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Late Night With Conan O'Brien


Conan O'Brien

O'Brien in New York, November 2007.
O'Brien in New York, November 2007.

Birth name: Conan Christopher O'Brien

Born: April 18, 1963 (1963--04-18) (age 50), Brookline, Massecheusetts, U.S.

Medium: Television

Nationality: American

Years Active: 1985 to present

Genres: Improvisational comedy, Sketch comedy, Physical comedy, Surreal humor, self-deprecation

Influences: Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Woody Allen, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Brooks, Bob Newhart, Bill Murray

Spouse: Elizabeth Ann Powell (2002—present) (2 children)

Notable works and roles:

Writer for The Simpsons (1992—1993)

Host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien

Host of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (2009)

Emmy Awards

Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program

1989 Saturday Night Live

2007 Late Night with Conan O'Brien


O'Brien was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, the son of Ruth (née Reardon), an attorney, and Thomas Francis O'Brien, a physician and professor of medicine, both Irish Catholic. He is the third of six children. Later, 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 managing editor of the school newspaper and interned for Rep. Barney Frank. After graduating as valedictorian in 1981, he entered Harvard University.

At Harvard, O'Brien lived in Holworthy Hall during his freshman year, and Mather House during his three upper-class years. He graduated magna cum laude in 1985 with an A.B. in History and Literature. His senior thesis concerned the use of children as symbols in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.

Throughout college O'Brien was a writer for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. During his sophomore and junior years, he served as the Lampoon's president, making him the second person ever to serve as president twice, and the first person to have done so since the 1920s.

Also, while attending Harvard, classmate Damon Krukowski of the band Galaxie 500, used O'Brien's drum kit in many of the band's early recordings.

In 2008, he received an honorary degree in Actuarial Science from Ball State University.


O'Brien in the offices of the Simpsons writers in 1992.

Television writer

O'Brien moved to Los Angeles after graduation to join the writing staff of HBO's Not Necessarily the News. 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 SNL, he wrote such recurring sketches as "Mr. Short-Term Memory" and "The Girl Watchers," the latter of which was first performed by Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz. O'Brien also co-wrote the sketch "Nude Beach" with Robert Smigel, a sketch in which the word "penis" was said or sung at least 42 times.

While on a writers' strike from Saturday Night Live following the 1987-1988 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. While living in Chicago, O'Brien briefly was roommates with Jeff Garlin. 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, gaining notice for the sketch Moleculo.

O'Brien and Robert Smigel wrote the television pilot Lookwell, starring Adam West. The pilot 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 un-aired TV pilots produced by Un-Cabaret, featuring an extended interview with O'Brien and rerun in 2002 on the Trio network.

From 1991 – 1993, O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons, credited as writer or co-writer of four episodes. Of all the episodes he wrote, he considers "Marge vs. the Monorail" to be his favorite. Years later, in his speech given at Class Day at Harvard in 2000, O'Brien credited The Simpsons with "saving" him, a reference to the career slump he was experiencing prior to his hiring for that show. As of 2004, O'Brien's office at The Simpsons was being used as storage. Along with that episode he has sole writing credits on "New Kid on the Block", "Homer Goes to College", and "Treehouse of Horror IV" on which he wrote the episode wrap-arounds. He produced several episodes of seasons 4 and 5 as well, meaning he would frequently contribute to scripts from those seasons.

Late Night

On April 25, 1993, Lorne Michaels suggested O'Brien try out to be David Letterman's successor as host of Late Night with David Letterman, with Andy Richter signed on to be his sidekick. O'Brien auditioned on the set of The Tonight Show, where he interviewed Mimi Rogers and Jason Alexander. O'Brien resigned his position on The Simpsons, despite his contract not having expired.

