Conan O'Brien

Conan O'Brien

Birth name Conan Christopher O'Brien
Born (1963-04-18) April 18, 1963
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
Medium Television
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University
Years active 1987–present
Genres Improvisational comedy, sketch comedy, physical comedy, surreal humor, self-deprecation, black comedy, musical comedy, satire
Spouse Elizabeth Ann Powel (m. 2002)
Children 2
Notable works and roles

Conan Christopher O'Brien (born April 18, 1963) is an American television host, comedian, and television producer. He is best known for hosting several late-night talk shows; since 2010 he has hosted Conan on the cable channel TBS. O'Brien was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and was raised in an Irish Catholic family. He served as president of The Harvard Lampoon while attending Harvard University, and was a writer for the sketch comedy series Not Necessarily the News.

After writing for several comedy shows in Los Angeles, he joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons for two seasons until he was commissioned by NBC to take over David Letterman's position as host of Late Night in 1993. A virtual unknown to the public, O'Brien's initial Late Night tenure received unfavorable reviews and remained on a multiweek renewal cycle during its early years. The show generally improved over time and was highly regarded by the time of his departure in 2009. Afterwards, O'Brien relocated from New York to Los Angeles to host his own incarnation of The Tonight Show for seven months until network politics prompted a host change in 2010.

Known for his spontaneous hosting style, which has been characterized as "awkward, self-deprecating humor", O'Brien's late-night programs combine the "lewd and wacky with more elegant, narrative-driven short films (remotes)".[1] He has hosted Conan since 2010 and has also hosted such events as the Emmy Awards and Christmas in Washington.[2][3] O'Brien has been the subject of a documentary, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011), and has also hosted a 32-city live comedy tour.

With the retirement of David Letterman on May 20, 2015, O'Brien became the longest-working of all current late-night talk show hosts in the United States, at 22 years.[4]

Early life

O'Brien was born on April 18, 1963 in Brookline, Massachusetts.[5] His father, Thomas Francis O'Brien, is a physician, epidemiologist, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.[6][7][8] His mother, Ruth O'Brien (née Reardon), is an attorney and partner at the Boston firm Ropes & Gray.[9] He is the third of six children. O'Brien's family is Irish Catholic; some of his Irish ancestors immigrated before the American Civil War.[8] In a Late Night episode, O'Brien paid a visit to County Kerry, Ireland, where his ancestors originated.

O'Brien attended Brookline High School, where he served as the managing editor of the school newspaper, The Sagamore.[8] In his second year, O'Brien was an intern for Congressman Robert Drinan[10] and in his senior year, he won the National Council of Teachers of English writing contest with his short story, "To Bury the Living".[11] After graduating as valedictorian in 1981, he entered Harvard University.[12] At Harvard, O'Brien lived in Holworthy Hall during his first year[13] and Mather House during his three upper-class years. He concentrated in history and literature and graduated magna cum laude[14] in 1985.[15] O'Brien's senior thesis concerned the use of children as symbols in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.[16] During college O'Brien briefly served as the drummer in a band called "The Bad Clams", was a writer for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine,[17] and developed a spoof of the popular video game One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird in which the Boston Celtics play against a classical ballet troupe.[18] During his sophomore and junior years he served as the Lampoon's president.[19] At this time, O'Brien's future boss at NBC, Jeff Zucker, was serving as President of the school's newspaper The Harvard Crimson.[20]


Saturday Night Live (1987–1991)

O'Brien in the offices of The Simpsons writers, 1992

O'Brien moved to Los Angeles after graduation to join the writing staff of HBO's Not Necessarily the News.[21] He was also a writer on the short-lived The Wilton North Report.[21] He spent two years with that show and performed regularly with improvisational groups, including The Groundlings. In January 1988, Saturday Night Live's executive producer, Lorne Michaels, hired O'Brien as a writer. During his three years on Saturday Night Live (SNL), he wrote such recurring sketches as "Mr. Short-Term memory" and "The Girl Watchers"; the latter was first performed by Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz.[22] O'Brien also co-wrote the sketch "Nude Beach" with Robert Smigel, in which the word "penis" was said or sung at least 42 times. While on a writers' strike from Saturday Night Live following the 1987–88 season, O'Brien put on an improvisational comedy revue in Chicago with fellow SNL writers Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel called Happy Happy Good Show.[23][24] While living in Chicago, O'Brien briefly roomed with Jeff Garlin.[25] In 1989, O'Brien and his fellow SNL writers received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series.

