Saturday Night’s Children: David Koechner (1995-1996)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
From workplace sexual harasser Todd Packer on The Office to the white trash Gerald “T-Bones” Tibbons from The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show, David Koechner’s found a comfortable niche with his coterie of wildly inappropriate rednecks, yet you’d never know he’d be such a success judging from his single-season SNL stint from 1995-1996. These days, Koechner continues to perform live improv and stand-up on top of staying super busy as a father of five as well as comedy’s go-to Southern trucker/cowboy/yokel.
A native of Tipton, Missouri, Koechner studied political science at Benedictine College in Kansas as well as the University of Missouri before moving to Chicago to study improv, first under the legendary Del Close at ImprovOlympic followed by a stint at Second City, where he graduated in 1994 with future SNLers Adam McKay and Rachel Dratch. Alongside Will Ferrell, Jim Breuer, Darrell Hammond, Cheri Oteri, Nancy Walls, and Adam McKay (hired as a writer), Koechner was hired at SNL for its cast overhaul the following year.
During his time on SNL, Koechner had a few recurring characters: Fagan the British Fop (with Mark McKinney as his pal Lucien), straight-man neighbor Tom Taylor in Ferrell’s “GET OFF THE SHED!” sketches, one of the drunk salesmen in the “Bill Brasky” sketches, and Weekend Update anchor Norm Macdonald’s fictional younger brother Gary Macdonald, who was based on one of his improv characters named “Jokey.” Another one of Koechner’s iO/Second City characters Gerald “T-Bones” Tibbons — a stereotypical redneck complete with underbite and greasy comb-over — made his television debut on SNL. Koechner also impersonated celebrities like Burt Reynolds, Oliver Stone, and Charlie Sheen, news commentators/personalities Pat Buchanan, Mike Ditka, and Willard Scott, and OJ Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro.
Despite Koechner’s rising momentum on the show, he was let go at the end of the season along with Nancy Walls. Earlier this year, Koechner explained his departure to The Huffington Post:
I said “no” to a couple of things on the show, which they don’t like. And it was the first year that there was late night competition. My first year was the first year that MADtv came on the scene and Howard Stern was doing a late night show. So, ratings dipped a little bit. And there was a whole new cast. It was the first time in probably 20 years that the West Coast had an ability to strong arm Lorne. And Lorne had no interest in letting me go — he wanted to keep me. But there was a guy named Don Ohlmeyer out on NBC West Coast who wasn’t a fan of mine and he wanted me off.
I have to ask, what exactly did you say “no” to?
Well, they wanted one of my characters to do a talk show. And I was of the opinion that that’s what was wrong with the show. “We’ve got too many talk shows! We need to do more scenes!” [Laughs] They didn’t give a shit about what I wanted. Like, “Here boy, do what we tell you!”
While his time on SNL was cut short, Koechner made lasting friendships with his colleagues there that blossomed into later success, the first being his partnership with guest SNL writer Dave “Gruber” Allen (who worked with Koechner on the 1999 mockumentary Dill Scallion), whose character “Naked Trucker” paired with Koechner’s T-Bones to create a musical comedy duo that toured comedy clubs as well as late night shows like Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Almost ten years after Koechner and Allen teamed up, Comedy Central gave them their own series The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show, which aired eight episodes in 2007.
Koechner’s relationship with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay also led to parts in plenty of films including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, and Semi-Pro. Aside from his role as the sexual innuendo-loving Todd Packer on The Office, Koechner’s had TV roles on Freaks and Geeks, Norm, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Reno 911!, American Dad, and even three appearances on Hannah Montana (his daughter was a fan of the show). Beyond his work with Allen, Ferrell, and McKay, Koechner’s also enjoyed small parts in a countless string of films including Wag the Dog, Dirty Work, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Man on the Moon, Run Ronnie Run, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Snakes on a Plane, Balls of Fury, and Extract and starred in the 2007 sports film parody The Comebacks.
These days, Koechner already has several forthcoming film roles in thrillers (Wedding Day, Cheap Thrills), comedies (A Haunted House, No Clue), and animation (Hell & Back), not to mention his reprisal of sportscaster Champ Kind in Anchorman: The Legend Continues, which is gearing up for a potential late 2013 release. He’s also currently touring with SNL alum Abby Elliott and TBS’s Owen Benjamin under the name Splitting Hairs, which you can read more about here.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.