Conan O'Brien on his return to New York: 'I'd be surprised if an old favorite from 'Late Night' didn't show up'


It’s Homecoming Week for Conan O’Brien: The man who hosted Late Night from 1993 to 2009 in New York returns tonight to the Big Apple to host five nights of his TBS talk show, Conan. O’Brien recently chatted with EW about the New York shows, the difference between audiences in New York and Los Angeles, and the painful regret of the jeggings incident.

On the vibe of his New York shows:

“When we travel with the show, we like the DNA of the show to change. It’s really important to me that these feel like New York shows, so one of the key components was to make sure that I’m out amongst the people, and that it’s not something where it’s just, ‘Okay, he’s in the Beacon Theatre, but he’s doing the same old crap.’ This will be me going outside and doing the same old crap, which will be a whole new way of looking at it. In the four days that I was shooting [pre-taped segments] there, I got to just about every part of New York City, which was really fun. I could not pass a street corner where the ghost of an old remote that I had shot in the 90s would [appear]… I would pass a corner and look out the window and see Riverside Park and think, “Oh right, I was dressed as a woman on a unicycle.” We’ll be down in the Garment District and I’ll look out the window and be like, “Yeah, I remember wearing an antelope head, riding on Andy Richter’s back in ’98.” It’s all these old war stories coming back.

“This is my first time back in New York as a tourist. So it’s that cliché where I’ve never gone to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty when I lived in New York, so now we’re actually taking the show to New York as guests, which is a fascinating new experience. I’m going to be terrified of Central Park. I’m going to be complaining about the urine smell. I’m going to be horrified that my half a bagel with cream cheese costs $35. And I’m going to walk around with a cardboard suitcase and look up at the skyscrapers and marvel at ‘them moving boxes’ that take you from one floor to the next. I’m going to look at New York with a fresh eye.”

On the differences between audiences in New York and Los Angeles:

“If you get really mean, New York audiences get excited. In Los Angeles, if I say something that’s kind of mean, the audience is like,’Ohhhhh, come on! The weather is nice, what are you being mean for?’ When we go for the jugular out here in Burbank, they’re just like, ‘Ohhhhh, Kirstie Alley is a person. She’s nice. I’m sure she has friends.’ If I make fun of myself, sometimes they’re very like, ‘Nooo. You’re kind of good looking. Your eyes aren’t that beady. You’re not completely asexual.’ But for the most part, I will say that we’ve been very fortunate. We do get these rabid people out here, which is very nice. We’re not one of those shows that tells people, ‘When Conan comes out, go crazy and stand up!!!’ It’s actually getting to the point where we almost discourage it — there’s a neutralizing foam that comes out of the ceiling to anesthetize them. They’re very energetic and rabid up front, and I usually spend the first three minutes of every show just saying, ‘Everyone settle down, because after all, it is just me. And Andy.’ But it’s nice. It’s a good problem.”

On mystery guests:

“There are surprise walk-ons. I’d be surprised if an old favorite from Late Night didn’t show up. I think that could happen, then I’ll end up in court. I’d be very surprised if that didn’t happen, but I can’t say for sure it will happen, because then jets start to scramble. Maybe those days are over — I don’t think anyone works there anymore who was a part of that. They’re all working light construction. We have so many memories that I’d like to see an old Late Night character come back just to say hello.”

On his return to 30 Rock for Oct.5 ‘s surprise appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

“We knew we were going to be in town, and [Fallon exec producer] Michael Shumaker and [Conan exec producer] Jeff Ross talk from time to time, so it was one of those things where Jeff just popped his head in my office and said, “When we’re in New York, do you want to walk on Jimmy’s show?” I put my cocaine away and said yes…. It was fun. He’s across the hall, he’s not in our studio. So we were out in the hallway talking to everybody, and a couple of the people that have worked on my show work with Jimmy now. Tina Ryan, who worked in the wardrobe department the entire 16-and-a-half years that we were at Late Night, came out and she was crying, so some of it was very emotional. The next thing you know, Dr. Oz comes out and says, “Conan! Come with me. You must see your old studio.” He’s got an iron grip. He felt my carotid artery as we walked into the studio and said, ‘Your heart rate is a little high. We’ll talk about that later.’ It was very strange because it was my studio for 16 years, and Dave’s studio for eleven and a half years. If you add up all that time, and I’m not good at math, but that’s over 65 years of comedy. Then you walk into the room and they’ve raised the floor and they’ve completely reoriented it, and it’s people talking about cervical cancer, and you’re like, “Oh my God. What happened in here?” But still, I was shocked. Dr. Oz is still getting more laughs than either Letterman or I ever got in that room.”