O'Brien, like many SNL writers, occasionally appeared as an extra in sketches; his most notable appearance was as a doorman in a sketch in which Tom Hanks was inducted into the SNL "Five-Timers Club" for hosting his fifth episode. O'Brien returned to host the show in 2001 during its 26th season. O'Brien and Robert Smigel wrote the television pilot for Lookwell starring Adam West, which aired on NBC in 1991. The pilot never went to series, but it became a cult hit. It was later screened at The Other Network, a festival of unaired TV pilots produced by Un-Cabaret; it featured an extended interview with O'Brien and was rerun in 2002 on the Trio network.

Things changed for O'Brien in 1991, when in quick succession, an engagement fell through; Lookwell was not picked up; and, burned out, he quit Saturday Night Live.[26] "I told Lorne Michaels I couldn't come back to work and I just needed to do something else," O'Brien recalled. "I had no plan whatsoever. I was literally in this big transition phase in my life where I decided, I'll just walk around New York City, and an idea will come to me."[27] Mike Reiss and Al Jean, then dual showrunners of The Simpsons, called O'Brien and offered him a job. The series was notorious in the writing community at the time; O'Brien recalls "everyone wanted to be on that show, but they never hired."[27] O'Brien was one of the first hires after the show's original crew. With the help of old Groundlings friend Lisa Kudrow, O'Brien purchased an apartment in Beverly Hills.[26][28] He and Kudrow became involved as well, and Kudrow believed he should begin performing rather than writing. O'Brien disagreed, feeling that Kudrow was being overly flattering and that asserting he was happy as a writer. In his speech given at Class Day at Harvard in 2000,[29] O'Brien credited The Simpsons with saving him, a reference to the career slump he was experiencing prior to his being hired for the show.[30]

The Simpsons (1991–1993)

I was very nervous when I started. They showed me into this office and told me to start writing down some ideas. They left me alone in that office. I left after five minutes to go get a cup of coffee. I heard a crash. I walked back to the office, and there was a hole in the window and a dead bird on the floor. Literally, in my first ten minutes at The Simpsons, a bird had flown through the glass of my window, hit the far wall, broken its neck, and fallen dead on the floor. George Meyer came in and looked at it, and said, "Man, this is some kind of weird omen."

— O'Brien on his first moments at The Simpsons[27]

From 1991 to 1993, O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons. When O'Brien first arrived at the Fox lot, they temporarily gave him writer Jeff Martin's office. O'Brien was nervous and self-conscious, feeling that he would embarrass himself in front of what he regarded as an intimidating collection of writers.[27] O'Brien would pitch characters in their voices as he thought that was the norm until Reiss informed him that no one did such.[31][32] He fit in quickly, commanding control of the room frequently; Josh Weinstein called it a "ten-hour Conan show, nonstop".[27] According to John Ortved, one of his fellow writers ventured that if Conan hadn't left to do Late Night, he was a shoo-in to take over as showrunner on The Simpsons.[27]

When not contributing to others' scripts, O'Brien managed to craft what are regarded as some of the series' most memorable and finest episodes: "Marge vs. the Monorail" and "Homer Goes to College".[27][33] Generally, critics, fans and even those who worked on the show agree that its sensibilities changed following "Marge vs. the Monorail."[34] The show was initially a highly realistic family sitcom; after O'Brien's debut, the show took a rapid shift in the direction of the surreal.[34] Along with those episodes, he has sole writing credits on "New Kid on the Block" and "Treehouse of Horror IV", on which he wrote the episode wraparounds. Wallace Wolodarsky described a "room character" Conan put on for the writers: "Conan used to do this thing called the Nervous Writer that involved him opening a can of Diet Coke and then nervously pitching a joke. He would spray Diet Coke all over himself, and that was always a source of endless amusement among us."[31] Occasionally, fellow writers from the show would stop by O'Brien's Beverly Hills apartment.[28]

Meanwhile, Late Night host David Letterman was preparing to leave, prompting executive producer Lorne Michaels to search for a new host. Michaels approached O'Brien to produce; then-agent Gavin Polone stressed that O'Brien wanted to perform, rather than produce.[34] He arranged with Michaels that O'Brien would do a test audition on the stage of The Tonight Show. Jason Alexander and Mimi Rogers were the guests, and the audience was composed of Simpsons writers.[35] Wolodarksky recalled the experience: "Seeing this friend of yours, this guy that you worked with, walk out from behind that curtain and deliver a monologue was like something you could only dream up that you couldn’t ever imagine actually happening."[35] The performance was beamed by satellite to New York, where Lorne Michaels and NBC executives watched. O'Brien was picked as the new host of Late Night on April 26, 1993.[1] As the writers headed to the voice record for "Homer Goes to College", O'Brien received a phone call from Polone informing him of the decision. "He was passed out facedown into this horrible shag carpet. He was just quiet and comatose down there on that carpet," recalled postproduction supervisor Michael Mendel. "I remember looking at him and saying, 'Wow. Your life is about to change, in a really dramatic way.'"[36]