Premiering on September 13 of that same year, Late Night with Conan O'Brien received generally unfavorable critical reviews for the first 2 to 3 years after its debut. O'Brien himself, a total unknown among the general public before being named host, was seen by many as not being worthy of the program. NBC even poked fun at this perception in a radio ad which aired shortly before the show's debut and had O'Brien relaying an anecdote where someone recognized him on the street and said, "Look, honey, there's the guy who doesn't deserve his own show!" Another source of criticism was the fact that O'Brien himself appeared to be very nervous and awkward during the show's early days. As a self-deprecating nod to this, the original opening sequence for Late Night With Conan O'Brien was animated and featured a caricature of O'Brien who sweated and pulled at his collar nervously.

The show remained on multi-week renewal cycles while NBC decided its fate. By 1996-97, O'Brien's writing and comedic style was thought to have improved, and he began to develop a growing fan base, especially with high school and college students, as well as the respect of critics and his peers. O'Brien would later poke fun at the first three years of the show when on his 10th Anniversary Special, Mr. T appeared to give O'Brien a gold necklace with a giant "7" on it. When O'Brien tried to point out that he's actually been on the air for ten years, Mr. T responded, "I know that, fool...but you've only been funny for seven!"

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.

On the first episode after the September 11th attacks, O'Brien told a story of how he went to pray for the first time since just after he had been announced as the host of Late Night, eight years prior. O'Brien was reported to have been shaken up and talked about a need to have faith.

After meeting Finnish actor/director Lauri Nurkse on October 11, 2005, O'Brien discovered that he was popular in Finland and began a long-running joke that he resembles the first female President of Finland, Tarja Halonen. After joking about this for several months (which led to the recurring segment "Conan O'Brien Hates My Homeland" and his endorsement of her campaign), O'Brien traveled to Finland and appeared on several television shows, and met President Halonen. The trip was filmed and aired as a special.

O'Brien ad libbed the fictional website name "hornymanatee.com" on December 4, 2006, after a sketch about the fictional manatee mascot and its inappropriate web-cam site. NBC opted to purchase the website domain name for $159, since the website did not previously exist. The network was concerned that someone might register the domain name and post content with which NBC would not wish to be associated, or that people would get upset and sue NBC when they found out the website is fictional. NBC now owns the rights to www.hornymanatee.com for 10 years, as per Conan O'Brien. According to O'Brien, it was decided that, since NBC owned the name, they might as well create the website. Late Night has since developed an actual website, which now has received millions of hits, reaching 4 million page views in four days. People send in "horny manatee" artwork, poems, and other content. According to the Alexa website ranking system, Hornymanatee.com has had over 10 million web hits.

A popular recurring bit on the show was Pale Force, a series of animated episodes in which comedian Jim Gaffigan and O'Brien are superheroes who fight crime with their "paleness." As Gaffigan introduced each new episode, O'Brien protested the portrayal of his character as cowardly, weak and impotent.

As of October 2005, Late Night with Conan O'Brien had for eleven years consistently attracted an audience averaging about 2.5 million viewers.

In 2004, O'Brien negotiated a new contract with NBC. As part of the deal, NBC announced that O'Brien would be taking over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009. Leno stated on the show that he wanted to avoid a repeat of the controversy and hard feelings that resulted when he was chosen by NBC to host the Tonight Show over David Letterman. On July 21, 2008, NBC announced that O'Brien's first Tonight Show would be on June 1, 2009.

O'Brien is an avid guitarist and music listener. When Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band appeared on the show as a musical guest, O'Brien joined the 17 piece band along with the Max Weinberg 7 and guests Jimmy Fallon & Thomas Haden Church and played acoustic guitar and contributed backup vocals for the song, "Pay Me My Money Down".

During the writer's strike in 2008, Conan O'Brien staged a 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 Mike Huckabee's campaign to become the Republican presidential nominee a "bump." This fight crossed over all three shows.

On the June 13, 2008, episode of Late Night, O'Brien simply walked out at the start of the show. Instead of his usual upbeat antics and monologue, O'Brien announced that he had just received news about the sudden death of his good friend, fellow NBC employee and frequent Late Night guest Tim Russert. O'Brien proceeded to show two clips of his favorite Russert Late Night moments.

