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Conan O’Brien is Big Red

CraveOnline talks to Host, Comedian and Writer, Conan O’Brien.

Conan O'Brien is Big Red

When Conan O’Brien first got the job hosting Late Night, we probably could have gotten an interview with him by looking him up in the phone book. Over a decade later, he’s become one of the most sought after TV comedians out there. Luckily, he’s got a new project to hawk so we got to talk to him for that. He’s producing a new comedy show for his former sidekick, Andy Richter. Andy Barker, P.I. has Richter as an accountant who takes mystery cases and somehow bungles his way into solving them. It sounds like a brilliant skit from Late Night, and we’ll get to see it a half hour each week.

CraveOnline: How much PR will Andy Barker get on Late Night?

 

Conan O’Brien: It’s hard to really do that because I think when I’m doing that show I have to be pretty honest with Late Night fans and I think it wouldn’t be right to be constantly shilling this show. Even as a joke. So I try and keep that separate.

CraveOnline: How does it feel to be a mogul?

Conan O’Brien: Yeah, the money is just pouring in. It’s very exciting. I really like this show a lot. It’s a dream to get to work with Andy again, so that’s the nice part and the fact that I’ve already made over $44 million on this show is just the bonus.

CraveOnline: Why did it take so long to reunite you two?

Conan O’Brien: Basically what happened is John Groff and I had been talking about this storyline without Andy in mind and we were talking for a while about it when we both had the same thought, which is, "We’re talking about Andy Richter."

CraveOnline: Does this show have the same comedy style as Late Night?

Conan O’Brien: My approach to it is the same as it was when I was five years old, which is something feels funny, I do it, people laugh and I move on. This is the same situation really. It’s hard for me to know, and the late night show is a creature that lives at 12:30 at night, so it probably develops and learns to adapt to that environment in some way. But at the end of the day, when I’ve taken what I do in late night and I go anywhere else and I do a guest appearance on a primetime show or I do the Emmys or something like that, I just try and think of what would be funny? What would be funny to do? And I don’t try to overthink the "Well, that’s kind of late night" or "Now I’m on at eight o’clock or nine o’clock and I’m hosting an awards show and I’m doing something with Bob Newhart." It’s just what would be funny to do? And I think funny is funny. My hope is that people will just relate to, "Oh, this is a funny show with really superb actors."

CraveOnline: Will you create a non-Conan O’Brien role on the show?

Conan O’Brien: Yeah, play something horrible? Yeah, I think we found my role in show business which is I like I’m such a cartoon character, I’m so myself to people, when people stop me on the street, you can tell they just really want to talk to that guy they see on television and I am that guy so it works out. I think if ever I had the opportunity, if Martin Scorsese called me and said, "I want you to play a drug addicted member of a westie Irish gang who lives on west 54th street" and it’s this great character part, I think the minute they showed me on screen, people would just start laughing. No matter what I did, they’d be like, "It’s Conan O’Brien. Why is he acting like he’s on heroin?" 

CraveOnline: A while ago, Late Night did some parodies of detective shows. Did this come from there?

Conan O’Brien: No. Those were some of my favorite things we ever did. We’d start our show by saying, "Last night on Conan O’Brien." Then we would shoot Quinn Martin-style things where I was in bed with a woman saying, "I love you my dear, but you must die." And then we’d cut to Andy. It was a Dynasty thing. You’d cut to Andy on a boat strangling someone to death. They were absurd. They were extremely expensive. They took months to shoot, they were exhausting to shoot and we’d get like 20 seconds. Those are things I’d do when I was 30 and we didn’t know any better. We were doing an hour a night. It didn’t look to many people like I’d be doing it for very long. And we would put this massive amount of work and get these things that cost like $30,000 that would last for 30 seconds. Then we’d show it and I’d interview Tony Danza. 

CraveOnline: But you still like to spoof things?

Conan O’Brien: Obviously, a show like this is not going to work if it’s a sketch. Why I believe this show works is because the actors are terrific actors. Andy is a comedic actor but he’s not doing this like a sketch. We didn’t want this show to be a wink and a nod. It needed to work for you to really believe that Andy’s character lives. It’s something I learned from The Simpsons a long time ago. I used to come in with my wise-ass ideas and I would say, "I’ve got this really crazy, weird idea where Homer goes to Mars." I was getting too much into the conceptual comedy of it. I learned from people like Jim Brooks that if people don’t believe in the family unit, none of the other stuff works. You have nothing. So I do believe that the reason this show ultimately is going to work is because people are going to watch it and really like these actors and believe in these characters.

CraveOnline: What was your first job in showbiz?

Conan O’Brien: My first job in show business was I was, this is a true story, I was a bodyguard for a Michael Jackson look alike in a 1985 4th of July parade.

CraveOnline: Have you thought about taking over the Tonight Show yet?