Fox, however, would not let O'Brien out of his contract. Eventually, NBC and O'Brien would split the cost to get him out of the contract.[36][37][38] After O'Brien's departure, the writers at The Simpsons would watch videotaped episodes of Late Night at lunch the day following their midnight broadcast and analyze them.[36] During his time at The Simpsons, O'Brien also had a side project working with Smigel on the script for a musical film based on the "Hans and Franz" sketch from Saturday Night Live, but the film was never produced.[39][40]

Late Night (1993–2009)

Late Night with Conan O'Brien, originating from Studio 6A at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, premiered September 13, 1993 to unfavorable reviews from contemporary critics. This reception was not completely unsurprising; O'Brien wrote a self-deprecating New York Times piece titled "O'Brien Flops!" on the day of the show's premiere.[41] Critics attacked O'Brien: Tom Shales of The Washington Post suggested that "the host resume his previous identity, Conan O'Blivion."[1][42] Generally, critics viewed O'Brien as nervous and fidgety on-camera, and that he was "too smart, too East Coast, too sophisticated, too young and even too tall to be successful."[1] The show was constantly at risk for cancellation; at one low point in 1994, NBC threatened to put him on a week-to-week contract. Executives were anxious to replace him with Greg Kinnear, who followed O'Brien with Later at 1:30 am.[1] Interns filled empty seats in the audience while affiliates began to inquire about replacement hosts.[43][44] In one installment after a short stretch of reruns, sidekick Andy Richter described his vacation activities as follows: "I sat back and reminded myself what it's like to be unemployed." The in-joke referenced the rumors floating in the trades that NBC was near canceling the program.[45]

Things would improve slowly. Banter between O'Brien and Richter improved, and sketches grew in popularity ("If They Mated", "Desk Drive", "In the Year 2000").[44] A reliable staple involved a TV screen, lowered behind O'Brien's desk and displaying a still photo of news figure. The lips and voice of these characters – frequently a party-crazed hillbilly interpretation of Bill Clinton – were supplied by writing partner Robert Smigel.[44] A turning point was David Letterman's February 1994 appearance. "It was a morale boost," said O'Brien. "I'm thinking, If the guy who created the 12:30 thing comes on and says we're smart and funny, let's go."[46] The show went through a temporary wobble in January 1995 when Robert Smigel, feeling burned out, quit as head writer.[26] The show's quality improved slowly over time, and most credit O'Brien's growing comedic performance. Within a year, a comedic formula began to arise: the show would combine the lewd and wacky with a more elegant, narrative-driven remotes.[1] Regular characters would typically include a "Masturbating Bear" and a famous remote found Conan visit a historic, Civil War-era baseball league.[1] That piece was one of O'Brien's personal favorites, later remarking, "When I leave this earth, at the funeral, just show this, because this pretty much says who I'm all about."[47]

O'Brien's audience, largely young and male (a coveted demographic), grew steadily and the show began to best competitors in the ratings, which it would continue to do for 15 seasons.[1] In the early days of the Internet, fans launched unofficial websites, compiling precise summaries of each episode.[48] Even Tom Shales was a convert: he called the show "one of the most amazing transformations in television history."[44] Beginning in 1996, O'Brien and the Late Night writing team were nominated annually for the Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series, winning the award for the first and only time in 2007. In 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004, he and the Late Night writing staff won the Writers Guild Award for Best Writing in a Comedy/Variety Series. In 2001, he formed his own television production company, Conaco, which subsequently shared in the production credits for Late Night.[8]

As of October 2005, Late Night with Conan O'Brien had for eleven years consistently attracted an audience averaging about 2.5 million viewers.[43] The apotheosis of the Late Night remotes centered on the realization in 2006 that O'Brien bore a striking resemblance to the then female president of Finland, Tarja Halonen. "We took the show to Helsinki for five days," O'Brien recalled, "where we were embraced like a national treasure."[1][49]

On February 20, 2009, NBC aired the last episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The show consisted of a compilation of previous Late Night clips and included a surprise appearance by former sidekick Andy Richter. Will Ferrell, John Mayer, and the White Stripes also appeared. O'Brien ended the episode by destroying the set with an axe, handing out the pieces of the set to the audience,[50][51] and thanking a list of people who helped him get to that point in his career. Among those thanked were Lorne Michaels, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and O'Brien's wife and children.

The Colbert / O'Brien / Stewart mock feud

Main article: Who Made Huckabee?