On the one-year anniversary of his TBS show Conan:

“It’s weird. So much had happened — from The Tonight Show to the [Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on TV] tour to the start of this show — that it can feel like 50 years sometimes. My goal with this show was take it a day at a time. When you’re off the air for a while and you go through something like that, you have this sense of: We’re lucky to get to work, we’re lucky to get to be silly on television. I think I’ve always had a pretty good attitude about that, but it’s heightened on this show. After like a near-death experience you feel like, I’m very fortunate to be here, so everyday we work hard on keeping the tone. So, a year into it, I look back on the volume of silly stuff that we’ve done, and it’s a really good feeling. We’re not squandering our time here. We’re trying to make every show count.”

On his favorite moment from Conan:

Will Ferrell shaving my beard was completely surreal. That’s my favorite kind of television, when you’re walking that line between people not quite understanding, like, “This is really happening…” And Will has such an intensity about it. He eventually just said, “Shut the f— up! I’m shaving your goddamn beard!” And the next thing you know, he’s really shaving my beard and not doing a good job at it. My point of view is I’m just looking up seeing Will’s dead eyes looking down into mine, and he’s got a razor. Those are my favorite moments, when I leave my body, and I think, “This is really happening. This is being broadcast. Some people are going to see this.” That was probably my happiest moment.”

On the moment from Conan that he most regrets:

“I think it was a mistake to wear jeggings. I have children, and they’re going to have to grow up with that. As we know, a 17-year-old girl can take her top off on the web and be ruined forever, and I think I’ll probably never get another job after this one. I can’t run for political office. I’ve met people who can no longer see. They’ve lost their vision. They’ve become monks because they saw me in jeggings.”

Read more:
Conan will officiate a gay wedding in NYC
Who was the best Emmy host of all time?

Comments (19 total) Add your comment
  • Quirky

    That jeggings clip was so, so wrong.

  • SJ

    I love Conan! The TBS show has a slightly different feel, but he’s still great, and especially with Andy. Really looking forward to this week back in NYC.

    I will now use my closing words to remind everyone how much Leno sucks. He is not funny. Not even a little.

  • Kate

    I <3 Coco and Jimmy ain't bad either.

  • TJ. Church

    If he needs to go to court, so be it… The “Late Night” characters are HIS, not the network’s!

  • Rebecca

    Love Conan!!! NY or LA.

  • jeanne156

    He is such a loser!!! I don’t understand why he’s still on

  • X.

    I’m excited for Conan NYC week–hopefully it’ll breathe back some of the life that seems to be missing from Conan’s new show.

    Also, Fallon’s exec. producer’s name is Michael SHOEMAKER, not Shumaker. JSYK.

    • Squishmar

      They have no editors or proofreaders here. I love Conan though!

  • Jack

    No taping on Friday, thus 4 shows, not 5.

    • Squishmar

      They have no editors or proofreaders here. I love Conan though! :D

  • jennysong

    He is such a loser!!! I don’t understand why he’s still onMy best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire old man Ronald who is the CEO of a MNC ! They met via —-SéêkSúɡárDαd.℃⊙M–.- is the largest and best club for rich man date with young and beautiful woman and their admirers to chat online. …you don’t have to be rich there ,but you may meet one ,maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !

    • Aaron

      You’re a loser for spamming EW

  • LR

    I love Conan. He belongs in NYC, not LA. LA is for Jay Leno-type, Kimmel.

    Conan, Letterman, Fallon belong in NYC.

    Go back Conan. That’s your kingdom.

  • Drew

    Please god let there be a chuck Norris sighting.

  • nezzo

    Did anyone see the episode last nite? Great show, it’s as if Conan never left NY. This one segment where Conan had to deliver some Chinese food was hilarious! A fan wanted a hug from Conan but she forgot she had coffee on one hand, with no lid. Needless to say the next thing you know the coffee is all over Conan’s back! I just about fell off my chair, laughing! LMAO

    • Halit

      I was so happy that Conan was so positive in his final otmenms on the Tonight show. It shows true class, and cements him even further as one of my favourite writers.There’s a difference between being cynical and being sarcastic. Conan’s style of self deprecating humour was always funny and sarcastic never negative and cynical.I hope that people really do follow his advice, since I can attest that it really does work. I’d add that being genuine helps a lot too, but Conan nailed it!

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