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Being known as the least nasty character on Veep, while not exactly a compliment, speaks to the unflappable, idiotic enthusiasm of Richard T. Splett, and similar qualities in Sam Richardson, who was supposed to play him for one episode and wound up a permanent cast member. Before that starts sounding like an insult, Richardson himself once told The A.V. Club that being an idiot “is my bread and butter. I am that person, and I wish people didn’t know.” Well, they know now, even if they’re not likely to agree. The Detroit Free Press called him one of the show’s comic high points, and GQ went further. “Even among competitively funny company, it’s usually the best bet to keep your eye on Richardson.”
As Splett – and comedy props to whoever came up with the last name – he is confidently incompetent and does not question the power he has in no way earned. You can’t blame him, then, for being more nonplussed than flattered when real White House staffers compliment him on the accuracy of his portrayal. And any self-deprecating comments about his own IQ aside, Richardson has one thing figured out: Nothing’s funnier than someone who’s unaware of his own blind spots.
As a kid, he made regular trips from his hometown of Detroit to visit family in Ghana. These trips, and the lack of any siblings close in age, gave him plenty of time alone to watch the everyday cast of characters around him. As a result, he’d compiled a vast grab bag of impressions before he’d even hit high school. That’s when a small disaster struck. It wasn’t until after he’d been admitted to University of Detroit Jesuit High that he realized it was an all-boys school. When a busload of girls rolled up one day to audition for a school play, one more hormonal boy discovered his love for the theater.
While still a teenager, he took comedy and improv classes with a Second City Detroit troupe. He graduated and enrolled in Wayne State University to study theater, but soon dropped out to perform full time with Second City sketch theater groups in Detroit and Chicago, where his range of characters became his comedy calling card. He set out for L.A. in 2012 and made appearances in several movies as well as episodes of The Office and Arrested Development. The move led to steady work on Veep, Detroit stills looms large in his heart; his deep, blind love for his hometown inspired his new Comedy Central show Detroiters, on which he and co-star/co-writer Tim Robinson play two local ad men whose work is not the stuff of Superbowl halftimes.
As Richardson describes it, it’s “Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper, if it was run by two idiots.” Their agency has gone “from ads for Pan Am to ads for a local wig shop.” If you question the comic potential of the premise, recall for a moment the exuberant, unsophisticated and unintentionally hilarious used car, appliance and carpet pitchmen of your own late-night TV youth. And who better than a genius at embodying those very qualities to bring them to life?
Detroiters (which has been shooting locally) is also a love letter to a city whose people and reputation seem ripe for a more balanced portrayal than what they’ve received in the news media. The bonus gift Richardson is giving us non-Detroiters is embedded in the show: Braying, antic yet somehow poignant thirty-second spots that we suspect have a stand-alone future on YouTube. As far as Richardson’s future is concerned, the safest prediction has already been made: But wait…there’s more!!