Ben Sachs: You're performing at the Park West this weekend. Is the show part of a tour?
David Koechner: I've just been going out on weekends since January. I think this is my only show in April—and then, I'm kind of done. I'm working on a television show right now for NBC, writing a pilot, so I'm kind of strapped for time.
With all your other gigs in movies and TV, what made you want to do these live shows?
I just love doing live comedy. You know, content is king in comedy, you always have to be generating content. [Performing live] forces me to be always coming up with new stuff. Plus I love the interaction. I love going to places I've never been, I love revisiting places I've already been. It's a great life, to tell you the truth, to go out and entertain people.
Any places you like revisiting most?
Chicago. I know that's going to sound like horseshit when you print it, but I think this is a great city. I feel, in many ways, I became an adult there. I was in my 20s, and I was working with a bunch of people who were going through the same discovery I was. Some of the greatest friendships I've ever made were made in Chicago. There's a point of pride of having gone through Chicago, being a Chicago actor. I think anybody that's done it knows it's a special place.
Were you fresh out of school when you moved here?
Kind of. I was a poli-sci major at a place called Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and at the University of Missouri, briefly. I realized that I didn't want to pursue politics—now I think I may have been pursuing politics because it was a stage. I'm from a small town in Missouri and I'd never met an actor [growing up]. I didn't know how a person even pursued that kind of thing. So, I had an interest in politics and decided to do that.
By my third year, I realized I didn't want to be a lawyer or a politician, and I quit going to school. And then I visited a friend in Chicago, I went to the Second City, and I saw that they taught classes. It was like a light when off. After that, I worked for a year and a half, saved up some money, and moved.
What kind of jobs did you work when you lived here?
My first job in Chicago was assistant manager of a Bob Evans in Elk Grove Village. I'm not sure if that one even exists any longer. [It doesn't —ed.] I did that for six months. Then I worked as a waiter and bartender at the Bennigan's at Presidential Towers—and then at another bar around the corner from there. I worked some office jobs too. The last job I had before I got hired onto the Second City touring company was as a bartender at the off-track betting parlor on Jackson. That was a good gig. You could do character research all day long and get paid.
Do you ever draw on memories of people you've met when you're improvising as a character?
Sometimes it's a trait or an attitude that you can tap into—that's how it works for me. It's never a complete embodiment of that person. It might be a phrase or the way they walk.
Was there anyone at the off-track betting parlor who provided you with the most raw material?
There was a mortician who was just a liar. He'd sit there and take long pauses and pick his head and look at his fingernails and just bullshit all day long. It was amazing how this guy would just lie all day. And I wouldn't call him on it because the stories were just so remarkable. He'd tell me, [speaking in a slow midwestern drawl] "I got another one, Dave. Guy was down at the el, in the subway. [Pause] He stuck his head out. [Pause] Train took his head clean off. [Pause] And I had to dress this guy up. [Pause] And they came and said, 'You did a beautiful job with this one.'"
He probably told me this story about eight times, right? Now, if there were beheadings in the subway that often, I think we would have heard about it before. But I would let him go, and he would go on and on, talk about stuff like how he has a permit to carry a gun onto any flight he wanted to, even take one onto the runway where the planes were taking off. If it was a slow day, you'd just hope Mike the mortician would come in and start spinning yarns.
That kind of thing can inform you. Here's a person who's lying, but he believes his lie. That may have informed Nathan in Extract, reflecting back on it now. But it's never about specifically using these people, but taking attitudes that will fit into things you're doing.
Earlier you said you consider Extract more of a serious movie. I remember when it came out, people told me they did't find it as laugh-out-loud funny as they expected it to be, but the movie's popularity has increased since then. I think it has a particular, slower vibe that takes some getting used to.
Oh yeah. Mike Judge is such a craftsman. He works in such great detail, that it takes a few viewings to find all the nuances he's tucked into a script. I think he's a fascinating guy, so conscientious of what he's doing. The way he wrote Nathan was just beautiful—I could have played him for years and never gotten bored. But then, I got to have a death scene with Nathan! For me, it was fun to dig into what Nathan was all about. He was played for laughs, but he wasn't a broader character.
Does Mike Judge encourage his actors to dig into their characters?
I don't know if he necessarily coaches anybody towards a performance. I think the way he writes just lets you drill down as deep as you want. The characters are so specific and so rich that all you need to do, really, is paint by numbers.
It sounds like you enjoyed making Extract for the same reasons you enjoyed making Cheap Thrills. Are you interested in doing more films with these darker undertones?
I'm always trying to mine that [undertone]. At their core, Todd Packer [Koechner's recurring character on The Office] and Champ Kind [his character in the Anchorman movies] are pretty dark. They're pretty messed-up individuals.