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 was co-hosted by O'Brien's former sidekick, Andy Richter. Will Ferrell, John Mayer, and the White Stripes also appeared. O'Brien ended the episode by thanking a list of people that 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.

Emmy Host

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

Voice work and guest appearances

O'Brien appeared as a character in the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, voiced by Brent Spiner. O'Brien later appeared in South Park in the episode "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?". 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.

He appeared in another late-night talk show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast (SGC2C), in Episode 77: Fire Ant, in which he and Space Ghost argue about a number of topics, including whether or not anyone actually watches SGC2C. Space Ghost later quips, "Well, that's very stupid, and you won't make it in television," an obvious parody of early reviews of O'Brien's show. A short time later, Space Ghost leaves the interview in order to follow a fire ant that bit him. As Space Ghost is crawling out of the studio, O'Brien gripes that "For all these people know, my show is a cop show on Fox or something!" Space Ghost replies, "Isn't it?"

O'Brien made an appearance on Robot Chicken: Star Wars, and Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, on June 17, 2007 as the voice of the bounty hunter Zuckuss. In a parody of Late Night, Zuckuss hosts a talk show called "Late Night with Zuckuss. O'Brien's "Fake Celebrity Interviews" segment was even spoofed when Zuckuss did a "fake interview" with Emperor Palpatine. Typical of Conan's fake interviews, the fake Palpatine made a fool of himself; the implication was that the actual Palpatine was not pleased, as, in the final moments of the sketch, the Death Star can be seen approaching through a window in Zuckuss' studio, aiming and firing – then there is a "Technical Difficulties" test pattern. He also appeared in Season one on the show in two roles. First as a pizza delivery man who is not aware of his customer's sexy advances; and as a wrestling announcer with historical figures as pro wrestlers.

On the hit 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.

O'Brien also made a cameo appearance on the US version of The Office. In the episode "Valentine's Day", Michael believed that he spotted someone that looks like former SNL cast member Tina Fey, but mistakes 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 look-alike.

O'Brien starred in one of Bud Light's Super Bowl XLIII commercials as himself. In the ad, O'Brien agrees to do a Bud Light commercial where he dresses and acts suggestively and says "Vroom! Vroom! Party Starter!" The spot is only supposed to air in Sweden, but ends up being broadcast on the Jumbotron in New York City's Times Square. Two guys who spot O'Brien then mock him by saying "Vroom! Vroom! Party Starter!". Super Bowl XLIII aired on NBC, O'Brien's network.

O'Brien will be a guest star on a future episode of the Nick Jr. animated show The Backyardigans, providing the voice of Santa Claus. The episode is scheduled to air later in the show's upcoming fourth season.

Television writer/producer (2002–present)

In 2002, Conan helped write and produce Andy Richter Controls the Universe, a comedy series that ran for two seasons. It was cancelled mostly due to poor ratings.

In 2004, O'Brien had to apologize to Canadians for engaging in Quebec bashing, something which some felt to be racist towards Francophones. 

On March 7, 2006, NBC announced a new adventure/comedy series entitled Andy Barker, P.I.. O'Brien was executive producer and also co-wrote the pilot. The show starred O'Brien's former sidekick Andy Richter. 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.

"USA Network has handed out a 90-minute, cast-contingent pilot order to the medical-themed "Operating Instructions" from Conan 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."

Personal life

Conan O'Brien with his wife Liza in 2007

O'Brien's long-time friend is Father Paul B. O' Brien, with whom he founded Labels Are For Jars, an anti-hunger organization based in Lawrence, MA. The two are not related.

O'Brien once was in a relationship with Lisa Kudrow until O'Brien decided to move to New York to pursue a television show. O'Brien met Elizabeth Ann 'Liza' Powell (who prior was dating actor Eric Schaeffer) in 2000 when she appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in an advertising skit involving Foote, Cone & Belding. The couple dated for nearly 18 months before their January 12, 2002 marriage in Powell's Seattle hometown. O'Brien and Powell have a daughter Neve (born October 14, 2003) and son Beckett (born November 9, 2005).

