He was once a writer and has won an Emmy award for Saturday Night Live, he was also one of the main writers for the brilliant and funny cartoon shows of our childhood times, The Simpsons, and he has also earned six Writer’s Guild awards for his 16 years serving as the host of The Late Night Show, Conan O’Brien is regarded as one of the funniest people in America.
From the time of when he was a kid to the time of his adult life, he has always taken a pleasure in making others laugh. People who have influenced him were also people with comedic backgrounds including Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Woody Allen, Robin Williams, and Rodney Dangerfield. The combination of his idols and what he was somewhat talented at created a leeway for what would one day allow him to do something that all comedians one day dream of, which is to host The Tonight Show. Here is the story of how Conan O’Brien went from an average kid with freckles, a bowl cut, and rang-a-tang orange hair to a famous comedian and talk show host.
Conan grew up in the suburbs of Brookline, Massachusetts. When he went through grade school, he quickly figured out what he could and could not do. He said he was really not an athlete. He was intimidated by math and sciences. He was not good at so many things. But he started to hit areas where he was comfortable with. He liked creative writing right away and he also liked making his friends laugh. Writing creativity and making people laugh was what he realized he wanted to do at an early age.
I never in a million years you know… thought you could make a living at either one.
Unlike Jim Carrey, he wasn’t a class clown. Instead, he was more of a kid where you have to get to know him first, and if you guys got close, you would begin picking up on his funniness.
But even when he was funny and perhaps thought that he could make something out of this, his parents were not interested in show business. First of all, his mom was a lawyer and his dad was a doctor. Remembering back, he was a kid with freckles, a bowl cut, and rang-a-tang orange hair…
Mom, dad, I’m going to be an entertainer someday.
For some crazy reason, he believed that in show business, you need to learn how to tap dance. And because he knew he was going to be an entertainer someday, he signed up for tap dances classes. Everyone else was African American and in their 20’s and there was this kid sitting there with his tap shoes and his bowl cut hairstyle. That was Conan.
When he entered high school, Conan started to write fiction. He says that whenever he writes something, he wants you to be able to see it. He became the managing editor and like Alicia Keys, was also valedictorian of his high school. This allowed him to go to Harvard and write for The Lampoon – a famous comedy magazine that’s published in America. His experience there made him decide that he wanted to write or perform comedy. It was dream of his. Even though he realized that he probably was never going to make that much money doing it, it was still something that he was really passionate about.
I used to draw this and I used to put them all over campus and I would leave them everywhere sort of like a… you know Kilroy was here. People used to ask me in the 80’s, ‘Why are you doing that?’ And I would say it’s advertising the show I’m going to have someday.
From college, he applied for Saturday Night Live or SNL and had to pitch funny ideas for the big names of comedy such as Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Robin Williams. It was a lot of pressure, especially when Steve Martin took comedy very seriously. But he eventually made it through and even got to play in some minor roles. Eventually he even got to play in some few minor roles. But even with the success of SNL, he left it. He felt burnt out and needed a change in his life. The worst part was that he quit without having another job.
He became depressed and walked around Manhattan for a couple of weeks, sitting on benches, and reading poetry. He didn’t know what to do. One day, however, his cell phone rang.
At that exact moment, my phone rings and it is Mike Reese and Al Jean… And they were guys that used to be on The Lampoon and now they’re running The Simpsons and they said we just had our first writer’s spot open up on The Simpsons which was ‘the show’. The Simpsons had only been on for about three seasons at that point, and they said, ‘Do you have anything you could show us?’
Conan had a good reputation and sent some sketches over. They said that the sketches were good and asked him to come by in three days. He came over and did some more sketches, this time the sketches were 30 minute ones, different from what had been doing at SNL. But he learned how to do them and was hired to become a writer for The Simpsons. To this day, even though he says that Homer is really fun to write for, his favorite character to write for is Mr. Burns because there’s so much you can do with him. He’s has an infinite amount of wealth and almost limitless capacity for evil, and when you combine those two components together, anything can happen.
There are no limits for Mr. Burns.
After writing for The Simpsons for some time, he was approached by Lauren Michaels, the former producer of Saturday Night Live. Michaels invited him to replace David Letterman for NBC’s late night show. Nobody knew about Conan O’Brian when it came to late night and people thought that they were taking a big risk. He was on three month contracts and it was tough times. But this had been his dream ever since he was younger – to be an entertainer and have his own show one day.
Hanging on a thread, he did his best. He says that everyone does what they have to do to get by. He just concentrated on doing his show every day. Sometimes he would worry or be anxious, but when the show starts he would do everything he could to get some laughs. As time went on, the more laughter he got from the audience, and he knew he was doing something right.
Today, Conan O’Brian he is regarded as the most popular late night show entertainer and even had an opportunity to host The Tonight Show for seven months – a dream that every comedian has. He continues to entertain people with his humor, including going back to his university and giving a commencement speech to the students graduating Harvard.
Life Lessons We Can Learn from Conan O’Brien
Believe in your talent. Conan recalls that he was not the best looking kid when he was younger, he wasn’t good at athletics at all, and he wasn’t that interested in maths or sciences. But he was good at making people laugh and stuck with it. Even growing up, he kept improving it and experts questions like when is the best time for this joke to be released? Through continual practice and improving his talent, it made him into a master of comedy.
Visualize what you to be. On campus, Conan drew pictures of himself and had enough confident to put them across the campus. If you keep visualizing who you want to be, you become more confident in yourself and start attracting ways to make it happen. You never knew some day in the future you might actually be that person that you obsessively visualized in the past.
Don’t think so much. Sometimes you need to go with your instinct. When Conan was taking improv classes, his teacher would hit him with a stick and tell him that he was thinking too much. She told him to “just let funny things happen”.
Live for the moment. I’m sure even Conan worries a lot before the show and after the show. But during that one hour or so, all that worry and anxiety flies away. It’s no longer there anymore because you’re live. I think that’s how we should view our work. From a personal standpoint, I worry about where this blog is going to go, whether or not all the research I do on people is worth it, or if there has been really a significant growth in traffic after more than a year of blogging. But when I’m writing, that anxiety and worry just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’m in the moment. I’m live. And that feeling of being in the moment always reminds of why I’m writing in the first place.
Pessimistic people never win. I used to be a really pessimistic person myself, partially because my best friend at the time when we were still friends was really sarcastic, and when he moved away, I found that some of that sarcasm had rubbed on me and I became really sarcastic person around other people without even knowing so. It was hard making friends with people. Being pessimistic is an easy thing to do when life is not going you’re way, but it’s not going to bring you out of the hole. It’s going to make the whole deeper. One of the most valuable traits that has helped Conan when his comedy wasn’t as funny was generosity. To this day, I truly believe that when you combine generosity with optimism towards yourself and towards others, anything is possible.
“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.”