Conan O'Brien (born April 18, 1963) is an American television host,
television writer and comedian, and is the current host of The Tonight Show on
NBC. He rose to fame as the host of NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien from
1993 to 2009, before leaving to succeed Jay Leno to The Tonight Show helm,
airing his first broadcast on June 1, 2009. Prior to his hosting career, Conan
was a writer for Saturday Night Live and the animated series The Simpsons.
Conan was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, the son of Ruth (née Reardon), an attorney, and Thomas Francis O'Brien, a physician, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard. He is the third of six children. O'Brien's family was Irish Catholic and descended from pre-Civil War era immigrants; in a Late Night episode, Conan paid a visit to County Kerry, Ireland, where his ancestors originated.
Conan attended Brookline High School, where he served as managing editor of the school newspaper. After graduating as valedictorian in 1981, he entered Harvard University.
At Harvard, Conan 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, Conan was a writer for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. During his sophomore and junior years, he served as the Lampoon's president.
Conan 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 Conan 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. Conan 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, Conan 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, Conan briefly was roommates with Jeff Garlin. In 1989, Conan 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. Conan returned to host the show in 2001 during its 26th season.
Conan 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 Conan and rerun in 2002 on the Trio network.
From 1991 – 1993, Conan 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. 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. In his speech given at Class Day at Harvard in 2000, Conan 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.
As executive producer, Michaels invited Conan to audition to host the successor show to Late Night with David Letterman. Premiering on 13 September 1993, Late Night with Conan O'Brien received generally unfavorable critical reviews for the first two to three years after its debut. 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. Conan would later poke fun at the first three years of the show when on his 10th Anniversary Special, Mr. T appeared to give Conan a gold necklace with a giant "7" on it. When Conan 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, Conan 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, Conan 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. Conan was reported to have been shaken up and talked about a need to have faith.
A long-running joke is that Conan 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), Conan traveled to Finland and appeared on several television shows, and met President Halonen. The trip was filmed and aired as a special.
Conan 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 has now owned the rights to http://www.hornymanatee.com for 10 years. 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 Conan are superheroes who fight crime with their "paleness." As Gaffigan introduced each new episode, Conan 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, Conan negotiated a new contract with NBC. As part of the deal, Conan would take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009. On July 21, 2008, NBC announced that O'Brien's first Tonight Show would be on June 1, 2009.
Conan is an avid guitarist and music listener. When Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band appeared on the show as a musical guest, Conan joined the 17 piece band along with the Max Weinberg 7 and guests Jimmy Fallon & Thomas Haden Church, playing acoustic guitar and contributing backup vocals for the song, "Pay Me My Money Down".
During the writer's strike in 2008, Conan staged a The Colbert/O'Brien/Stewart 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, Conan simply walked out at the start of the show. Instead of his usual upbeat antics and monologue, Conan 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. Conan 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. Conan 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.
Conan was a guest for Jay Leno's final episode of The Tonight Show on May 29, 2009. On June 1, Will Ferrell became Conan's first guest on the couch, and Pearl Jam appeared as the first musical guest with Conan as host.
Conan 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.
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 5th-season episode "Bart Gets Famous", interviewing Bart Simpson during his rise to fame as a catchphrase comedian. The episode was produced after his audition to replace David Letterman, but before he was hired to the show. Conan later admitted he believed his show would be cancelled by the time the episode aired.
Conan appeared as a character in the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, voiced by Brent Spiner. Conan 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. He appeared recently in 2009 in the episode Fishsticks (South Park). 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, Conan gripes that "For all these people know, my show is a cop show on Fox or something!" Space Ghost replies, "Isn't it?"
Conan 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, Conan 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.
Conan 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. Conan also starred in a sketch set in The Office with the cast as part of his hosting duties with the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Conan 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.
Conan does not usually appear in TV commercials. He lampooned this in 2009 by starring in one of Bud Light's Super Bowl XLIII commercials as himself. In the ad, Conan 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 Conan then mock him by saying "Hey Conan! Vroom! Vroom! Party Starter!". It shows Bud Light's slogan at the time, "The Difference is Drinkability", in Swedish. Super Bowl XLIII aired on NBC, O'Brien's network.
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, Conan 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.. Conan 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 O'Brien's production banner. Conan 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."
Conan was in a relationship with Lisa Kudrow, until Conan decided to move to New York to pursue a television show. Conan met Elizabeth Ann 'Liza' Powel (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 2002 marriage in Powel's hometown of Seattle. Conan and Powel have a daughter Neve (born in 2003) and son Beckett (born in 2005).
Conan repeatedly affirms his Irish Catholic heritage on his show. On a 2009 episode of Inside the Actors Studio, he stated that both sides of his family moved to America from Ireland in the 1850s, subsequently marrying only other Irish Catholics, and that his lineage is thus 100% Irish Catholic.
Conan donated $500 to the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd in 1997 and again in 2004.
O'Brien's long-time friend and former roommate at Harvard 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.
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, Conan purchased a $10.5 million mansion in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California to prepare for his move there in 2009 from New York City to work his new job hosting The Tonight Show at Universal Studios Hollywood.
As part of long running gag, he brought his 1992 Ford Taurus SHO with him to California, showcasing it on the inaugural episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
It was reported that since September 2006, Conan had allegedly been stalked by the Father David Ajemian of the Archdiocese of Boston, who, despite multiple warnings to stop, had been sending Conan 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 Conan 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 Conan 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 bishop, Seán Patrick O'Malley. Cardinal O'Malley then released a statement, saying that because he violated his bishop's wishes, Ajemian can no longer serve as a priest in the Catholic Church.
On Late Night, Conan became known for his more active and spontaneous hosting style. He started off every show by saying, "We have a great show for you tonight." His stage habits included, but were not limited to, mime, self-deprecation, dramatic expressions, various impressions, use of awkward pauses or responses, moving his hair and scalp back and forth and constantly buttoning up and unbuttoning his suit jacket. He frequently made fun of and interacted with the audience. He commonly made light of his own appearance including his hairstyle, his pale skin, his clumsiness and his height.
One of his trademarks was to perform the "string dance." He also did impressions of celebrities; among the most common were Arnold Schwarzenegger (where he pretended 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 included the phrase, "You're fired," and Larry King where he circled both eyes with his fingers (to represent eyeglasses) and pretended to pull suspenders on his chest.
This Conan O'Brien Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub