In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Sam Richardson might be good at playing a bumbling idiot, but that doesn’t mean he is one. Though the Detroit native is a scene-stealer as Veep’s clueless Richard Splett, a one-time local volunteer who has somehow stumbled his way into the White House, Richardson is a smart dude, not to mention well credentialed. A Second City performer who’s been nominated for a number of theatrical awards, Richardson has starred in all manner of comedic roles, from inept cop Dunston on a recent episode of New Girl to football legend Jim Brown on Drunk History. He’ll also appear in this summer’s Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates and, alongside SNL writer Tim Robinson, is penning the upcoming Comedy Central series Detroiters, about a couple of big time ad men who move back to the Motor City.
Veep returns this Sunday, April 24, on HBO.
Sam Richardson: How is it possible that you’re so different from your character on Veep? You in no way seem doltish, or like an idiot. And you’re so socially conscious.
AVC: Do people really ask if you’re a dolt?
SR: So many people will say, “Oh man, what you said is just like Richard!” I’m like, “Oh no, don’t say that.” Or sometimes people will say, “You seem a little like your character,” and I think, “I don’t know if you mean it as an insult.”
AVC: Well, you are good at playing an idiot. Veep, New Girl…
SR: It’s my bread and butter, I think. I am that person, and I wish people didn’t know.
SR: It would be between a giant eagle or a dragon. Maybe giant eagle. I always want to be flying over stuff. And the trust of an eagle is a bond that can’t be broken, I think. It would be cool to go outside, and you’re like, “All right, I’ve got to go,” and everybody’s calling their Ubers and then you just give out this eagle cry. Then you hear an eagle cry respond to it and then out of the sky comes this eagle. It eclipses the sun a little bit and then swoops up and gets you. That’s a dream of mine and I’m going to make that happen.
AVC: Do you want a bald eagle or are you cool with a golden eagle?
SR: I’m cool with a golden. I’m not going to try and be a symbol for America. Golden is fine. I feel like with the bald eagle I’d be trying to say something or trying to take a political stance.
AVC: Donald Trump would say bald eagle.
SR: He’d say bald eagle as a knee-jerk response. But I’m like, “No, there are many eagles out there.”
AVC: Golden eagles are bigger, I think.
SR: They’re bigger?
AVC: I think so? [Nope, not really.—ed.]
SR: The bigger the better. Actually maybe Donald Trump would say golden eagle because it’s gold and it’s big.
SR: The movie I’ve seen the most is Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters II. I used to watch those movies nonstop.
AVC: When you were a kid or when you were older?
SR: Full adulthood. No, when I was a kid I used to watch Ghostbusters a whole lot, but then later on I would watch Ghostbusters II. I had a relationship that was completely predicated on smoking weed, having sex, and watching Ghostbusters II. Like, nonstop. The whole relationship was just that. We lived together, we would do those three things, and it was just rinse and repeat.
AVC: Did you have Ghostbusters on VHS?
SR: Oh, absolutely.
AVC: Was it taped off TV or was it an official version?
SR: It was taped off TV, but it was taped off British TV so there were a whole bunch of British commercials in between, so there were weird monsters selling cereal and candies I don’t remember the name of, like fruit pastilles…
AVC: Why was it taped off British TV?
SR: I grew up between Detroit and Ghana, so in Ghana, all the tapes were things that were recorded—like my aunts or my cousins would record them from their TVs and then bring the tapes to Ghana. So we just watched those tapes. It was full of Upstairs, Downstairs and other stuff I don’t remember.
SR: Like a real dumb idiot, I believed that to avoid a grenade that drops in the water you could just jump in the water and you’d be fine. I watched a video recently, and if you jump in the water and a grenade is in the water there’s a ripple effect. If you have air in your lungs, it’ll just completely wreck your lungs. The air pressure has nowhere to go, so the shock wave goes through you and the air in your lungs would just completely damage your organs. And like a dummy, I didn’t know that.
AVC: Well, it’s not a situation you run into all the time. Hopefully.
SR: Not most people. I’m also a mercenary for hire, so I’m running into all sorts of things.
SR: I don’t hear a lot of things about myself. Maybe that I started in stand-up? I’ve never done stand-up in my life. I don’t know if that’s entirely interesting, but I came up in improv.
That shows how interesting I am. Like, “What’s the most interesting thing I’ve heard about myself?” “I started in stand-up!” [Laughs.]
AVC: Some people don’t really know the difference.
SR: Exactly. It’s just like twists on a knob. But to me, they’re worlds apart.
AVC: Do you think you could do stand-up? Would you have five minutes of material? Not necessarily a five-minute TV set, but maybe an open-mic five minutes?
SR: I’d say I can do five minutes in front of friends and family. Or in front of a very nice audience who all understand every reference I make and have the exact same background as me. I’d do stand-up on my aunts, like, “Isn’t it funny when Auntie Barbara Rose…?” And they’re like, “Aw, yeah!”
AVC: You can do family reunion stand-up.
SR: Yeah, family reunion stand-up. “My dad said, the other day…”
SR: I’ve eaten part of my tooth. I had a weird cavity that broke apart in my teeth—this is a bad story. I was eating and thought, “It’s like I’m swallowing rocks,” and then I checked and part of my tooth is missing. I ate it.
Calcium, I guess, is good for you. I got a cap on it. Like a crown.
AVC: So you didn’t bother to go find it?
SR: Exactly. I wasn’t going to strain through stuff to eventually get it. Let bygones be bygones with that one. Just let it go.
SR: The first concert I ever went to was Boyz II Men at Joe Louis Arena. Opening for them was a group called Next, who sang “Too Close.” I swear they sang that song “Too Close” at the top of the set, and then just like gyrated and grinded for like 20, 30 minutes in between, and sang the song again to close the set.
AVC: How old were you when you went?
SR: I was prime Boyz II Men age. I was 13 years old. So, their key demographic, 13-year-old boys. I went with my cousin Lauren, who really wanted to go. So I was like “Yeah, sure. I’ll hit up the Boyz II Men concert.”
I’ve never heard so much screaming in my life that wasn’t because of some disaster or fire.
AVC: Was this around “Motownphilly” or was it like “I’ll Make Love To You” era?
SR: This would’ve been “I’ll Make Love To You” era. And even past that, I’m guessing—’96, maybe?
SR: It was definitely going to the Emmys. When we won the Emmy for best series—I didn’t do it on purpose, but I ended up like front and center, right in the camera and standing right next to Julia. My friends were like, “Ooh I see what you did there, you piece of garbage.” I didn’t do it opportunistically. It just happened. I’m not saying that I’m sad it happened, though. It was nice to get to have the limelight in my life. I looked dead in the camera at one point.
That was the most interesting opportunity I’ve had, like to stand on the stage of the Emmys next to Julia and everybody and just be front and center as if I am the star of the show that features Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
AVC: When you win that award, do you get an Emmy or do those only go to the producers of the show?
SR: Just the producers. We went backstage like, “Here we go, I got a place on my mantel for this Emmy!” And then we realized we don’t get them. That’s fine. But I definitely didn’t know that until the moment where I didn’t get one.
AVC: Did you meet anyone cool? Were you in the bathroom with Brad Pitt or anything?
SR: Not the first time, and not the last time either.
Mel Brooks presented our award, though, and he’s a comedy legend. Growing up you learn so many comic sensibilities from him and to have him—When he said “Veep!” he screamed the name of the show when he announced that we won, and it was so great to see him backstage. And then Tracy Morgan was back there too and that was Tracy Morgan’s first time appearing since his accident. He was right backstage and so nice, and it was so great to talk to him for a second.
AVC: The Emmys seem like one of those weird things where you’re in the room and all of the sudden you’re like, “Wait, I’m invited to this?”
SR: “I didn’t sneak in here, did I? I’m on a list, I guess?” The whole time I was like, “Somebody’s going to make a call and say this is a mistake.” “Get him out of that car. This is a mistake, don’t let him into the Emmys. This is a mistake, don’t let him backstage. This is a mistake, don’t let him into the after-party. This is a mistake, don’t let him into his own house.”
AVC: “Don’t come back to work on Monday!”
SR: Exactly. “There’s been a clerical error. We’ve edited you out of every scene that you’ve done in Veep.”
AVC: “We cast the wrong Sam Richardson. We mean to cast this other one.”
SR: “You understand. We’re going to go in, digitally scrub you out, and put this other Sam Richardson in here, who’s a pro golfer.”
SR: I’ve gone through so many embarrassing phases. Truly.
This wasn’t the most embarrassing phase, but when I was 6 or 7, me and my best friend Prashant would walk around in tight black T-shirts and jeans and do karate. We were taking karate and so we were just trying to be like Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme. That’s more cute than embarrassing, though.