O'Brien repeatedly affirms his Irish Catholic heritage on his show. On a 2009 episode of Inside the Actor's Studio he told how both sides of his family moved here from Ireland in the 1850's and only married other Irish Catholics. He says his lineage is 100% pure Irish Catholic.

O'Brien donated $500 to the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd in 1997 and again in 2004.

In January 2008, after his show was put on hold for two months due 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." He grew the beard in support for his writers, but shortly after shaved it off.

Recently, O'Brien purchased a $10.5 million mansion in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California in preparation of his move there in 2009 from New York City to work his new job hosting The Tonight Show at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Subject of stalking

It was reported that since September 2006 that O'Brien had allegedly been stalked by the 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. Ajemian sent a letter to O'Brien, frustrated that he had been denied a spot in the Late Night audience. He stated in his letter to O'Brien that he flew to New York, "in the dimming hope that you might finally acknowledge me." He also stated in another letter that, "Is this the way you treat your most dangerous fans??? You owe me big time pal." Ajemian also seemed to have made a death threat to O'Brien in another letter; 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. He was then reported missing by his father around 3:15 PM EST 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 USD court charge, and was also required to sign a two-year restraining order, barring him from coming near O'Brien.

On September 11, 2008, Ajemian checked himself out of his treatment at a hospital against the wishes of his cardinal, Seán Patrick O'Malley. Cardinal O'Malley then released a statement, saying that because he violated his Cardinal's wishes, Ajemian can no longer serve as a priest in the Catholic Church.

Comedy and mannerisms

On Late Night, O'Brien has become known for his more active and spontaneous hosting style. He starts off every show by saying, "We have a great show for you tonight." His stage habits include, but are not limited to, mime, self-deprecation, dramatic expressions, various impressions, use of awkward pauses or responses and moving his hair and scalp back and forth. He frequently makes fun of and interacts with the audience. He commonly makes light of his own appearance including his hairstyle, his pale skin, his clumsiness and his height.

One of his trademarks is to perform the "string dance." He also does impressions of celebrities; among the most common are Arnold Schwarzenegger (where he pretends to bite off a piece of an imaginary sausage, only because his "Arnold always eats a sausage"), Donald Trump, whom he vaguely resembles, which generally includes the phrase, "You're fired," and Larry King where he circles both eyes with his fingers (to represent eyeglasses) and pretends to pull suspenders on his chest.


bulletGuest appearance on The Jon Stewart Show (1993)
bulletLate Night with Conan O'Brien (1993—2009)
bulletSaturday Night Live (1991, 2001)
bulletThe Simpsons (as himself) (1994)
bulletSpace Ghost: Coast to Coast (as himself) (1994)
bulletMr. Show with Bob and David (1995)
bulletThe Single Guy (1996)
bulletArli$$ (1996)
bulletSpin City (1999)
bulletFuturama (1999)
bulletStorytelling (2001)
bulletVanilla Sky (2001)
bulletThe Ballad of Ricky Bobby (as himself) (2006)
bulletSugar & Spice (2001) (cameo in end credits)
bulletAndy Richter Controls the Universe (2003)
bulletEnd of the Century (2003)
bulletBewitched (as himself) (2005)
bulletRobot Chicken (2005)
bulletThe Denial Twist (The White Stripes music video) (2005)
bulletO'Grady (2006)
bulletThe Office (cameo) (2006)
bulletQueer Duck (as himself) (2006)
bullet30 Rock (as himself) (2007)
bulletRobot Chicken Star Wars (as Zuckuss) (2007)
bulletGuest appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (2007, 2008)
bulletGuest appearance on The Colbert Report (2007, 2008)
bulletGuest appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (2007, 2008)
bulletSesame Street (2008)
bulletRobot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II (as Zuckuss, Star Wars nerd) (2008)
bulletThe Backyardigans (2009)

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (2009)



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