O'Brien: Talk-show host and
By MELISSA ROSE BERNARDO
In 1985, when the school newspa-
per asked Conan O'Brien where he
wanted to be in 10 years, he said he
wanted to have his own talk show and
his own line of jeans.
It's 1994, and in amerenineyears,
the native Bostonian has obtained his
own talk show, "Late Night With
Conan O'Brien." You can watch him
at 12:30 on NBC - the time slot and
the network once called home by
In a recent phone interview,
O'Brien stepped out from behind that
imposing desk, and gave us a peek
into the secret life of Conan O'Brien.
Born in Boston in 1963, in the
Women's Lying-In Hospital ("I was
very embarassed about that when I
was akid"), O'Brien was in the middle
of six children in a big Irish-Catholic
family. He described himself as being
"starved for attention."
He later attented Harvard and
"goofed off a lot." His major was
History and Literature of America,
but he spent most of his time at the
Lampoon, Harvard's famous humor
magazine. "That's what I really de-
voted my whole life to," he stated.
Aside from writing scripts for "Not
Necessarily the News" and "Saturday
Night Live," O'Brien spent a great
deal of time writing and performing
comedy sketches, including a stint on
"SNL." He was writing and produc-
ing for "The Simpsons" when he was
approached to host "Late Night."
Daily: How did "Late Night With
Conan O'Brien" come about?
O'Brien: There was a spot va-
cated by this guy -Dave Letterman?
He went to CBS?
NBC was searching for a replace-
ment forLetterman, and, in looking at
stand-up comics, hadn't found the
right guy. O'Brien was recommended
by "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels.
"So I auditioned at 'The Tonight
Show,' and it went pretty well. They
(finally) said 'Well, let's take a shot
with this guy,"' O'Brien explained.
When the show's reviews came
in, they ranged from less-than-favor-
able to embarassingly scathing. After
six months and well over 100 shows,
the reviews have changed, as has
O'Brien's on-screen personality. He
is more comfortable in front of the
camera, he has learned to loosen up
with his guests, and shows more con-
fidence in his off-beat humor.
The 12:30 time slot puts O'Brien
at a disadvantage to other late-night
shows. And one has to take into ac-
count the "he's not David Letterman"
factor; just for following Dave he was
hit with unrealistically high expecta-
tions and prejudices. But despite the
frequent comparisons, O'Brien does
not feel that he is in the shadow of
other late-night personalities.
"I think it's like anything else:
The more people get to know you, the
more people see you, the more they
see how you're different.
"Inevitably there are going to be
some comparisons. 'Well, how does
he compare to Dave, or how does he
compare to Jay, or how does he com-
pare to Arsenio?"'he explained. "But
you know, if youjust keep doing your
own thing, that kind of goes away."
D: How are you different from
other late-night hosts?
O'Brien: I'm taller.
O'Brien describes his own par-
ticular brand of humor as "goofy."
Visual gags are a big part of his show,
such as celebrity stomach x-rays, or
combining celebrity photos to see
what their progeny would look like.
"The comedy on the show and the
kind of things that make me laugh are
a little different," O'Brien admitted.
"A little more surreal."
In the constant stream of celebri-
ties who flash across the set, O'Brien
named his favorite as David
Letterman. "He just had great sto-
ries," O'Brien said. "And he was
someone who I wanted to talk to,
because he did for 11 years what I'm
trying to do now. He kind of invented
the 12:30 slot, so obviously I wanted
to talk to him."
While Letterman has indirectly
influenced his career, O'Brien looked
to the comedians of the'70s for inspi-
ration. "Woody Allen and Steve Mar-
tin -I loved the movie 'The Jerk' -
SCTV, John Candy, Joe Flaherty,"
O'Brien said. "(They)made me want
to get into comedy."
And now for the personal stuff.
D: What do you look for in a
O'Brien: I look for someone who
looks exactly like me. A woman six
feet, four inches tall with red hair,
who has my face.
O'Brien is not married, but he has
been seeing someone steadily for a
few months. No word on if she is a
six-foot-four readhead with his face.
"I don't know what I look for,"
O'Brien said.. "Obviously if she
doesn't have a sense of humor, I'm
dead, because I tend not to be serious
too much of the time."
D: Is sense of humor the most
O'Brien: That and upper body
D: Upper body strength. Abso-
lutely. I pride myself on mine.
O'Brien laughs. He's not the only
one with a few good jokes.
D: If you could invite three people,
living or dead, to dinner, who would
they be and what would you cook?
O'Brien: Keith Moon (the drum-
mer) of The Who, Abraham Lincoln
and Shemp from the Three Stooges.
And I would cook a fettucini alfredo
in a very light cream sauce, and put
some peas in there too.
D: Peas? Just for color?
O'Brien: Just so it's not all white.
Conan O'Brien - a man whose
success has not prevented him from
enjoying the little things in life, like a
good plate of fettucini alfredo. Be-
sides this innovative recipe, O'Brien
has another big accomplishment to
boast. He recently received a fan let-
ter from President Clinton.
"We spent 20 minutes trying to
figure out if it was real," O'Brien
laughed. "He said that he's up late a
lot and he watches the show and re-
ally likes it. He thought it was really
"And I'm thinking, that guy is
watching too much TV ... I was like,
stop watching the show! Get to work!"
The Harvard Crimson would be
proud. In nine short years, O'Brien
has acquired not only his own talk
show, but also an endorsement from
President Clinton. He has less than a
year to finish work on his own line of
"I'm working on thejeans. They're
going to be kind of euro."
Conan O'Brien said that when he was a child he was "starved for attention."
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