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Parenting Tips from Comedian Andy Richter

Andy Richter, 42, may be best known as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick on “The Tonight Show.” But to at least two people – Richter’s eight-year-old son, William, and his four-year-old daughter, Mercy – he’s more than the main attraction. He’s the center of the universe. Richter, who also voices the characters of Ben on the Nickelodeon show “The Mighty B!” and Mort on Nick’s “The Penguins of Madagascar,” recently talked to Babble about the universal appeal of fart jokes and the secret to a long, healthy marriage (hint: it involves fish. And shrinks). – Tammy La Gorce

So the big news for you this year is that you’re back working alongside Conan after a nine-year absence, during which you tried your luck on a couple of other TV series. Are you happy to be back side-kicking?

I’m thrilled, actually. I work with someone I actually like and respect and am friends with, as opposed to being out in the world in a situation where I might not enjoy the company of who I’m working with as much, and where people get to tell me whether I’m funny or not.

Tell us about your kids.

I have a son who’s going to be nine in November, and my daughter just turned four. Both kids are really sharp and really funny. My son is big – everyone always thinks he’s eleven. And not that he’s terribly behaved, but they expect him to act much older than he is because of his size.

Right – there are downsides to being big, even for boys.

Yeah. We went to play putt-putt golf the other day, and there were these tiny Asian kids, much smaller than him, hitting the ball much better. He didn’t understand why, and I told him, “Those kids are probably twelve years old!”

Do your kids get your sense of humor? Do they think you’re funny?

All you have to do to make them laugh is throw pee and poop into the conversation or make fart noises. They love that. When my son started to get to the age of liking jokes, every one we would make involved pee or poop or farting. We thought, “Oh my God, we’ve raised a frat-house monster.” Then we took a trip to preschool: that’s what makes all of them laugh. It’s universally funny.

What about your work on “The Mighty B!” and “The Penguins of Madagascar?” Do the kids think you’re incredibly cool because you’re on those shows? Are you brag-worthy?

No, not really. My son is starting to become aware a little bit that I have a fun job, that it’s kind of neat to do what I do. He brought a friend to the premiere of Madagascar 2, and that was cool. But his eyes are opened to the fact that I’m the guy who keeps him from eating ice cream in the morning.

What’s interesting is that I think my daughter thinks of the cartoons as a real environment, one we kind of coexist in: she knows they’re made up, but she also thinks of them as real. And it’s that way with all kids, probably. They often have family parties at Nick, and my son met Tom Kenny, who does the voice of SpongeBob. But he still thinks SpongeBob is a real creature out in the ocean somewhere.

So they think of you sort of as a fun cartoon character rather than a celebrity?

As far as them thinking I’m cool, they really don’t, because they think of me as their parent. Which is how it should be. Whenever I hear anybody say, “My dad is my hero,” I always think, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Parents are like the drapes in your bedroom – you barely even notice them or what they do.

What’s your favorite show for kids?

I have to say “Mighty B!” is pretty great, and “Penguins” is pretty great. Both are the kind of things I can watch and have watched without a child in the room. Lately my son’s been really getting into “Dr. Who” on the BBC. There’s also another BBC show I started recording called “Primevil” which, the basis of the story is time holes are opening up all over the place and dinosaurs are coming out, and there are secret agent police squads and dinosaur cops. We’re really into that.

With my daughter, I’m very proud and very happy that she loves “Looney Tunes” and “Tom & Jerry” – the old cartoons. She prefers them. It’s not anything we really forced on her. I know parents who are like these aesthetic cops – they insist their child should watch an episode of “My Pretty Pony” or whatever. I certainly don’t turn on “Barney” and say, “Come and watch this insipid garbage.”

Do the kids ever catch you on “The Tonight Show?”

My kids fight endlessly. Constantly. My son watches “The Tonight Show” on occasion. I show him bits that are on if there’s something splashy or interesting, like when we blow up a car. He came the day there were human cannonballs from Ringling Brothers. I think it’s one of the things he’ll look back on and feel lucky about, to have grown up where there are days when he went to work with Dad and got to see a couple of human cannonballs.

You recently played Celebrity Jeopardy!”against Dana Delaney and Wolf Blitzer. A couple of reports called it “a beatdown,” with you winning $68,000 for the St. Jude’s Children Hospital and leaving Delaney and Blitzer scrambling at the buzzer. Your interpretation?

Well, I wouldn’t say “beatdown.” I have to be a gracious winner. But I did do very well. I don’t know – “Jeopardy!” is tricky. I played once years ago and it was sort of a lopsided victory, because the people I played against were complaining about the buzzer. This time, Dana Delaney didn’t, but Wolf said he was having trouble with the buzzer. I don’t really get that – they tell you how it works, and then you do it. You wait until a light goes on, then you click the buzzer. I don’t know how you lock yourself out.

You’ve been married fifteen years to Sarah Thyre, who also does a voice on “The Mighty B!” That’s a long time. You told The L.A. Times a while back that “seeing a shrink” helps with your relationships. Does therapy still help you avoid marital spats?

Therapy sure helps with that if you’re gonna use it the right way. In marriage and in anything, you’ve always got to be working for peace. You’ve got to ask yourself whenever you open a kettle of fish, are you there to wallow in the stink, or are you there to figure it out? Everything that comes out of your mouth, when you’re having an argument or when you’re trying to sort out some emotional issue, the reason that it’s coming out of your mouth has to be because you want things to get better. If you just start punching at each other, you’re just wasting time.

How about your kids? Do they punch at each other? Or do they get along well?

My kids fight endlessly. Constantly. I have to give my son a tremendous amount of credit, because if I were him at his age I would have been pummeling my sister if she did the things to me my daughter does to my son.

Oh, no. Like what?

Like she’ll go a bin of toys looking for a weapon to hit him with, something she can use to do damage. She’s also just a complete noodge – she can have the snottiest little sister way of arguing with him.

Does she get in trouble for it?

Half the time she’s really doing comedy skits. She’s hilarious. She’s making him crazy, but she’s also making him laugh. And she’s discovered early on that you’re going to catch a lot less hell from adults if you make them laugh while they’re mad at you. That’s a pretty good skill at age four. And frankly it’s terrifying. We have a pretty funny household.

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