Comedian and Missouri native David Koechner is still known only as "that guy." Will Anchorman 2 change that?

Comedian and Missouri native David Koechner is still known only as "that guy." Will <i>Anchorman 2</i> change that?
Amanda Lopez

"Is 'cunt' too much?" asks David Koechner.

The comedian, best recognized as Champ Kind from the hit 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, is sitting outside his childhood home in Tipton, a tiny town in central Missouri, his bald head lightly flecked with the summer rain that's been starting and stopping all day. His elbows rest on a picnic table his father built years ago with leftover scrap metal from the family manufacturing business.

The question is directed at Matt Dwyer, Koechner's opening act for a comedy benefit show that night at the St. Andrew Catholic School gym in the middle of town.

Koechner, Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd in Anchorman 2.
Gemma LaMana
Koechner, Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd in Anchorman 2.
Koechner and Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney in their recurring SNL roles as British fops Fagan and Lucien Callow.
Koechner and Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney in their recurring SNL roles as British fops Fagan and Lucien Callow.

"I say feel it out," says Dwyer.

Koechner, Dwyer and guitarist Andy Paley are preparing the show's material. The table is cluttered with notebooks, a thick binder and an open MacBook. Koechner fidgets with a black marker in his right hand.

"I don't think I should do 'River,'" he says.

Dwyer looks confused. "What's 'River'?" he asks.

Koechner slackens his jaw, juts out his lower lip and tightens his brows, adopting the dumb expression and clipped drawl of his oldest character, a hillbilly drifter named Gerald "T-Bones" Tibbons. The character, whom Koechner debuted on Saturday Night Live in 1996, is based on a real person — an itinerant roofer named "Four Way George" who hung out at an intersection in Tipton for one memorable childhood summer. Koechner launches into the joke:

"Dirtiest joke I ever heard was told to me by the Mississippi River. Hey, I can't repeat the joke 'cause it's got the word 'cunt' in it. And I'm not gonna to stand up here and say the word 'cunt' to an audience."

Dwyer and Paley crack up, and Koechner, on a roll, stays in character:

"I ain't gonna tell the joke, 'cause it's offensive. I mean, the joke's got the word 'cunt' in it. And I'm not gonna be the guy that they say, 'Oh, he told the joke with the word "cunt."' I ain't gonna do it, I ain't gonna do it!"

Moments later, Koechner is back to looking nervous as he flips through a binder of jokes scrawled on loose leaf paper. He'll be performing for 600 people — nearly a third of the town's population — over the next two days. Tonight he'll stand before an audience containing his mother, all five of his siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins and dozens of childhood friends. It's the first time he has ever performed in his hometown.

Ten years after Anchorman, Koechner has attained the "Oh, that guy!" type of fame a scene-stealing character actor can live on for years. Subsequently, the 51 year old had memorable turns as a skeezeball gun lobbyist in Thank You for Smoking, a persistently annoying neighbor in Extract and a number of supporting roles in Judd Apatow comedies. He also landed a recurring role as Michael Scott's thoroughly awful friend Todd Packer on the U.S. version of The Office.

Koechner arrived in Tipton that morning at the wheel of a hulking white GMC van. Crammed inside were Dwyer, Paley, a personal assistant and Koechner's brother-in-law, Pat Morgan. Also along for the ride was the two-man camera crew that produces Koechner's YouTube series Full On Koechner, a mixture of skits and character work. The resulting posse is less Hollywood entourage and more of a circus.

Koechner points out the driver-side window at various landmarks, like a water tower painted up as a giant eight ball, the remnants of a billiards factory shuttered in the late '70s.

"The city limits extend past a prison, and federal dollars are allocated on headcount," he says. "So a thousand of the residents are locked up."

Koechner parks the van at the Hometown Cafe, and he and the group settle at a corner table. He orders a burger, but soon two boys, no older than ten, approach him. They stare in open-mouthed awe.

"Do you like Ford or Dodge?" Koechner asks one, before asking after their grandfather.

This pattern repeats itself for nearly everyone in the restaurant: kitchen staff, the family of four sitting in a booth on the other side of room, more kids meekly asking for autographs and pictures. Koechner turns no one away. He asks questions about their families, whose names he always recognizes. His burger remains largely untouched.

"Part of me feels obligated because I'm from here," he says, sitting down to finally finish his food. "They need a touchstone...," his voice trails off for a few moments, " make sure I haven't changed. To make sure that we're all from the same place."

That evening, Koechner arrives at the gym an hour before Dwyer is scheduled to open. Cameras are set up on the collapsed bleachers opposite the stage. The smell of pizza and wings permeates the air. Volunteers man a concession stand in the gym's lobby, take tickets and hand out buckets full of clinking bottles of Budweiser.

When Koechner walks onstage, the crowd roars. He's changed out of the blue polo and now wears a snug black T-shirt, cowboy boots, dark jeans and his fedora.

"I have five kids," he begins. "People say: 'Wow, you must learn a lot from your children.' This is what I learned: I fucking hate kids."

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