‘Home Improvement’: Richard Karn Auditioned for the Show Because of a Traffic Ticket

Sometimes, all it takes to get one’s big break is a little bit of luck. Home Improvemenstar Richard Karn learned this in the early 1990s.

While people who grew up in the 1990s might know him as Al Borland in the hit television series Home Improvement, that role would not have happened had Karn not gotten a traffic violation. That one event changed his life forever. 

Karn moves to Hollywood

Actor Richard Karn
Actor Richard Karn | Michael Bezjian/Getty Images for Mulholland Drive Entertainment on behalf of Sabra Dipping Co

Karn knew that he wanted to make it in Hollywood at an early age. Fresh out of high school, he got his degree in Drama at Washington before moving to New York with hopes of making it big. There, he landed some commercial work, including a national spot for Michelob beer.

As far as name-making roles, however, Karn’s opportunities were virtually non-existent. He decided to switch coasts to hit the next big event in his career. 

Initially, Karn was running into the same pitfalls that cursed the first part of his career. However, in 1989, Karn was on his way to a rehearsal of Macbeth when lousy luck turned into the best of his career. He rolled through a stop sign and got sent to traffic school. In true Hollywood fashion, he met a casting agent who eventually changed his life forever. 

That agent told him about a new sitcom called Home Improvement. That casting agent reconnected him with some directors from Michigan he had met years earlier, and Karn got an audition for the role of Al Borland, although they had already cast the role. He spoke about this with the University of Washington’s website in 1995.

“I auditioned because life keeps going,” he told them. “Maybe they would see me now and remember me for another show or part.”

Karn’s improvement

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Initially, character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was supposed to be Al Borland. After it didn’t work out, however, the producers looked to Karn to fill the role. While Home Improvement was a vehicle for Tim Allen, Karn quickly became as beloved as the star.

While Allen’s Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was a hyper-masculine neanderthal, Borland was a sensitive sort whose proclivities for sharing his feelings and being careful were the butt of Taylor’s jokes. 

It was a perfect juxtaposition. What was initially supposed to be a one-off role quickly became full-time work for Karn. Home Improvement was one of the biggest shows on television for most of the 1990s. Borland’s grounded take on a show that focused on masculinity was perfect for the time. Karn became a recognizable face around the country. 

He used that face to his advantage, appearing in several commercials and guest spots around that same time. When Home Improvement left the airwaves, however, Karn continued a steady line of work that continues to this day. 

Where is Karn now?

Karn might have been unable to match his successful run on Home Improvement in the two decades since it left the air, but it doesn’t mean that he’s starving for work.

While Allen continued headlining major films and television series, Karn looked toward guest spots, hosting gigs, and roles in smaller productions. He was a staple of television and direct-to-video productions soon after the series left the air and continues getting work today.

He reunited with Allen in 2013 on his new hit series Last Man Standing and recently had a significant role in the hit Hulu series Pen15. Like so many other sitcom stars of the 1990s, Karn has also appeared in several Christmas movies on Hallmark and similar stations. Karn might not be the draw he once was, but he’s forged a thirty-year career in an industry that offers no promises to anyone. 

Had it not been for that traffic ticket, he might still be pursuing a gig as lucrative as Home Improvement proved to be.