David Koechner Says He'll Never Leave the Stage

The Office and Anchorman star David Koechner is performing this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at The Plano House of Comedy.
The Office and Anchorman star David Koechner is performing this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at The Plano House of Comedy. Courtesy of David Koechner
Actor and comedian David Koechner gets recognized all the time. His work in movies and television is so prolific that there are several categories of reasons why he might get recognized.

"Generally, it breaks down like this: The Office, Anchorman and everything else," Koechner says, listing the order of his most recognized roles. "Out Cold, Waiting, Krampus, Cheap Thrills and Run Ronnie Run."

As if he wasn't busy enough, Koechner has added stand-up to his work calendar for the last 10 years. He'll be at The Plano House of Comedy for a five-show run starting on Thursday, Aug. 11 and a special Office pub quiz on Saturday.

"I started doing stand-up after I had my fifth kid 10 years ago because I figured, man, I've always got to have a job in waiting and available if I need it," Koechner says. "Stand-up does provide that but no, I never  did stand-up until 10 years ago — but I've always done live [performances]."

Koechner started his comedy career with the storied Second City Theater and ImprovOlympic (iO) in Chicago, which trained other big names in modern comedy and led Koechner to earn a spot among the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1995.

He's performed in more than 200 films and TV shows, such as the brash sports caster Champ Kind in both Anchorman movies (alongside Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell), as the Dallas Cowboys superfan Bill Lewis on The Goldbergs and the boorish, obnoxious paper salesman Todd Packer on The Office.
Even with a steady stream of film and TV work, Koechner says live comedy has remained a big part of his life, whether it's stand-up, improv with his long-running iO group BeerSharkMice — which he started in Chicago with a group of friends that includes Scrubs and The Middle star Neil Flynn — or music with his hard-trucking musical show The Naked Trucker and T-Bones with actor and comedian Dave Gruber Allen.

Some of the references fans make to Koechner when they spot him in the wild even catch him off-guard. Koechner says before a recent show in Nebraska, a fan recognized him from the clip of a short demo pilot called Mistake Pizza featuring his character T-Bones, a lay-about drifter and conman who sounds like a slow, backwoods hick but can quote Noam Chomsky and Karl Marx's Das Kapital with the speed and ease of a tenured college professor. Koechner got to perform as T-Bones in several sketches during his stint on Saturday Night Live and the Comedy Central incarnation of his Naked Trucker and T-Bones show. He says the character is based on a guy in his hometown of Tipton, Missouri, named "Four Way George" who talked the same, slick way while hanging out at a four-way intersection near the gas station/bar/restaurant where Koechner worked for a summer as a teenager.

"Last Saturday, the manager of a club in Omaha took us to breakfast," Koechner says. "Then we went to the Target because I forgot to bring a razor. A guy walking past the car had seen me and he pointed at the stop sign and says, 'Does that sign say 'For Sale' or 'Help Wanted?' which is directly from the video."

Koechner knows how to build and create colorful and vibrant characters because he grew up around them in Tipton and in the Chicago comedy scene.

"Some are an amalgamation of personality quirks taken from people I don't necessarily remember," Koechner says. "Sometimes these characters are just on the page like [the manager Dan] in Waiting. There was a specific zone manager for Bob Evans [restaurants] when I moved to Chicago who was just a cock, just a total dick who thinks he's everything."
The newest version of his stand-up show doesn't involve as many characters as when he first started. Koechner says he used take to the stage with a mental roster of his characters and a literal rack of clothes on hangers "and people were like, 'What the hell is this?'"

"It's closer to traditional stand-up," he says of the newer shows. "I'm trying to write a new hour, and I'm always putting new stuff in and taking stuff out. I want to put T-Bones back in the show."

Some of his TV and movie roles are starting to come to light now that the productions slowed by the pandemic are done (sorta), on shows such as American Dad and FX's Justified: City Primeval with Timothy Olyphant (whom he sits next to in one of the funniest Conan O'Brien interview clips ever). He's getting to take on more challenging roles, such as in a new independent thriller called Ganymede about a high school senior living in the small-town South who develops a crush on an openly gay student and finds himself being stalked by a mysterious, violent creature.

"It's a drama, and it's a meaty role," Koechner says. "It's really good. I'm very impressed with the production. It's an independent film, but they stuck it, man. The two young leads are fantastic. I always wanted to do a movie that could make some noise and this one could."

No matter where his career takes him, Koechner says his future will still involve a live audience. 

"I get stronger every time I get on stage," Koechner says. "You learn something about yourself when you get a stage. You discover something every time you get on stage. It might be as something as little as a way to deliver a line. It could be anything from the pace, the pitch or the pause. You might try and experiment and figure out how to make a joke stronger or edit it on stage and it gets better." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.