Tipton, Missouri knows all about David Koechner. Granted, the 50-year-old comedian is hardly flying under the radar: He's reprising his career role as the cowboy-hat-wearing sportscaster Champ Kind in December's Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and, yes, he also played Michael Scott's "friend" Todd Packer in NBC's The Office -- but even so: The conservative, mostly-Catholic town 160 miles west of St. Louis (pop. 3,262) knew him first, long before any of that.
Koechner grew up in Tipton. So did his parents, five siblings and numerous relatives. He performed two shows there over the weekend to benefit Tipton's chamber of commerce.
For over 50 years, Tipton has bought (and still buys) turkey coops from the Koechner family's manufacturing business, and the neighborhood kids still play on the jungle gym in front of the Koechner place; Pick a random Tipton resident and chances are they have a "Dave story" -- for example, how at six-years-old he and brother Mark tied a gullible babysitter to a chair leg during a game of cowboys and Indians. She never babysat for them again.
Decades later, the same babysitter, Nana Dueber, was there to see Koechner's Friday night show on a stage in the same Catholic grade-school he attended in the '70s. Koechner estimates later that he knew, personally or through relatives, about 90 percent of the 300-strong audience, which included high school classmates, old friends, all his siblings and his mother. It was a crowd unmatched by any in Koechner's career.
"It's a different relationship and it's a different expectation," Koechner reflects. Though referring to the two shows over the weekend, he could just as easily have been describing what it's like living in a place where everyone's business naturally becomes everyone's business.
In Tipton, a misunderstanding or assumption can quickly accelerate into rumor. "This isn't about me," Koechner says. "It's the nature of any small community." He tells me how five years ago he had been invited to ride in Tipton's 150th anniversary parade. All he did was request an extra ticket for his brother-in-law but some news flew around town that the extra ticket was for none other than Will Ferrell, resulting in obvious disappointment when they got the brother-in-law, Patrick.
On the other hand, those relationships and expectations allowed Koechner to perform an hour-long act he could never be reproduced with any other crowd. In a town with only around 2,200* residents -- where, as David's brother Mark Koechner puts it, "It's kind hard not to know everyone" -- the distinction between an "inside joke" and just a "joke joke" gets kind of lost.
How else can you explain how a five-minute tangent about a certain vagrant roofer, a Mr. Four-Way George, who had spent one summer in Tipton decades in the past, killed that audience. Do you know about Four-Way George? A lot of people in Tipton seem to know about the guy, as mention of his name raised serious whoo-ing and laughter around the room Friday night. Apparently, good old Four-Way spent most of the time in a broken-down car at an intersection -- that kind of four-way, you pervs -- and served as the inspiration for Koechner's character T-Bones, of the "The Naked Trucker and T-Bones" live act and (sadly) short-lived Comedy Central series.
[*For the astute reader who is wondering: "Hey you said there were 3,200 people in Tipton, what gives? Answer: The other 1,000 locked up in a nearby prison. Or, as Koechner put it to me; "A third of the town is locked up!"]
Continue for more from my time with David Koechner.
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