tongued tobacco lobbyist in this dark-as-tar debut comedy from Jason Reitman (“Juno”). Every week he meets with alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and uncompromising firearms lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (Koechner) — a trio who jokingly refer to themselves as the Merchants of Death. During one scene, the Merchants pass through a metal detector that Bliss sets off, of course. “You guys go on ahead,” he says. “This might take awhile.”
“Cheap Thrills” (2013)
How much money does it take to buy your humanity? That’s the question at the core of the creepy comedy “Cheap Thrills.” Koechner and Sara Paxton portray a rich couple who decide to help out a recently unemployed man (Pat Healy) and his childhood friend (Ethan Embry) by offering them money for accepting increasingly humiliating and dangerous dares. Koechner has never been more menacing, revealing the potential dark side to the type of belligerent individuals he’s known for playing.