He’s entertained as a writer on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons as well as being a late night host for over twenty years. But how much do you really know about the zany red-headed man they sometimes call Coco? Here are 42 side-splitting facts about Conan O’Brien.
One of O'Brien's major influences was Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. On Fridays, his dad would let the young O'Brien stay up to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue. O’Brien was also strongly influenced by Warner Brothers cartoons and SCTV.
2. Our Man In Havana
In 2015, O'Brien took the crew of his show to Cuba to tape a series of remote segments there. This was the first time that any late night television host had taped a show in Cuba since Jack Paar taped The Jack Paar Tonight Show in Cuba in 1959.
3. Red Headed Cousins
O'Brien is a third cousin of fellow New England comedian and actor Dennis Leary.
4. Not The First Choice
When David Letterman left the Late Night franchise at NBC for his own show at CBS in 1993, the first choice for a replacement host was Dana Carvey, not O’Brien. Carvey would turn down NBC’s offer and instead go on to host his own comedy show, The Dana Carvey Show, in 1996.
5. First Audition
When O'Brien first auditioned for the role of host of the new Late Night show, he did so on the set of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. O’Brien’s audition guests were Jason Alexander and actress Mimi Rogers. It is reported that Jon Stewart, Drew Carey, and Paul Provenza also auditioned, but were rejected in favor of O'Brien.
6. Tough Critic
Following the airing of his first Late Night show, the New York Times Opinion section contained a negative review of the show titled “O’Brien Flops!” by a curious source. Who was it? O'Brien himself, of course! The article concluded by stating “As much as this writer would like to root for Mr. O'Brien, one can't help but have grave doubts about his prospects".
7. Bad Omen
On his first day at work writing for The Simpsons, O'Brien was led to his office and left to begin working on show ideas. After working for a few minutes, he left his office for a drink of coffee. Shortly after, he was alerted by a loud crash and returned to his office. There, he discovered a hole in the window and a lifeless bird on the floor. A promising start, indeed!
8. Made Of Clay
In 2003, there was an episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien that was entirely done using Claymation. The guests for this show included Johnny Knoxville, Richard Lewis and David Bowie.
9. Lucky Break
When O'Brien quit his job as a writer for SNL in 1991, he had nothing else lined up nor did he have any idea what he was going to do. O’Brien states: “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". Soon afterwards, The Simpsons called and offered O’Brien a writing job. O’Brien credits The Simpsons with saving his professional career.
10. Gonzo TV
O'Brien reached out to the famous gonzo author Hunter S. Thompson for years seeking to get him on his show. Thompson consistently declined until tentatively agreeing to O'Brien's proposal, with a single requirement: O'Brien and his team must travel to Thompson's farm in upstate New York and record the segment from that location. It was also stipulated that O'Brien and Thompson would engage in firing guns and consume strong alcoholic beverages. O'Brien concurred and captured a boisterous segment in which a slightly intoxicated O'Brien took down the NBC peacock using a machine weapon.
11. A Genuine, Bona-Fide Electrified Six Car Monorail
O’Brien’s most famous writing credit for The Simpsons is probably the episode “Marge vs. the Monorail,” where the City of Springfield is tricked by a dashing con-man into purchasing an expensive and dangerous monorail. O’Brien first conceived of the concept of the episode when he saw a billboard in L.A. with the word “Monorail” on it with no other details or explanation. O’Brien has stated that the episode is his favorite of all episodes he wrote for the show. The episode frequently ranks among the top episodes the iconic show has ever made.
12. Random Follow
Conan O’Brien only follows one person on Twitter. That person? A fan named Sarah Killen who he decided to follow at random one day soon after joining the site. O’Brien followed Killen in 2010 when she had 3 followers. Since O’Brien’s fateful follow, Killen currently stands at over 400k followers!
13. A Nose For Trouble
Would you believe that O’Brien’s nose is not the one he was born with? Indeed, it's correct. Yet, this wasn't triggered by his pursuit of cosmetic surgery. During a discussion on Marc Maron's podcast, O’Brien shared that in his high school days, he was set upon by a group of young delinquents who left him badly injured. O’Brien explains that at the emergency room he asked the doctor if his nose was broken and the doctor retorted: “Broken? Good god, man, it's a bag of bones!”
