An accurate claim, I swear.
More than a few years ago my neighbor, Jeanine was a writer on NBC’s LATE NIGHT with CONAN O’BRIEN, his original show in New York. One day Jeanine called me, “Hey, we’re looking for someone to play Andy Richter’s mom in a sketch and I thought you’d be perfect.”
It was one of those moments when, within a single heartbeat, both joy and hope join together then splat against the windshield of your reality. Being invited to do a comedy sketch on national television, totally swell! Being told you’re “perfect” to play the mother of someone 11 years your junior, totally not. (For the deep dive into that pool, see “Angie & Ethel & Me“.)
But an acting job is an acting job. So in under ten seconds I was at Jeanine’s apartment door, picture and resume in hand. “Yes, yes, I’d LOVE to play Andy’s Mom.” I got the call from the casting director the next day – I was in!
TV works quickly and the following afternoon, I reported to 30 Rock. As I entered the magnificent Art Deco lobby, I could smell my break just around the corner. Within minutes I was standing at the brass turnstiles which guard the elevators to NBC Studios. To my right snaked a long line of tourists eagerly clutching tickets for the NBC tour. “Amateurs!” I giggled under my breath. I stepped to the left; the employee entrance. I felt more than a few pairs of eyes follow my progress. Invisible thought bubbles silently queried “Is she someone famous?” Go ahead and wonder,” I purred to myself. With a toss of my head and a perfect runway walk, I stepped into the elevator. The doors closed behind me. And, scene!
The 8th Floor receptionist hit a button and announced my arrival. In a nano-second, Joyce appeared. She was short, somewhere between 35 and 63 and wore a smock with patch pockets. This smock could have doubled as Rommel’s battle strategy map; it hosted two or three battalions of straight pins. She scurried us back to wardrobe. Once there Joyce donned the glasses that hung around her neck and gave me a cursory once-over. After fingering the collar of my jacket she pronounced my outfit “perfect.” I was quickly introduced to Tom, my soon to be TV husband. Interestingly, Tom had managed to dress “perfectly” as well. Either we were both really good at this or it didn’t matter what we looked like. My story, my dream. I chose Door #1.
As it turned out, Tom and I were briefly acquainted from a previous acting class. Not too acquainted, since we couldn’t remember where or when. Still, it greatly informed our relationship backstory for the scene ahead. This turned out to be a lifesaver as we were whisked into makeup, where one makeup artist spent a total of 7 minutes on the pair of us. At minute 8, we were called to set.
By “called to set” I mean we were ushered into the nearest NBC Men’s Room. Once inside, the Second AD (assistant director) explained the scene. As the room was fully tiled, her voice kept bouncing off the walls. Each time it hit us, Tom and I nodded in eager comprehension.
“You are Andy’s parents, in from out of town. Andy is really eager to introduce you to Conan, but he’s been having trouble making that happen.
Suddenly, Andy spots Conan step in here to use the facilities. He sees his opportunity and pounces. He drags you, Mom and Dad, into the Men’s Room where you find Conan using a urinal!”
She pauses here so we can telegraph our delight at the hilarity we’re about to take part in. I mean, she really pauses. So, we oblige.
“Now, that doesn’t stop Andy, nor does it stop you, Mom and Dad. You’re a family made from the same friendly cloth or maybe it’s Quilted Northern Toilet Paper, both soft and strong! Who knows, right?”
There was a slight pause. Empathically, we sense the TP bit was a creative touch she threw in on the fly and she’s not sure it landed. But Tom and I are already a team. We offer the Second AD a quick nod and a smile. It’s just enough; she continues.
“Andy jumps right into the introductions. Now, Mr. Richter, Senior, you offer your hand. To Conan. Who is actively using the urinal!! And you, Mrs. Richter, Senior you smile and wave (shyly, of course – this is a Men’s Room, after all. Wink. Wink.)”
I think you get the picture…
Now, as excited as I was to be on TV, and national TV at that, even though this was a union gig for Tom and I, contractually speaking, it was the equivalent of doing background work. Performers’ union contracts are very specific. They spell out exactly what actors are being paid to do. And if during this scene, what Tom and I did involved anywhere from 1-5 spoken lines, under the AFTRA contract in place that would be considered an “Under 5” and NBC would have to pay us a lot more, plus residuals. While we tried to communicate (without words, of course) that we were more than willing to go there, for us the scene remained mute.
So, therein lay our acting challenge. Tom and I needed to make the most of a comedy scene with Conan and Andy in an NBC Men’s Room on national television. And we had to do it without uttering a word. Now you can see what I meant about the benefit of our having that instant backstory, right?
When the director yelled, “ACTION!,” Andy Richter’s Mom and Dad quickly settled into heartfelt murmurs and deep communicative glances. Without technically talking, we pushed it a little harder with each take. I finally started muttering actual words here and there, but NEVER COMPLETELY! (Genius, right?) It may not have been dialogue, technically speaking, but our intentions were clear. Sadly, I don’t have the tape to prove this. It’s lost somewhere in the NBC vaults. But in my heart I know on that afternoon, in that NBC Men’s Room, Tom and I silently and successfully made a connection with Conan. At a urinal. And we were darn nice about it.
We looked “perfect.” We offered our hand in friendship (okay, strictly speaking, I waved my hand in friendship — potato, potahto.) But what’s really important is, we made our son proud. And at the end, isn’t that what it’s really all about?
Amy Poehler as “Stacy Richter” on NBC’s LATE NIGHT with CONAN O’BRIEN
I recently discovered that Amy Poehler, before SNL fame, played a recurring role on LATE NIGHT as Andy Richter’s younger sister, Stacey . She was lucky enough to always appear in full headgear (SEE LEFT).
If I could, I’d consult with Stephen Hawking on this, but since I did watch his PBS program the other night, I think I can make a case that, space and time being relative, this means I either could or already have played Amy Poehler’s Mom. I know!
So, if you happen to run into her, please let Amy know I’m eager and available to reprise the role. Maybe we could get Andy, too? And Tom. A full on family reunion. But this time, nobody’s keeping Mrs. Richter, Senior in the corner!