Brian Stack: We’ve known each other for many years now, and before we ever actually worked together, you were my first improv coach at ImprovOlympic in Chicago. You were always great at firing up nervous new performers, almost like a football coach at halftime. Were there people that inspired that kind of confidence in you when you were starting out yourself?
Dave Koechner: I think I must have gleaned it from the performers I watched when I first got to Chicago. I’d say people like Dave Pasquesi, Dave Razowski, Mick Napier, and of course, watching Belushi on “Saturday Night Live.”
BS: Were there any particular film or TV performers that inspired you to get into comedy, and/or had a big influence on your later work?
DK: Growing up in Tipton, Missouri, I was not exposed to a wide range of television. We only had three channels, and the closest movie theater was 45 miles away, which we did not attend often. I have fond memories of watching Abbott and Costello movies on Saturday afternoons with my Dad. They were definitely my favorite as a child. When I was 13, “SNL” debuted and I was enchanted from the beginning. That same year I saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” as a late night movie and it just blew my mind! It may be one of the greatest moments of my life.
BS: Do you think growing up in Missouri—far from LA or New York—had a big impact on your sense of humor and your attitude toward Show Business in general?
DK: Probably more than I realize. I had no touchstone for Show Business. I didn’t even start pursuing acting until I was 24. Perhaps my naiveté was an advantage.
BS: What role does humor play in your life as a husband and a father of five?
DK: Is it too much to say that it (comedy) might be my religion?
BS: How do you think your improv training in Chicago prepared you for working in TV and film later on?
DK: The greatest gift of improv is the thrill of discovery. In addition to that, I would say it gives you confidence in your ability to create the understanding that it is okay to take a risk.
BS: Your new dark comedy film, “Cheap Thrills” is getting great reviews, and it was made with a very modest budget. Are there certain creative advantages when you don’t have a big budget to work with?
DK: With this particular film the locations were limited and the set ups between scenes were shorter because we had to work quickly. We had to be super prepared, as there was no time to “rehearse” on the first couple of takes.
BS: What types of acting roles would you love to try that you haven’t already tried?
DK: I am open to everything. I think a western would be fun. I also think it would be lovely to be in something that is quiet.
BS: Everyone in the cast and crew of both “Anchorman” movies, including you, Steve Carell and Adam McKay, talk about how much fun those films were to make. Do you think a lot of that playfulness came from the experiences you all had as Chicago improvisers’ years before?
DK: Without a doubt! It felt as if we were creating a show the way we did at the I.O. and Second City.
BS: You’ve been doing a lot of stand-up comedy in recent years. How does such solitary work compare to all the ensemble work you’ve done in improv, movies and TV?
DK: I find it very rewarding. It’s satisfying to challenge myself in coming up with material and a performance on my own and making it work.
BS: You met your beautiful wife, Leigh, in an airport, only because her brother and traveling companion recognized you from SNL. Do you spend much time thinking about how our lives are often shaped by random occurrences like that?
DK: I only think about it in retrospect, but I don’t dwell on it. When you and I first started studying and performing in Chicago twenty plus years ago, we had no way of knowing we were working with so many important figures in the future of comedy. I had lunch with Bernie Sahlins, one of the founders of Second City, right before I left Chicago. He told me he had never seen such a confluence of talent as was happening in the period we enjoyed when we came through. I often think after I have done a job how fortunate I was to have gotten the work.
BS: You have a well-deserved reputation as one of the “good guys” in comedy. Is it ever hard to maintain your niceness and approachability in a business that can often be very cutthroat and ruthless?
DK: I only do it to not disappoint you, Brian Stack, my single nemesis in Show Business.
BS: I still vividly remember the day you created your character, Gerald “T-Bone” Tibbons, one of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen, at one of our Jazz Freddy improv group rehearsals 20 years ago. He seemed to come out of nowhere. Do characters like that just come to you, or are they based at least in part on people you’ve actually met?
DK: They are usually based on a person or a trait I see in people. It could be a casual interaction I have with a stranger or someone I have worked with.
BS: If you could go back in time and talk to your clueless, 13-year old self, what advice would you give him?
DK: I’d say to read more, write and perform every day, do as many plays as you possibly can and make sure you meet Brian Stack in an alley behind Second City when you are both on your way to class.