14. Eminent Domain
In a 2006 Late Night skit, O'Brien riffed that one of the show’s band members was viewing a website located at “hornymanatee.com". As a measure to limit the company’s liability, NBC immediately purchased the hornymanatee.com domain name for a cool $159. O’Brien writers soon extended the joke by transforming hornymanatee.com into a real website that was soon visited by more than 3 million fans of the show.
Beginning in September 2006, O’Brien was stalked by a Roman Catholic priest named David Ajemian. The issue began as a result of the priest’s frustration at being denied entry into the audience of a Late Night taping. Ajemian mailed O’Brien numerous intimidating letters and even tried to intrude on a Late Night taping forcibly, which culminated in his apprehension by the authorities.
16. Generous Man
When O'Brien was bought out of his Tonight Show contract by NBC in a $45 million deal, about 50 staffers received absolutely nothing as part of the deal. Generous O’Brien paid these staffers six weeks severance pay out of his own pocket.
17. Ordained Host
Did you know O'Brien is an ordained minister and conducted a marriage ceremony between two individuals of the same gender that was broadcast on his show? That’s right, O’Brien specifically became ordained in order to perform the marriage between a member of his staff and their partner while taping the show in New York City.
18. Little Drummer Boy
O’Brien played drums while a student at Harvard. One of his classmates, Damon Krukowski, was in a band at the time but lacked his own drum kit and borrowed O’Brien's. Krukowski’s band happened to be Galaxie 500, a very influential dream-pop band from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. One can hear O’Brien’s borrowed drum kit on the band’s first album.
While writing for The Simpsons, O’Brien would sometimes create a character that he called the “Nervous Writer” in order to get a laugh out of the writer’s room. The character would anxiously open a can of Diet Coke, spraying it all over himself, and then attempt to pitch a joke.
20. Pay To Play
When O'Brien left The Simpsons to host Late Night with Conan O’Brien, he was still under contract with The Simpsons. The Simpsons were reluctant to let O’Brien leave and insisted that he either fulfill the terms of the contract or pay damages for breaking it. In the end, NBC agreed to pay half and O’Brien agreed to pay the other half in order to break the contract. Good thing that whole late night host thing worked out for him!
21. What About Ryan Though?
The Office cast members John Krasinski, Ellie Kemper and Mindy Kaling were all interns on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
22. Andy’s Sister
In the early years of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, a recurring character was sidekick Andy Richter’s “sister” Stacy. The dorky, brace-wearing Stacy, who had a desperate crush on O'Brien and who flew into a psychotic rage when her advances were rejected, was played by a young Amy Poehler.
23. Running Joke
Paul Rudd is a frequent guest on all of O'Brien's late night shows. Rudd is always a hilarious guest and he has successfully pranked the talk show host's audience for the last fifteen years running. While Rudd is at O'Briens’s desk promoting his latest movie and promises to show a clip from it, he instead shows a scene from the 1988 alien movie Mac and Me depicting a wheelchair-bound child falling from a cliff.
24. Chance Encounter
O'Brien actually met his wife while filming a Late Night skit! Back in 2000, O’Brien filmed a skit at advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding where Liza Powel was a young copywriter. O’Brien and Powel hit it off during the taping of the skit and dated for 18 months before getting married.
25. Axeing To Leave
When leaving Late Night to take over the Tonight Show, O'Brien took an ax to the Late Night set. This wasn’t a moment reminiscent of The Shining, though, as it was a means of giving the studio audience literal physical souvenirs from the set.
26. So Close, Yet So Far
The Emmys have been both kind and unkind to O'Brien. Every year from 1996 to 2013—that’s 17 years—O'Brien has been nominated for at least one Emmy award. But he’s won only one twice! Once was in 2007 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy, Music or Variety Series for Late Night and the other time was in 2012 for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media for Conan.
27. Karaoke Comedian
During his 2010 comedy tour entitled “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny”O'Brien regularly played guitar and sang for the audience, performing covers of various songs. Frequently played tunes included Radiohead’s “Creep” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive".
28. All In The Family
O'Brien originates from a family rich in intellect. His father is a medical professor at Harvard Medical School, and his mother occupies a partner position at an esteemed organization in Boston practicing jurisprudence.
29. Gentleman And A Scholar
O'Brien his parents may be accomplished, he’s no slouch either. O’Brien was his high school’s valedictorian and the managing editor of his high school newspaper. O'Brien then went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard, majoring in history and literature.
