Smith-Cotton High School students got a taste of Hollywood life Friday morning during a question and answer session with a well-known actor with Missouri roots.
David Koechner is known for his roles as Todd Packer in “The Office” and Champ Kind in “Anchorman,” but what some people may not know is that the actor hails from Tipton.
He started out as a political science major in college, but decided to start taking classes at Second City after a trip to Chicago with some friends. He was seen by scouts for “Saturday Night Live” who asked him to audition, resulting in a year on the popular sketch show for Koechner. He said he used that success to propel the rest of his career.
The comedian made a visit to his hometown Friday and started his trip answering questions from local high school and college theater students at Tipton-Latham Bank.
The session focused on advice for students looking to break into show business, and how to get there from a small town.
Koechner answered questions about auditions, such as how to get an audition or what to do once an actor finally gets one. He had some simple advice that resonated with many of the students.
“Make the room your room,” he said. “Whoever is running the audition wants you to get the job... You don’t want to come in the room and immediately apologize. If I come in like that, I’ve given away my confidence and now those people think I can’t do this job.”
SCHS student Ethan Yazell, 16, said that advice was the most important thing he learned during the session.
Koechner demonstrated his advice by rearranging the tables and chairs at the front of the room.
“I don’t really like how the room is set up, but that’s not a criticism, that’s a critique,” he said. “I never said what to do, so what happens? It’s set up the way it’s set up. My wife keeps trying to teach me this lesson: if you ask for it ,you will get it. And that’s true.”
The session lasted a little more than an hour and the room was full of laughter from everyone in attendance. From Koechner’s grand entrance, which was quickly followed by a fast, fake exit, to his funny antics that included flipping over a table, the actor had the whole room laughing from beginning to end.
He gave an improv example with one of the students and continued to crack jokes the whole time, showing that his fun personality is seen on and off the screen.
Not only were attendees enjoying Koechner’s comedy, but many were also nervous to meet him, especially four young women from SCHS who almost couldn’t answer any questions because they were so excited.
“I’m just so star struck,” said Kaitlyn Puentes, 14. “I’ve never met anyone famous. And I want to be an actor, so it’s really cool to be able to meet him. He’s an inspiration.”
Puentes, along with fellow SCHS students Zoe Harper, 14, and Olivia Smith, 13, asked Koechner a question, which made the experience even better for the fans.
“I felt so important,” Harper said.
Yazell and Kylie Bales, 16, also asked questions. Bales’ question was about how Koechner feels about being a “comedic icon.”
“She’s my favorite person in the room,” he said in response to her compliment.
As fans of Koechner, Yazell said some of the students watched “Anchorman” Thursday night.
“Since we just watched it, it was cool to see him on TV and then being in the same room as us.”
Throughout the morning, Koechner gave a lot of advice to the students, including advice that applies to any student looking to start a career.
“The biggest obstacle in pursuing any career is yourself,” he said. “No one is making you do something. It’s just you.”
That piece of advice is what Smith said she’d take from the session.
“We’re seeing someone from a small town like ours who made it as an actor,” she said. “Like he said, the door is open for you. You can do whatever you want to do.”
The event ended with photos of Koechner with each school. The SCHS students thought ahead and brought headshots of the actor for him to sign. He signed each one as the group of students looked on with big smiles, and even included “Afternoon Delight” on Puentes’ copy, per her request. That little gesture resulted in an almost speechless Puentes.
“That just made my day,” she said.
“Well you asked for it, so you got it,” Koechner replied. “I told you, you just have to ask.”
Koechner had a comedy night Friday and will have another at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the gymnasium at St. Andrew School in Tipton. Tickets are $25 and available at Commerce Bank, Tipton-Latham Bank or Koechner Manufacturing, all located in Tipton.