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Bound, but not gagged

Joey Richter walks into Espresso Royale, a block off campus, as if he’s stepping onto a Hollywood set. He waits to be noticed as he takes in the caffeine-induced details of the den of coffee-drinking students. A free-wheeling bounce in his step. Carefree sparkle in his eye.  And, a Jim Carey-like mischevious grin. If he doesn’t have a quick-witted observation, just wait a few moments, and one will come to him. One thing’s for sure, he won’t have to wait for the timing.

Richter came to the University of Michigan four years ago from his seaside hometown of Laguna Niguel, Calif. His decision to attend U-M, rather than NYU was easy, he said, after his first visit to campus where he felt more part of a “theatre family” than one of the student-masses. He will head back west after graduation to the congestion of LA, where the soon-to-be theatre graduate will begin a career in television and film.

“I came to Michigan because I really wanted to experience the four seasons,” he says, staring into a bitterly cold late March afternoon. “I didn’t realize there were only two.”

In four years, Richter has gone from playing a supporting role during his freshman year in the theatre department’s production

of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy “You Can Never Tell,” to a play where he bared his backside, to a crack-up portrayal of Ronald Weasely in the satirical underground hit, “A Very Potter Musical,” performed in Studio One inside the Walgreen Drama Center. To date, the YouTube video of the performances has attracted upwards of 20 million viewers.

The unexpected popularity of the Potter satire spawned Starkid Productions, formed by U-M grads, now working out of Chicago. It’s also been a springboard to get noticed by talent agencies, including New York-based CESD Agency, which represents Richter.

“I’m a trained actor who brings quirkiness to a situation,” he says, pointing from one ear to the other. “And, I have this: A distended jaw that I was born with. I’ve been told I have a ‘rubber face.’”

Apparently, it’s a badge of honor, especially when Richter lists the unique characteristics and physical comedic abilities of his favorite comedians – Carey, Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

While he always appears to be on the edge of a good laugh, Richter is cautious about giving too much thought to the “metaphysical reasons of comedy.”

“You have to just have a sense for what makes people laugh,” he said. “And, if you don’t like my sense of humor, then you probably don’t have one.”

While Richter isn’t the type to intentionally push buttons, he doesn’t shy away from walking the fine line between being offensive and being funny. In fall 2009, he stared in a U-M underground classic – a story about a boy and his often-thought-about and favorite anatomical part.

As the only child of a substitute teacher, and a safety engineer at a nuclear power plant, Richter said he found ways to entertain himself, and to aim to be modest. “I just didn’t want to be an ‘only child stereotype,’ – you know, a spoiled brat.”

By age 30, Richter hopes to be on his way to writing, directing and staring in comedy films and on television. “My goal is to have a career where I’m in a comfortable place creatively, and working with my friends.”

In the short-term, however, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

“It’s time to pay my dues, and hopefully, in ten years, I’ll have a private jet fully decorated. Or, if all fails, I have Plan B — I’ll become a marine biologist.”

NOTE: Below is a YOUTUBE video from “A Very Potter Musical.”