30. Game Developer
While at Harvard, O'Brien developed a spoof of a basketball video game. In O’Brien’s spoof game, the NBA’s Boston Celtics took on a classical ballet troupe—a comedic send-up of the then-popular One-on-One game pitting Larry Bird vs. Julius Erving. Conan claimed at the time to have had a contract with game developer EA Sports to develop this idea, although it fell through.
31. Crude Comedy
While working as a writer on SNL, O'Brien collaborated with Robert Smigel on a sketch named 'Beach'. The sketch is notorious for utilizing the particular male anatomical term 42 times.
32. What Could’ve Been
O'Brien wrote a TV pilot starring Adam West with fellow-writer Robert Smigel. The pilot was titled Lookwell, featuring West in the role of Ty Lookwell: an older, declined ex-action star who acquires a deputy role in a little town and takes on the challenge of resolving actual law-breaking incidents. While the show was never picked up by the network, the pilot episode is now revered as a cult classic!
33. Fake Feud
During the 2008 Writers Strike, O’Brien staged a fake feud with Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. The “feud” was based on which of the three was responsible for giving Mike Huckabee’s Republican presidential campaign a slight bump in the polls. The feud ended with an “all-out-brawl” between the three comedians.
34. Conan Concussed
O'Brien suffered a concussion on-air in 2009 while running a race with guest Teri Hatcher as part of a Tonight Show skit. O’Brien slipped on the soundstage and hit his head on the floor. A bewildered O'Brien then stumbled over his words during the dialogue heading to the commercial break before receiving treatment at a hospital.
35. I Didn’t Do It
O'Brien first guest appearance after getting the Late Show was on his former show, The Simpsons.O'Brien played himself in the episode “Bart Gets Famous,” interviewing Bart at the height of his fame as an accidental catchphrase comedian. The Simpsons wrote the episode after O'Brien had auditioned for the late night gig but before he had been offered the hosting job.O'Brien recorded his part soon after his show went to air but believing his late night show would be canceled before The Simpsons episode ever aired.
36. Two-Time Host
O'Brien hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner in 1995 when Bill Clinton was President and then again 18 years later in 2013 when Barack Obama was President.
37. Risky Business
During the first few years at Late Night, O’Brien was at constant risk of cancellation. Critics viewed him unfavorably, seeing him as nervous and intellectual and even too tall to succeed. At one particularly low point in 1994, NBC executives threatened to put O’Brien on a week-to-week contract.
38. College Clown
Once, during his time as the editor of Harvard's comedy paper, The Harvard Lampoon, O'Brien ran into trouble with the law after taking an entire shipment of the regular Harvard newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, without permission. Coincidentally—or perhaps not—the editor of the Crimson at the time was Jeff Zucker, who later ended up in charge of NBC when the decision was made to replace O’Brien with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.
39. Pranking Cosby
When O’Brien was 19, he pulled a prank on none other than Bill Cosby. While a student at Harvard, O’Brien was keen to meet one of his comedy idols and hatched a positively devious plan to do so. O’Brien contacted Cosby, claiming that he was being awarded a lifetime achievement award from Harvard and needed to fly to the school to accept it. Cosby bit O’Brien’s bait and arrived at Harvard by private plane all in order to be picked up by O'Brien in his parent’s station wagon and presented with an old bowling trophy as an award!
While studying at Harvard, O'Brien staged a hoax on both the local and state law enforcement simultaneously. O’Brien, along with his crew, hired a jackhammer and donned construction worker outfits. O’Brien subsequently alerted the Boston law enforcement, claiming college students were impersonating construction workers and using a jackhammer illegally on the street. Following this, he reported to the state law enforcement that college students masquerading as law enforcement officials were harassing a group of workers, attempting to get the state officials to apprehend the city's enforcers!
41. Men Without Tights
O’Brien’s pranking also includes the time he masterminded the theft of Robin’s tights in the 1980s. That’s right. Burt Ward, who played Robin on the Batman TV series, spoke at Harvard in the ‘80s and brought along his famous Robin suit. During his speech, Harvard Lampoon pranksters, including O'Brien, disguised themselves as security guards and absconded with the suit. They prank-called Ward afterward pretending to be various Batman villains before giving the suit back.
42. Don’t Flatter Me
In the early 1990s, O’Brien was briefly romantically involved with Lisa Kudrow, who went on to significant fame playing Phoebe on the hit TV show Friends. Kudrow convinced O’Brien that he should begin performing comedy as well as writing it. O’Brien, who was content as a comedy writer, disagreed with Kudrow, saying that she was being overly flattering.