During the writers' strike in 2008, O'Brien staged a mock feud with Comedy Central's Jon Stewart (of The Daily Show) and Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report) over a dispute about which of the three were responsible for giving a "bump" to Mike Huckabee's campaign to become the Republican presidential nominee. This feud crossed over all three shows during the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike.[52]

The Tonight Show (2009–2010)

In 2004, O'Brien negotiated a new contract with NBC. As part of the deal, O'Brien would take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009.[8] O'Brien was a guest on Jay Leno's final episode of The Tonight Show. On June 1, 2009, Will Ferrell became Conan's first Tonight Show guest on the couch and Pearl Jam appeared as his first musical guest.[53]

During the taping of the Friday, September 25, 2009, episode of The Tonight Show, O'Brien suffered from a mild concussion after he slipped and hit his head while running a race as part of a comedy sketch with guest Teri Hatcher. He was examined at a hospital and released the same day. A rerun was aired that night, but O'Brien returned to work the following Monday and poked fun at the incident.[54][55]

Departure from The Tonight Show

O'Brien in Atlanta, Georgia, June 2010

On Thursday, January 7, 2010, NBC executive Jeff Zucker met with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien to discuss how to get Leno out of prime time, where his ratings were lackluster, and back into late night, where O'Brien's ratings had collapsed before Leno's prime time series began. A proposal was made that would see O'Brien remain as host of The Tonight Show, which would be moved to 12:05 am with Leno hosting a 30-minute show at 11:35 pm[56] On January 10, NBC Universal Television Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin confirmed that The Jay Leno Show would indeed end at the start of the Winter Olympics on February 12, 2010, and be moved to 11:35 pm following the Olympics coverage.[57] Sources familiar with the situation told the New York Post that O'Brien was unhappy with NBC's plan.[58]

Every comedian, every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and—for seven months—I got to do it. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second [of it].... All I ask is one thing, and I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism; for the record it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.

—Conan O'Brien, on his departure from The Tonight Show, January 22, 2010[59]

On January 12, O'Brien released this statement: "I sincerely believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t The Tonight Show."[60][61] On January 21, 2010, it was announced that Conan had reached a deal with NBC that would see him exit The Tonight Show the next day. The deal also granted him $45 million, of which $12 million was designated for distribution to his staff, who had moved with Conan to Los Angeles from New York when he left Late Night.

The final Tonight Show with Conan aired January 22, 2010, and featured guests Tom Hanks, Steve Carell (who did an exit interview and shredded Conan's ID badge), Neil Young (singing "Long May You Run"), and Will Ferrell. For Ferrell's appearance, Conan played guitar with the band and Ferrell sang "Free Bird" while reprising his SNL cowbell. Ferrell's wife, Viveca Paulin, together with Ben Harper, Beck, and ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, also joined the band for this final performance.[62]

Jay Leno returned to The Tonight Show following NBC's coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Under the $45 million deal with NBC, Conan was allowed to start working for another network as soon as September 2010.[63][64][65] Conan's rumored next networks ranged anywhere from Fox[66] to Comedy Central.[67][68]

After The Tonight Show

On February 8, 2010, it was reported that O'Brien was attempting to sell his Central Park West penthouse in New York with an asking price of $35 million.[69] He had purchased the apartment in 2007 for $10 million.[69] Two years earlier, O'Brien had purchased a home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles for over $10.5 million.[70] Some industry insiders have speculated that O'Brien had chosen to stay on the west coast in order to facilitate a return to late night television[69] and because he did not want to put his children through another move.[71]

On February 24, 2010, O'Brien attracted media attention for starting a Twitter account.[72][73] His tweets, although primarily jokes, amounted to his first public statements since leaving The Tonight Show one month earlier.[74] After about one hour, O'Brien's subscriber list had rocketed to over 30,000 members, and approximately 30 minutes later he was on the brink of passing 50,000 followers, already 20,000 more than the verified @jayleno account.[75][76][77] After 24 hours, O'Brien had well over 300,000 followers.[74] In late May 2010, he surpassed the one million mark for number of Twitter followers,[78] and as of March 2015 he has over fifteen million followers.[79]

O'Brien has been named to the 2010 Time 100, a list compiled by TIME of the 100 most influential people in the world as voted on by readers.[80] After being prohibited from making television appearances of any kind until May, O'Brien spoke about the Tonight Show conflict on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes on May 2, 2010.[81] During the interview with Steve Kroft, O'Brien said the situation felt "like a marriage breaking up suddenly, violently, quickly. And I was just trying to figure out what happened." He also said he "absolutely" expected NBC to give him more of a chance and that, if in Jay Leno's position, he would not have come back to The Tonight Show. However, Conan said he did not feel he got shafted. "It's crucial to me that anyone seeing this, if they take anything away from this, it's I'm fine. I'm doing great," said O'Brien. "I hope people still find me comedically absurd and ridiculous. And I don't regret anything."[82]

The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour

O'Brien performing in a replica of the costume Eddie Murphy wore in Eddie Murphy Raw

On March 11, 2010, O'Brien announced via his Twitter account that he would embark on a 30-city live tour beginning April 12, 2010, entitled "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour".[83][84] Co-host Andy Richter, along with members of the former Tonight Show Band, joined O'Brien on the tour.[85] Max Weinberg, however, was not able to join,[86] except for a guest appearance at one of Conan's New York City shows.

