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December 1, 2015

Conan @ SCA

On Monday, November 30th, the popular Television Symposium class invited a very special guest, Conan O’Brien, for a Q&A following screenings of his work. O’Brien’s work includes writing for HBO’s Not Necessarily the News, Late Night, and Saturday Night Live. He also hosted The Tonight Show and the Annual Primetime Emmy Awards twice. He now produces, writes, and hosts his own talk show, CONAN, which premiered in 2010. Earning himself a high-esteemed reputation as a comedian by audiences worldwide and praise from Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, Conan O’Brien is a true icon of the comedy world.

The evening began with a selection of Conan’s work, including a screening of CONAN in Armenia and CONAN in Cuba. Though political history could invoke tension or discourage some to embark on this kind of pursuit, O’Brien fearlessly and flawlessly dives in with playful humor, genuine interest, and appreciation of diverse culture. When asked by an audience member how he deals with political topics, O’Brien responded that at the heart of his work, his comedy is silliness. He is not very political, and therefore, his comedy is apolitical.

He further added that he aims to visit places to engage with his surroundings, where he can talk to others through discussion and debate. His comedy is less about scripted jokes and more often about the “unscripted exchange” between him and another person. O’Brien’s approach to comedy is all about experiencing the exchange, about forming a connection with others. When asked about how to be “real” in comedy, he stated, “The biggest laughs are from mistakes. It’s when something goes wrong. When a real thing happens and you react to it honestly, that is better than anything you could write.” O’Brien believes firmly in creating a healthy communicative environment, not only in comedy, but also at his office and in his home. He insists that it’s important for everyone’s voice to be heard. He says, “I want to find out what others think, to argue and try and find an answer. I don’t have the answer either, but maybe we can figure it out.”

When discussing his road to comedic achievement, his humility is evident and refreshing. Multiple students inquired about O’Brien’s advice for aspiring writers and his answer remained simple: passion. Realizing he was “built to do” comedy in college, he worked his absolute hardest to make that goal happen. O’Brien affirmed that passion was the thing which made the biggest difference. The old saying “nothing beats hard work” was at the top of his list and does ring true. “You never know when your chance is coming,” he says. “But when it comes, you got nothing to lose. For me, a little window opened and I stopped for a second. Then, I said screw it and just dove. Look for that moment. When it comes, just grab it. And if it doesn’t work out, you’ve lost nothing.”

Conan O’Brien’s presence was truly a pleasure. His ability to invoke laughter amongst the entire audience was a joy to observe. The professor of the Television Symposium class, Howard Rosenberg, moderated the discussion and Q&A. Rosenberg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former TV critic of the Los Angeles Times and the recipient of two National Headliner Awards. He also teaches CTCS 402, a practicum on TV Criticism, and news ethics in the Annenberg School. The event was open to SCA students, faculty, and staff.