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Conan Christopher O'Brien (born April 18, 1963) is an American television host and comedian. He served as host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien from 1993 to 2009, followed by the short-lived The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien from 2009 to 2010. Prior to his hosting career, O'Brien was a writer for Saturday Night Live and the animated series The Simpsons.
On April 12, 2010, it was announced that O'Brien will host a new late-night talk show on cable TV network TBS, beginning as early as November 2010
O'Brien was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, the son of Thomas O'Brien, a physician, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard, and Ruth O'Brien (née Reardon), an attorney and partner at the Boston firm of Ropes & Gray. 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, 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. In his senior year, O'Brien won the National Council of Teachers of English writing contest with his short story "To Bury the Living." 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. His major was in History.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. He also briefly served as the drummer in a band called "The Bad Clams". During his sophomore and junior years, he served as the Lampoon's president. At this time, O'Brien's future boss at NBC, Jeff Zucker was serving as President of the rival The Harvard Crimson.
Saturday Night Live (1987–1991)
O'Brien moved to Los Angeles after graduation to join the writing staff of HBO's Not Necessarily the News. He was a writer on the short lived The Wilton North Report. 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 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. 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.
The Simpsons (1991–1993)
From 1991 to 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.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 was an active producer during seasons 4 and 5 as well, meaning he would frequently contribute to scripts from those seasons along with coming up with story ideas, plot points and jokes. The style of the comedy of the show during this period was also somewhat influenced by his comic sensibilities. 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.
Late Night (1993–2009)
Main article: Late Night with Conan O'Brien
As executive producer, Michaels invited O'Brien to audition to host the successor show to Late Night with David Letterman. Premiering on September 13, 1993, Late Night with Conan O'Brien received generally unfavorable critical reviews during its first few years. The show remained on multi-week renewal cycles while NBC decided its fate. 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.
A long-running joke, which stemmed from the recurring segment "Conan O'Brien Hates My Homeland", is that O'Brien resembles the first female President of Finland, Tarja Halonen. After joking about this for several months (which led to his endorsement of her campaign), O'Brien traveled to Finland, appearing on several television shows and meeting 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 the Federal Communications Commission would hold NBC liable for promoting inappropriate content if a third party were to register the domain and post such material.
O'Brien performing a cover of "I Will Survive" on his first day of the tour in Eugene, Oregon.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[update], Late Night with Conan O'Brien had for eleven years consistently attracted an audience averaging about 2.5 million viewers. 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, playing acoustic guitar and contributing backup vocals for the song, "Pay Me My Money Down". On the June 13, 2008, episode of Late Night, O'Brien simply walked onto the stage 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 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 and 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.
The Colbert / O'Brien / Stewart mock feud
Main article: Who Made Huckabee?
During the writer's 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 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.
The Tonight Show (2009–2010)
Main article: The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
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. O'Brien was a guest on Jay Leno's final episode of The Tonight Show on May 29, 2009 before he became the host of the show. On June 1, 2009 Will Ferrell became Conan's first guest on the couch, and Pearl Jam appeared as the first musical guest with O'Brien as host.
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.
Will Ferrell was O'Brien's first and last guest during the show's run.Departure from Tonight Show
Main article: 2010 Tonight Show conflict
On Thursday, January 7, 2010, NBC executives (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. 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. 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. Sources familiar with the situation told the New York Post that O'Brien was unhappy with NBC's plan.
"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 22nd, 2010.O'Brien released a statement on January 12 stating "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." 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, $12 million of which was designated for distribution to his staff, which moved with Conan to Los Angeles from New York when he left Late Night.
The final Tonight Show with Conan aired January 22, 2010, featuring 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.
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 is allowed to start working for another network as soon as September 2010. The rumored networks ranged anywhere from Fox to Comedy Central.
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. He purchased the apartment in 2007 for $10 million. Two years earlier, O'Brien purchased a home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles for over $10.5 million. Some industry insiders have speculated that O'Brien has chosen to stay on the west coast in order to facilitate a return to late night television. Among the stations to have expressed interest in O'Brien are Fox, FX (part of the FOX family), USA (part of the NBC family), TNT, TBS, Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime.