On April 12, 2010, O'Brien opened his two-month comedy tour in Eugene, Oregon, with a crowd of 2,500 and no TV cameras. The tour traveled through America's Northwest and Canada before moving on to larger cities, including Los Angeles and New York City, where he performed on the campuses that house both of the NBC-owned studios he formerly occupied. The tour ended in Atlanta on June 14.

Conan (2010–present)

Main article: Conan (talk show)

On April 12, 2010, just hours before the start of his tour in Eugene, Oregon, O'Brien announced that he would host a new show on cable station TBS.[2] The show debuted on November 8, 2010,[87] and airs Monday through Thursday beginning at 11:00 pm ET/10:00 pm CT. O'Brien's addition moved Lopez Tonight with George Lopez back one hour to midnight ET/11:00 pm CT.[3] Refusing at first to do to Lopez what had happened to him at NBC, O'Brien agreed to join the network after Lopez called to persuade him to come to TBS.[88] In Canada, CTV will air the show[89] and in Turkey, CNBC-e will air the show.

Other networks that were reportedly interested in O'Brien include TBS' sister networks TNT and HBO, Fox, FX, Comedy Central, Showtime, Revision3,[90] and even the NBC Universal–owned USA Network.[91]

On September 1, 2010, O'Brien announced via his Twitter account and Team Coco YouTube page that the title of his new show on TBS would simply be Conan. TBS has recently extended the show through 2018.[92]

In February 2015, following the onset of the Cuban Thaw, O'Brien became the first American television personality to film in Cuba for more than half a century.[93] Conan O'Brien then visited Armenia.[94] In April 2016, O'Brien visited South Korea in response to a fan letter urging him to visit, as well as a growing fan base online. His visit included a trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which resulted in O'Brien and Steven Yeun to also visit North Korea.

Television writer/producer (2002–present)

In 2004, O'Brien apologized to Canadians for engaging in Quebec bashing, something which some felt reflected prejudice against Francophones.[95] On March 7, 2006, NBC announced a new adventure/comedy series entitled Andy Barker, P.I., starring O'Brien's former sidekick, Andy Richter. O'Brien was executive producer and co-wrote the pilot. After six episodes and low ratings, the show was canceled despite being named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the Top Ten Shows of 2007.[96] USA Network has handed out a 90-minute, cast-contingent pilot order to the medical-themed Operating Instructions from O'Brien's production banner. O'Brien will serve as an executive producer through his Conaco label. The script comes from Just Shoot Me veterans Judd Pillot and John Peaslee who will also executive produce."[97] NBC ordered two pilots from Conaco in January 2010, the one-hour courtroom drama, Outlaw, and a half-hour comedy.[98] Outlaw was produced in eight episodes and premiered on September 15, 2010.[99]

Voice work and guest appearances

O'Brien's first guest appearance after beginning his late-night career was on the show he used to write for, The Simpsons. He played himself in the season five episode "Bart Gets Famous", interviewing Bart Simpson during his rise to fame as a catchphrase comedian. The episode was produced after O'Brien's audition to replace David Letterman, but before he was hired for the show. O'Brien recorded his part after his own show went on the air, though he believed his show would be canceled by the time "Bart Gets Famous" aired.[100] In 2006, he voiced himself in a short South Park scene as part of the opening of the 2006 Emmy Awards. In 2005, he provided the voice of Robert Todd Lincoln in the audiobook version of Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.[101]

O'Brien has made multiple voice appearances on the Adult Swim series Robot Chicken, including the specials Robot Chicken: Star Wars, and Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II as the voice of the bounty hunter Zuckuss.[102] On the TV show 30 Rock, O'Brien is depicted as an ex-boyfriend of lead character Liz Lemon, who works in the same building. In the episode "Tracy Does Conan", Conan appears as himself, awkwardly reunited with Lemon and coerced by network executive Jack Donaghy into having the character Tracy Jordan on Late Night, despite having been assaulted in Jordan's previous appearance.[103]

O'Brien made an appearance on Futurama in the second-season episode "Xmas Story". O'Brien plays himself as a head in a jar and still alive in the year 3000. O'Brien performs a stand-up routine at a futuristic ski lodge while being heckled by Bender the robot.[104]

O'Brien also made a cameo appearance on the U.S. version of The Office. In the episode "Valentine's Day", Michael believes that he spots former SNL cast member, Tina Fey, but has actually mistaken another woman for her. In the meantime, Conan has a quick walk-on and the camera crew informs Michael, when he returns from talking to the Tina Fey lookalike.[105]

In January 2010, O'Brien appeared in The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special – In 3-D! On Ice! to honor the show he had written for in the early 1990s.[106]

O'Brien created a superhero character with veteran DC Comics animator Bruce Timm during one episode of Conan. Named "The Flaming C", the superhero bears a likeness to O'Brien, with a typically muscular superhero body and costume with chest insignia, but also with idiosyncrasies arbitrarily suggested by O'Brien like an oven mitt, a jai alai glove, marijuana leaf buckle, golf shoes, sock garters and fishnet stockings.[107] O'Brien later aired a clip in which the character appears in Young Justice.[108]

Since 2011, O'Brien has hosted the Christmas in Washington special for TBS' sister network, TNT, featuring celebrity performances and a special appearance by the Obama family.[109]

In late 2011, he starred as himself in the web series Web Therapy (opposite Lisa Kudrow) for three episodes.

O'Brien provides the voice of the character Kuchikukan in the upcoming "Operation: Lunacorn Apocalypse" episode of Nickelodeon's The Penguins of Madagascar.[110]

O'Brien provided the voice of talk show host Dave Endochrine in the 2013 DC Universe animated original movie Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 2).

Twice Conan has served as the master of ceremonies for the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C., in 1995 and again in 2013.

O'Brien hosted the 2014 MTV Movie Awards on April 13, 2014 at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.[111]

Emmy host

O'Brien hosted the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards on August 27, 2006, to critical acclaim.[112] He had previously hosted the Primetime Emmys in 2002, and co-hosted in 2003.

Commercials and product placements

According to Marketing Evolutions, the company that produces Q Scores measuring the familiarity and appeal of celebrities and brands, almost 74% of U.S. consumers are familiar with O'Brien.[113] In spite of that high score, O'Brien hasn't done many commercials for corporate America; two recent examples are a 2009 appearance in a Super Bowl XLIII commercial for Bud Light, and one for American Express, which debuted on the same day as Conan.[113] He donated his proceeds from the Super Bowl commercial to the Fresh Air Fund, a charity which sends inner-city New York children to the country for vacations.[114] According to The Wall Street Journal, O'Brien was paid more than one million dollars to do the American Express commercial, which required him to spend three days in Jaipur, India filming it.[113]

While O'Brien has done few commercials, he "does do plenty of promoting, weaving product pitches into his show"; he has said "it's increasingly incumbent to help with tie-ins [but] if it can't be funny, I'd rather go hungry."[113]

Comedy and mannerisms

On Late Night, O'Brien became known for his active and spontaneous hosting style,[8] which has been characterized as "awkward, self-deprecating humor".[115]

He lists among his comedic influences David Letterman, Peter Sellers,[116] Sid Caesar,[117] Warner Bros. Cartoons,[118] Johnny Carson,[119] Ernie Kovacs,[120] Robin Williams, Bob Hope,[121] and Woody Allen.[122] In turn, actors and comedians who claim O'Brien as an influence include Mindy Kaling,[123] Pete Holmes,[124] and James Corden.[125]


A poster created by Mike Mitchell during the 2010 Tonight Show conflict displaying his "Coco" nickname

Conan acquired the nickname "Coco" after its use in the first "Twitter Tracker" sketch during the second episode of his Tonight Show run.[126] Guest Tom Hanks used the nickname during his subsequent interview, even getting the audience to chant it. In reaction to the moniker, Conan remarked to Hanks in jest, "If that catches on, I'll sue you."[127][128]

In a March 23, 2011 interview with WWE Champion The Miz on Conan, The Miz dubbed Conan "The Ginja Ninja", a reference to Conan's red hair and the fact that he came back fighting to get his new late-night talk show. A week later, "Team Ginja Ninja" T-shirts were available on[129]

Personal life

O'Brien with his wife Liza in 2007

O'Brien met Elizabeth Ann 'Liza' Powel in 2000, when she appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in an advertising skit[130] involving Foote, Cone & Belding, where she worked as senior copywriter.[131] The couple dated for nearly 18 months before their 2002 marriage in Powel's hometown of Seattle. O'Brien and Powel have a daughter, Neve (born October 14, 2003)[132] and a son, Beckett (born November 9, 2005).[133] O'Brien often affirms his Irish Catholic heritage on his show. On a 2009 episode of Inside the Actors Studio, he stated that ancestors from both sides of his family moved to America from Ireland starting in the 1850s, subsequently marrying only other Irish Catholics, and that his lineage is thus 100% Irish Catholic.[8]

He has been a staunch Democrat since casting his first vote for President in 1984 for Walter Mondale, although he considers himself a moderate on the political spectrum.[8] O'Brien's longtime friend and former dormmate in Mather House at Harvard is Father Paul B. O' Brien, with whom he founded Labels Are For Jars,[134] an antihunger organization based in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and helped open the Cor Unum meal center in 2006.[135] The two are not related.

