Conan Christopher O'Brien (born April 18, 1963) is an American television host, comedian, writer, producer, musician, and voice actor. He is best known for hosting several late-night talk shows; since 2010 he has hosted Conan on the cable channel TBS. O'Brien was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and was raised in an Irish Catholic family. He served as president of The Harvard Lampoon while attending Harvard University, and was a writer for the sketch comedy series Not Necessarily the News.
After writing for several comedy shows in Los Angeles, he joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons for two seasons until he was commissioned by NBC to take over David Letterman's position as host of Late Night in 1993. A virtual unknown to the public, O'Brien's initial time on Late Night tenure received unfavorable reviews and remained on a multiweek renewal cycle during its early years. The show generally improved over time and was highly regarded by the time of his departure in 2009. Afterwards, O'Brien relocated from New York to Los Angeles to host his own incarnation of The Tonight Show for seven months until network politics prompted a host change in 2010.
Known for his spontaneous hosting style, which has been characterized as "awkward, self-deprecating humor", O'Brien's late-night programs combine the "lewd and wacky with more elegant, narrative-driven short films (remotes)". He has hosted Conan since 2010 and has also hosted such events as the Emmy Awards and Christmas in Washington. O'Brien has been the subject of a documentary, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011), and has also hosted a 32-city live comedy tour.
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 was first performed by Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz. In 1989, O'Brien and his fellow SNL writers received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series.
From 1991 to 1993, O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons. When not contributing to others' scripts, O'Brien managed to craft what are regarded as some of the series' most memorable and finest episodes: "Marge vs. the Monorail" and "Homer Goes to College". Wallace Wolodarsky described a "room character" Conan put on for the writers: "Conan used to do this thing called the Nervous Writer that involved him opening a can of Diet Coke and then nervously pitching a joke. He would spray Diet Coke all over himself, and that was always a source of endless amusement among us."
The show's quality improved slowly over time. Within a year, a comedic formula began to arise: the show would combine the lewd and wacky with a more elegant, narrative-driven remotes. Regular characters would typically include a "Masturbating Bear" and a famous remote found Conan visit a historic, Civil War-era baseball league. That piece was one of O'Brien's personal favorites, later remarking, "When I leave this earth, at the funeral, just show this, because this pretty much says who I'm all about."
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.
On Thursday, January 7, 2010, NBC executive 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, where O'Brien's ratings had collapsed before Leno's prime time series began. 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 pm. 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.
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.
On April 12, 2010, just hours before the start of his The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour tour in Eugene, Oregon, O'Brien announced that he would host a new show on cable station TBS. The show debuted on November 8, 2010, and airs Monday through Thursday beginning at 11:00 pm ET/10:00 pm CT.
In February 2015, following the onset of the Cuban Thaw, O'Brien became the first American television personality to film in Cuba for more than half a century.