On February 24, 2010, O'Brien attracted media attention for starting a Twitter account. His "tweets", although primarily jokes, amounted to his first public statements since leaving The Tonight Show one month earlier. After about one hour, O'Brien's number of subscribers had rocketed past the 30,000 following the official Jay Leno account. After 24 hours, O'Brien had well over 300,000 followers, the current follower count doubling since then.
O'Brien has been named to the 2010 Time 100, a list compiled by Time Magazine of the 100 most influential people in the world as voted on by readers. After being prohibited from making television appearances of any kind until May, O'Brien will speak about the Tonight Show conflict in an interview with Steve Kroft to air on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes on May 2, 2010.
The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour
Main article: The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour
On March 11, 2010, O'Brien announced via his Twitter account that he would embark on a 30-city live tour beginning April 12, entitled "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour".] Co-host Andy Richter, along with members of the former Tonight Show Band, will join O'Brien on the tour. Max Weinberg, however, will not be able to join. $695 VIP tickets offer the opportunity to meet O'Brien in person. On the same day, teamcoco.com — an apparently official website — was launched.
On April 12, 2010, O'Brien opened his two-month comedy tour, starting in Eugene, Oregon with a crowd of 2,500 and no TV cameras. The tour goes through the Northwest and Canada before moving on to bigger U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and New York, where he will perform on the campuses that house both of the NBC-owned studios he formerly occupied. With tickets priced from $40 and up, "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" is virtually sold out.
Signing with TBS
On April 12, 2010, just hours before the start of his tour in Eugene, Oregon, O'Brien announced that he will host a new show on cable station TBS beginning as early as November 2010. The show will air Mondays through Thursdays beginning at 11:00 pm ET / 10:00 pm CT. O'Brien's addition will move Lopez Tonight with George Lopez back one hour to midnight ET / 11:00 pm CT. O'Brien refused at first to do to Lopez what had happened to O'Brien at NBC, but agreed to join the network after Lopez called to persuade him to come to TBS. A Canadian channel has yet to pick up the show. WPCH-TV, the local Atlanta station owned by Time Warner which airs on cable systems in Canada in lieu of TBS, says it has no plans to broadcast the new program.
On April 29, The New Yorker reported that Max Weinberg would not be a part of the house band on O'Brien's new show, largely due to longstanding conflicts regarding his touring schedule with Bruce Springsteen and the Max Weinberg Big Band. The rest of the band is still slated to continue with O'Brien.
Television writer/producer (2002–present)
In 2002, O'Brien helped write and produce Andy Richter Controls the Universe, a comedy series that ran for two seasons. In 2004, O'Brien apologized 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 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." NBC ordered two pilots from Conaco one being a one hour drama and an half hour comedy.
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. 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 audio book version of Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.
O'Brien appearing as himself on The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets Famous".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. 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.
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.
O'Brien also made a cameo appearance on the U.S. version of The Office. In the episode "Valentine's Day", Michael believed that he spotted 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 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, 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. 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 January 2010, O'Brien appeared in The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special – In 3-D! On Ice! to honor the show that he had written for in the early 1990'
Comedy and mannerisms
On Late Night, O'Brien 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" and ended nearly every show with a quick, quirky "Bye, everybody, bye!" 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. He continued many of these themes into his position as host of The Tonight Show.
One of O'Brien's trademarks is to perform the "string dance". He also does intentionally poor and exaggerated impressions of celebrities which are often reduced to a specific characteristic, phrase or gesture that represents that person; among the most common are Larry King, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Leno, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump
O'Brien with his wife Liza in 2007O'Brien 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 previously 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 Powell's hometown of Seattle. O'Brien and Powell have a daughter Neve (born in 2003) and son Beckett (born in 2005).
O'Brien 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.
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. 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, Massachusetts and helped open the Cor Unum meal center in 2006. 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.
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 work his new job hosting The Tonight Show at Universal Studios Hollywood. As part of a 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.
A poster created by Mike Mitchell during the Tonight Show controversy of 2010 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. 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.
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. 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 I." 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 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