An embarrassing phase would’ve been like… oh. Okay. I went to an all-boys high school—we’d have dances but the girls from the all-girls school would come and we’d go to the all-girls school dances. I’d always be like, “Uh-oh, time for a dance. I’ve got to get myself a sweet outfit.” And I’d go to this goth shop and buy the tightest shirts, like these shiny blue and black tops and these sparkly pants, and I’d be like, “Here we go, dance craze,” and just do the worm. I would do what I thought was breakdancing but it really wasn’t and then I’d sweat crazily. That was pretty embarrassing.
Another embarrassing high school phase was when I really got into singing Sinatra. I would sing Sinatra at places all the time. I was at a friend’s graduation party and I was like, “Hey, there’s a band here. Do you mind if I sing a song with you guys?” They let me, and it was like I shut down the party. It was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was singing “More,” and the band didn’t really know the song. I knew it, but I was off-key and everybody was like, “Why is he singing a song?” In my head it was going to go so different than it did. I’ve even got chills thinking about it. That was the worst thing I’ve done. What a terrible phase.
AVC: Do you think you did it just because you wanted to perform no matter what, or because you really didn’t know it was weird, or because you just thought you were a great singer?
SR: I think it’s a sweet bouillabaisse of all three. I enjoyed performance. I really loved Frank Sinatra. He was great. And I was also trying to give this—here’s something people do at these things. They kind of give a toast of the moment, and I thought, “I’ll toast you with this sweet melody.” With no perspective on myself, I really just put myself out there in an embarrassing way.
AVC: It’s funny to think about how much time we put into outfits and appearances when we were younger, only to look back at pictures now and just think, “Why? Why did this require that amount of thought?”
SR: Who did this to me? Surely I didn’t do this to myself.
This is humiliating. I was my own worst enemy, it would seem.
SR: I used to work at the Second City in Chicago. I did two shows there, and I worked there for two years. I would steal the commemorative glasses they would give us backstage. They’d be like, “Here’s your shift beer,” and I would pocket so many of those tall beer glasses. I would habitually take them. When it came time for me to move from Chicago to L.A., I realized I had stolen honest to God 50 of these glasses and I had no space for them. So they’re in a box, all these Second City glasses. I’ve got maybe two of them in my house. I’m looking at one of them right now.
AVC: Even if you break a few, you’ll still have them for years.
SR: I could smash them all day. I really could.
I don’t even know why I thought I’d want these. I love the Second City, and it was my home, but I don’t know why I thought I’d want 50 Second City glasses, like I was going to open my own Second City at some point and need to supply the barware for it.
SR: I was just at the Lakers-Clippers game, and I was on the court. It was one of Kobe [Bryant]’s last games, and Floyd Mayweather was a few seats down from me. I think the rule is if you laugh at Floyd Mayweather’s jokes he’ll talk to you.
It was so cool because first off you’re at that game and all the players are talking to Floyd. You’re in the middle of the game and he’s talking to them. It was like, “What? This is interactive! I didn’t know you could do this at a game.” But of course you can if it’s Floyd Mayweather. The money man.
Anyway, he says something and I’m like “hahahaha” and he hears the laugh and turns to me like “Oh, all right.” And then he just starts saying things, like kind of directing them toward me or toward the side. So I learned if you laugh at Floyd Mayweather’s jokes, he’ll focus on you a little bit. It was really cool. It was super cool.
Make sure to put in a side note that he’s cool, because the guy punches people for a living, and that’s not what my specialty is.
Bonus 12th question from Stephanie Beatriz: What’s one major change that you could make in your daily life that would either affect the people around you or humanity in a good way but that you don’t do, and why don’t you do it?
SR: I guess I could stop dumping all this toxic waste I produce every day into the streets. But I just like doing it so much. [Laughs.]
I could maybe shower less. No, I can’t do that, because I live in L.A. and I’d be crucified. I guess I could shower a little less, but then it just feels so good to shower.
AVC: You could take shorter showers?
SR: I could take shorter showers. No, I don’t want to even say that because my neighbors would be like, “What are you doing?! We go through droughts out here.”
I could maybe walk more instead of driving or taking an Uber around my neighborhood. But I’m just lazy. Essentially the closest thing to teleporting is calling an Uber.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?
SR: What are you going to do for yourself as a gift today?
AVC: What are you going to do?
SR: I’m going to get a massage today, and it’s going to be delightful.