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Around the same time, Michaels also hired a young comedian out of LA named Will Ferrell. The two debuted in a 1995 rookie class that included future mainstays like Darrell Hammond, Chris Kattan, Cheri Oteri and Colin Quinn.

For Koechner, SNL was a chance to show off his character work. T-Bones was given center stage, popping up in one memorable skit when he played executioner to Christopher Walken's death-row inmate. Koechner was also one half of the wig-wearing European dandy duo "The Fops." While Koechner felt he was at the top of his game, his characters failed to achieve the massive popularity of his superstar castmates' — the same season saw the debut of the "Spartan Cheerleaders," "Goat Boy" and the "Roxbury Guys."

The way Koechner explains it, NBC was concerned about the ratings as it competed with rival programs MADtv and The Howard Stern Show. Koechner says he was told that the West Coast NBC execs wanted changes.

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 was one of the changes."

He was dropped from the cast after a single season.

"It was devastating," he remembers. "I had just got my ticket punched, up to the major leagues and suddenly I'm back in Double-A."

Nevertheless, having SNL on his résumé opened doors for Koechner. He moved to LA, and in 1999 reconnected with SNL writer David "Gruber" Allen. The two created The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show, an endearingly lowbrow musical variety act that became a fan favorite on the LA comedy scene, especially at Largo. He also managed to pick up a few minor movie roles.

In 2003, Koechner got word from his agent that his old pals McKay and Ferrell were casting a movie about the halcyon days of 1970s local news. He auditioned and won the part of Champ Kind, a cowboy-hat-wearing sportscaster who is both a skirt-chasing misogynist and a barely closeted homosexual.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was made on a $26 million budget and after its release in the summer of 2004 grossed $95 million worldwide. It was arguably a bigger hit in DVD form, becoming, as Koechner puts it, like an "old friend people are so happy to revisit."

The movie was a turning point in the careers of the entire cast. Ferrell was formally inducted into the "Frat Pack" by the media. It was Apatow's first huge movie success, and he followed up with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad. Steve Carell would also go on to become a household name, taking over The Office as Michael Scott. Conventionally handsome Paul Rudd scored leading roles in various Apatow productions, like 2012's This Is 40.

For Koechner, the success following Anchorman was more subdued. He was dubbed a "junior varsity" member of the Frat Pack by USA Today. He is regularly confused with actor Rob Corddry, due to their similar hairlines and talent for playing absurd characters. And most of the doors that opened led Koechner to similar roles: alpha-male buffoons with varying degrees of sleaziness.

Koechner says he doesn't agonize over the disparity in fame between himself and the other members of San Diego's Action 4 News Team.

"There's nothing I can do except live my life and try to be as true and honest to myself as I can be."

"To me," he says, "it's all a gift."


On March 28, 2012, Koechner received a phone call, suggesting he may want to tune in to Conan that night.

That evening, Ron Burgundy himself stepped out in his trademark suit, white shoes and irrepressible masculinity. After a blistering flute solo, Burgundy/Ferrell got to the point:

"As of oh-nine-hundred Mountain Time, Paramount Pictures and myself, Ronald Joseph Aaron Burgundy, have come to terms on a sequel to Anchorman."

"It was beautiful," Koechner recalls. "I was like, 'Wow, I can't believe it! Look at this! Look at us!' It's like the old friends getting to play and getting paid for it."

The sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, is a roughly two-hour-long behemoth so packed with material that McKay seriously considered releasing it in two installments.

(Click here for our our full-length review.)

Set in 1980s New York City, the plot finds the news team confronted with the burgeoning opportunities of the 24-hour news cycle, as well as the threat of a rival anchorman, played by James Marsden. The $50 million production was shot in Atlanta over the course of three months starting in March.

"It was like camp," says Koechner. "The dynamic of the group is the same. Those guys don't have an arrogant bone in their bodies. It's not about ego; it's about the work."

The promotional blitz surrounding the movie has been massive as well. Ron Burgundy turned up on several real nightly newscasts around the country, shot 70 commercials for the Dodge Durango, inspired a Ben & Jerry's ice-cream flavor ("Scotchy Scotch Scotch") and published his own "memoir."

Champ Kind has been unleashed as well: He blustered about on NFL Network and even "auditioned" to be a regular on NFL Total Access. (During the segment, he repeatedly asked the Buffalo Bills' Stevie Johnson if could crash on the wide-receiver's couch for "four to six months.")

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25 comments
Joey Hay
Joey Hay

He lived right across the street...

Toney Lowery
Toney Lowery

The guy who lived next door to me on Blair Court in Columbia MO

Scott Hirst
Scott Hirst

Proud to be from my little hometown in Tipton, Mo.

Clay Kniepmann
Clay Kniepmann

I am not ashamed to say that I own the Naked Trucker and T-Bones concert DVD. He was also classic on SNL back in the day. Best executioner ever.

Jack Probst
Jack Probst

I believe he's usually referred to as "that one guy from that thing".

 

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