Conan O’Brien: It’s still a ways off. I really haven’t. One of the things that naturally keeps you from thinking about that too much is that I have five hours a week of television to do right now so I just think about that and I feel like when the time comes to do that, I’ll shift focus. But it’s not really possible right now. If I didn’t have the Late Night job right now, I’d be sitting in a motel room in my underwear somewhere just obsessing about The Tonight Show but thank God I have a job. I have a lot to worry about now and I have two kids, so there’s no time.

CraveOnline: Would you move to LA to continue it in Leno’s studio?

Conan O’Brien: No one’s talked to me and it’s not where I’d bring it. I think it’s contractually NBC’s decision. Nobody’s said anything to me and like I say, there’s an old Irish saying, "Don’t try and buy trouble." Right now I’m not asking a lot of questions about it. I’m just worrying about the present. No one’s said to me definitively where we’re doing it. I’m still pushing for Cleveland. I think it’s a funny city.

CraveOnline: Are you sorry there’s no controversy about this late night turnover?

Conan O’Brien: There’s still plenty of time.

CraveOnline: Will you have anything to do with The Simpsons movie?

Conan O’Brien: No, I still talk to those guys. I’m friends with a lot of those guys and they’ve told me they’re excited about it and they say it’s funny but no. I still meet fans all the time that say, "Hey, do you still write stuff for The Simpsons?" And I think, "When would that happen?" That was a full time job.

CraveOnline: Do you ever run out of material for the show?

Conan O’Brien: Yeah. Yes, we do. Every now and then, I’m out there winging it. And then you come up with something. We’ll completely have no material sometimes, we feel like we’re running out and that’s when we accidentally stumble on. It’s the stuff you stumble on that’s the best. We stumbled onto the penguin phenomenon. The horny manatee which now has something like 22 million hits, we stumbled on it. That was a complete accident. We couldn’t have thought of that. Those are the best things and you just find them. You find what your next thing is.
 
CraveOnline: You mentioned having more energy when you were younger, how do you keep in shape now?

Conan O’Brien: That’s assuming I’m in shape. That’s a big assumption. One thing is, going out every night in front of people and performing, you want to be, and also I like physical comedy. I like to jump up on the desk, I like to tackle people, I like to jump through windows. I always thought that’s an incentive to at least try and keep the weight off. Tracy Morgan was on the show and I ended up jumping up on my desk or doing a dance with him and doing pushups, and on my show I like to be prepared to do almost anything. I’m not in like great aerobic shape or anything but I’ve always wanted to, I have a kid-like personality so I’ve always wanted to be able to, at least if I have a kid-like idea, I want to be able to act like a kid and do it. I don’t want to be like, "Well, that’d be funny but my lower back is killing me."

CraveOnline: So what do you do?

Conan O’Brien: I go about three times a week and I ride my bike a lot. The thing I like to do the most is just go into Central Park and do a couple laps on my bike. It’s pretty nice. You put on a helmet, nobody knows who you are, they think I’m Ron Howard.

CraveOnline: What’s the silliest injury you’ve ever sustained?

Conan O’Brien: Wow, that’s a really good one. I fell in the driveway when I was four years old and killed my two front teeth and they turned gray. I looked like a circus act for about six years growing up. I mean, I really was hideous. I had two completely dead gray front teeth. Then I got them fixed and the rest is history.

CraveOnline: Are there any guests you’re still gunning for?

Conan O’Brien: Yeah, there’s people that I haven’t interviewed yet but as time goes on, it’s a smaller and smaller number because eventually most people have come by the show, so it’s harder and harder to think of who hasn’t. Who haven’t I talked to? But there are still people out there that for one reason or another, like Dick Van Dyke is someone I grew up, I always really loved Dick Van Dyke. For one reason or another he’s never been to New York, never been on the show. I’d love to talk to Dick Van Dyke. A lot of times it’s the people you grew up watching on TV and idolizing that stick in your break.

CraveOnline: Not even when he had a movie to promote?

Conan O’Brien: No one’s ever come in and pitched me Dick Van Dyke. They wouldn’t even have to pitch me Dick Van Dyke but I’d love to talk to him.

CraveOnline: Do you make your kids laugh?

Conan O’Brien: Yeah, they’re pretty young. They like to laugh.

CraveOnline: How is fatherhood for Conan?

Conan O’Brien: Anyone here with kids can tell you, suddenly everything you did before in your life, that you worried about before you had kids seems pretty silly. So now I don’t even remember. I think about my life when I was single or didn’t have kids and I think, "What was that all about? What was I complaining about then?" You sleep ’til 10 in the morning. You watch a movie uninterrupted. You eat food and no one throws it at you. These are great things. But obviously it’s the best thing that ever happened to me and it’s exciting. Ask anyone here, it will do a number on your life.

CraveOnline: Would you do the Emmys again?

Conan O’Brien: You know, it’s a lot of work and I’ve done it twice and I had a good experience both times and it meant a lot to me, but you get to a point where you think it’s so much work plus my show that I wouldn’t do it right away. That’s for sure. And also, it’s probably good that different people take a shot at it. It is the most professionally satisfying moments that I’ve had in television and especially this last one, I really love it.