In January 2008, after his show was put on hold for two months owing to the strike by the Writers Guild of America, he reemerged on late-night TV sporting a beard, which guest Tom Brokaw described as making him look like "a draft dodger from the Civil War." After leaving The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on January 22, 2010, O'Brien again grew a beard, which he kept until May 2, 2011, when it was partially shaved on the set of his TBS talk show, Conan, by Will Ferrell with battery-operated clippers (and completely shaved off-screen by a professional barber).[136] The event was dubbed on the show as "Beardocalypse", and included a contest for fan-submitted artwork.[137]

O'Brien purchased a $10.5-million mansion in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, to prepare for his move there in 2009 from New York City to host The Tonight Show at Universal Studios Hollywood.[138] As part of a long-running gag, he brought his 1992 Ford Taurus SHO with him to California, showcasing it on both the inaugural episodes of The Tonight Show and Conan.

On June 12, 2011, O'Brien gave a commencement address to the class of 2011 at Dartmouth College.

On October 21, 2011, O'Brien was ordained as a minister by the Universal Life Church Monastery,[139][140] allowing him to perform a same-sex marriage while back in New York (where gay marriage is legal) to tape a week's worth of shows. The wedding, between a member of O'Brien's staff and his partner, was held on the stage of the Beacon Theatre on November 3, 2011, and broadcast on Conan.[141]

Victim of stalking

It was reported that since September 2006, O'Brien had allegedly been stalked by Father David Ajemian of the Archdiocese of Boston, who, despite multiple warnings to stop, had been sending O'Brien letters signed as "your priest stalker" and coming in contact with O'Brien's parents. Frustrated that he had been denied a spot in the Late Night audience, Ajemian sent a letter to O'Brien stating that he flew to New York "in the dimming hope that you might finally acknowledge me." He stated in another letter, "Is this the way you treat your most dangerous fans??? You owe me big time, pal." In another letter, Ajemian seemed to make a death threat, saying, "Remember Frank Costello once dodged a bullet in your building and so can you." Ajemian then tried to forcefully enter a taping of Late Night but was caught and arrested. He was previously warned by the NBC security team to stay away from the studio. After a psychological evaluation, he was deemed fit to stand trial. He has since been bailed out of jail.[142] He was then reported missing by his father on November 10, 2007. He was found and underwent evaluation at a hospital. It is known that the two had attended Harvard University at the same time. He was found fit to stand trial on April 4, 2008. On April 8, 2008, Ajemian pleaded guilty to stalking, stating that he "never meant to cause anxiety or to upset anyone." He was ordered to pay a $95 court charge and to sign a two-year restraining order barring him from coming near O'Brien.[143] On September 11, 2008, Ajemian checked himself out of his treatment at a hospital against the wishes of his bishop, Seán Patrick O'Malley. Cardinal O'Malley then released a statement saying that because he violated his bishop's wishes, Ajemian could no longer serve as a priest in the Catholic Church.[144] In late 2010, Ajemian was charged with harassing the TV host Anthony Everett while violating a restraining order.[145]



Year Film Role Notes
1996 Favorite Deadly Sins Himself TV movie
1998 Tomorrow Night Himself
2001 Pootie Tang Himself Uncredited
2001 Vanilla Sky Himself
2001 Storytelling Himself Cameo
2003 End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones Himself Documentary
2005 Bewitched Himself
2006 Queer Duck: The Movie Himself (voice)
2006 Pittsburgh Himself
2008 The Great Buck Howard Himself
2011 Conan O'Brien Can't Stop Himself Documentary
2013 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 David Endocrine (voice)
2013 Now You See Me Himself
2013 Clear History Himself TV movie
2013 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Himself
2014 Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda Himself TV movie


Year Series Role Notes
1988–1991 Saturday Night Live Various 21 episodes
1993–2009 Late Night with Conan O'Brien Himself (host) 2,277 episodes; also executive producer, writer
1994 The Simpsons Himself (voice) Episode: "Bart Gets Famous"
1995 Mr. Show with Bob and David Himself Episode: "The Cry of a Hungry Baby"
1996 The Single Guy Cameron Duncan Episode: "Rival"
1996 Arli$$ Himself Episode: "Colors of the Rainbow"
1998 Veronica's Closet Himself Episode: "Veronica's Night Alone"
1998 Spin City Conan Episode: "Dead Dog Talking"
1999 Space Ghost Coast to Coast Himself Episode: "Fire Ant"
1999 Futurama Himself (voice) Episode: "Xmas Story"
1997–2002 Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist Himself (voice) 2 episodes
2000–2011 Sesame Street Himself 3 episodes
2001 Saturday Night Live Himself (host) Episode: "Conan O'Brien/Don Henley"
2002 The Osbournes Himself Episode: "The Osbournes"
2002 NBC 75th Anniversary Special Himself TV special
2002 54th Primetime Emmy Awards Himself (host) TV special
2003 Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary Himself TV special
2003 55th Primetime Emmy Awards Himself (co-host) TV special
2003 Andy Richter Controls the Universe Freddy Pickering Episode: "Crazy in Rio"
2005–2008 Robot Chicken Various voices 2 episodes
2006 O'Grady Chip (voice) Episode: "Frenched"
2006 The Office Himself Episode: "Valentine's Day"
2006 58th Primetime Emmy Awards Himself (host) TV special
2006–2013 30 Rock Himself 2 episodes
2007 Robot Chicken: Star Wars Zuckuss, Ponda Baba's Boss (voice) TV special
2008 Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II Zuckuss (voice) TV special
2009–2010 The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien Himself (host) 145 episodes; also executive producer, writer
2010–present Conan Himself (host) Also creator, executive producer, writer
2011 Web Therapy Himself 3 episodes
2011 Christmas in Washington Himself (host) TV special
2012 Eagleheart Himself Episode: "Honor Thy Marshal"
2012 How I Met Your Mother Bar Patron Episode: "No Pressure"
2012 Christmas in Washington Himself (host) TV special
2012 The Penguins of Madagascar Kuchikukan (voice) Episode: "Operation: Lunacorn Apocalypse"
2013 White House Correspondents' Dinner Himself (host) TV special
2013 Arrested Development Himself Episode: "The B. Team"
2013 Deon Cole's Black Box Himself Episode: "Deon Tries to Reach Out to White People"
2013 Nashville Himself Episode: "Never No More"
2013 It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Himself (voice) Episode: "The Gang Broke Dee"
2013 Real Husbands of Hollywood Himself Episode: "Rock, Paper, Stealers"
2013 Brody Stevens: Enjoy It! Himself Episode: "Conan!"
2013 Family Guy Himself (voice) Episode: "Into Harmony's Way"
2014 2014 MTV Movie Awards Himself (host) TV special
2014 The Comeback Himself Episode: "Valeire Gets What She Wants"
2015 Ground Floor Himself Episode: "The Mansfield Who Came to Dinner"
2015 Stranger's soul (Ուրիշի հոգին)[146] Unknown 1 episode
2015 Clipped Red-Head Customer Episode: "Dreamers"
2015 ArmComedy Himself 1 episode
2016 One More Happy Ending (한번 더 해피엔딩)[147] Himself 1 episode
2016 Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten[148] Johnny J. Smith 1 episode, German-speaking role

Video games

Year Video game Voice
2012 Halo 4 Soldier # 1
2014 Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Himself

Music videos

Year Title Artist
2005 "The Denial Twist" The White Stripes
2016 "Fire" Park Jin-young (feat. Conan O'Brien, Steven Yeun & Jimin Park)

As executive producer

Year Title Notes
1991–1993 The Simpsons 52 episodes
2007 Andy Barker, P.I. 6 episodes; also creator
2011–2014 Eagleheart
2013 Deon Cole's Black Box 6 episodes
2013–2014 Super Fun Night 17 episodes
2013–2014 The Pete Holmes Show 80 episodes
2015 The Jack and Triumph Show 7 episodes

As writer

Year Title Notes
1983–1987 Not Necessarily the News 13 episodes
1987–1991 Saturday Night Live 73 episodes
1992–1993 The Simpsons 4 episodes
2007 Andy Barker, P.I. 6 episodes; also creator

See also


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Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Conan O'Brien.
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Media offices
Preceded by
Jay Leno
Host of The Tonight Show
June 1, 2009 – January 22, 2010
Succeeded by
Jay Leno
Preceded by
David Letterman
Host of Late Night
September 13, 1993 – February 20, 2009
Succeeded by
Jimmy Fallon
Preceded by
Ellen DeGeneres
Host of Christmas in Washington
2011, 2012
Succeeded by
Hugh Jackman
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