Not My Job: Conan O'Brien Gets Quizzed On Hot Cocoa
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask people who've done a lot and been everywhere about something they avoided the whole time. It's called Not My Job. Back in 1993, David Letterman left his job hosting "Late Night" on NBC, and to replace him, the network picked a completely unknown comedy writer who had almost never appeared on camera before. And now Conan O'Brien, host of "Conan" on TBS, has the longest tenure of anyone in late night. He joins us now. Conan O'Brien, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
CONAN O'BRIEN: Thank you very much for having me.
O'BRIEN: Thank you. Please, please, you're embarrassing me. Everyone, please. That's too much applause. Thank you.
SAGAL: I have heard varying versions of your origin story as a late-night host, one of them being that you were just - somebody in the "Simpsons" writers' room said, Conan - he's funny and charming. Let's give him a show. Other versions - that you auditioned for it. What's the truth?
O'BRIEN: The truth is that I had - it was really my association with "Saturday Night Live." I was a young writer at "Saturday Night Live," and I was the writer that was kind of known to sort of perform my sketches for the other writers. And I'd perform them for people, and I'd get them laughing. I think Lorne Michaels noticed that. I left "Saturday Night Live." I went on to "The Simpsons." And I worked there for about a year and a half, two years when Lorne Michaels was charged with, who's the new guy who's going to replace Letterman? And he said, you know, there's this guy, Conan. He's got something. And they looked into it, and it turns out I really didn't have anything.
O'BRIEN: Yeah. But I fooled them. And here we are all these years later.
SAGAL: It must have been crazy those first years because, you know, you weren't a stand-up. You didn't have a following as a performer. And you were thrown - you're going to be on national television. Were you scared? Were you nervous? Were you excited?
O'BRIEN: I was deluded. And I want to advise your audience that there's nothing like delusion. There's nothing like - if you think you can't do something, convince yourself that you can. And then have a few drinks and go do it.
O'BRIEN: And that's - I really believed I could do it, and I was also terrified at the same time. But I think I had a deep-seated belief that America needed to see me on their television sets...
O'BRIEN: ...A belief not really shared by anyone else.
O'BRIEN: But I stuck to it.
MO ROCCA: Hey, Conan. It's Mo. Hi.
O'BRIEN: Mo, how dare you speak to me directly.
ROCCA: I know.
ROCCA: I forgot...
O'BRIEN: Here's how we're going to work, Mo. Mo, here's how we're going to work it. Your question has to go through Bill Kurtis, and then Bill Kurtis...
O'BRIEN: ...Has to ask.
ROCCA: OK. Bill, would you ask Conan...
ROCCA: I've heard that a lot of late-night show hosts, when they get home, a lot of times, they can't even remember who was a guest earlier that day at the taping because they're doing so many shows. Could you ask him about that?
BILL KURTIS: Conan, can you remember the guests on the show that night?
O'BRIEN: Bill, that's a really stupid question.
O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, it's funny - to Mo's point, no. You do the show, and it becomes - you're so in the moment when you're doing it. And I liken the whole experience - and I'm actually not even kidding about this - I think everyone's - probably in your audience is familiar with the famous toy, the Etch A Sketch....
O'BRIEN: ...Where you turn the knobs, you create a picture, you create something. And then you just shake it, and it's gone, and you start again. Every day, I come in, and I learn everything I can that I need to know for that show. And I learn it to the best that I can. And I can tell you everything about the guests, and I can tell you everything about the comedy. The minute it's over, I shake the Etch A Sketch, and all of it's gone. And I go home, and I don't know what we did. I've done 4,000 hours of broadcasting - I'm told nine of it quite good.
SAGAL: You have - I want to get on to what you're doing now, which is really interesting and a variety of things, but I think...
O'BRIEN: It's called pornography.
SAGAL: Well, that's exciting.
SAGAL: You're tall enough, of course, so your head would never enter the frame, which would be good for your anonymity.
SAGAL: I just...
O'BRIEN: You're assuming I don't lean down at the critical moment.
SAGAL: Actually, I - Conan and I have met on one occasion. It was right before the White House Correspondents' dinner. And I had my picture taken with you, Conan, which I'm grateful for. And you did something - you crouched instantly, without being asked. You just sort of crouched so that you and I - our heads would be in the same frame.
SAGAL: And it occurred to me that you must have to do that a hundred times a day.
O'BRIEN: I - for those who are uninitiated, I am a lot taller than people think I am. And whenever I go anywhere in the country or the world, all people say to me is, good God, you're so much bigger than you are on television. And I always say, you need a bigger television.
O'BRIEN: And my daughter now has said, you need a different line.
SAGAL: Well, Conan O'Brien, we are delighted to talk to you. But we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...
KURTIS: Team Coco, meet hot cocoa.
SAGAL: Your supporters, fans are known as Team Coco. But what do you know about actual cocoa, the tasty hot chocolate beverage?
O'BRIEN: I know everything...
O'BRIEN: ...About cocoa.
O'BRIEN: Yes, I do.
SAGAL: That's a bold statement, sir.
O'BRIEN: There is not a thing you can ask me...
O'BRIEN: ...About hot cocoa that I do not know.
SAGAL: Well, I am interested in what's going to happen now because we have, in fact, prepared three questions for you about hot cocoa. If you answer two of them correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of their choice on their voicemail. Are you ready to do this?
O'BRIEN: I was born ready.
SAGAL: Who is Conan O'Brien playing for?
KURTIS: Chase McGee of Raleigh, N.C.
SAGAL: All right, first question. You think it's just what kids drink instead of coffee, but hot cocoa can change your life, as it did for whom? A, Bernie Madoff, who, after he was convicted and imprisoned for fraud, quote, "cornered the prison market on Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate;" B, Jeff Bezos, whose first Internet business was delivering steaming cups of hot chocolate to people suffering through the Seattle winter; or C, Eric McMillan, who was inspired to invent the kids' ball pit by looking at mini-marshmallows floating in his hot chocolate.
O'BRIEN: The answer is Eric McMillan.
SAGAL: You're very confident.
O'BRIEN: Peter, I'm going to say this one more time...
SAGAL: It was actually A. It was Bernie Madoff.
O'BRIEN: I'd like to contest.
SAGAL: No. Apparently, you know, a born trader is a born trader, and he's apparently made very well for himself in prison with the Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate.
HELEN HONG: What?
O'BRIEN: You know why I got that one wrong?
O'BRIEN: Because I believe in our penal reform system.
O'BRIEN: And I don't - I'm shocked that they would let Bernie Madoff do that. So, in a way, I'm counting that answer as correct.
SAGAL: All right.
SAGAL: I like your confidence. People - there's your second question - people really love cocoa a lot - so much so that, at one time, people were doing what? A, mixing protein powder into cocoa so it would be the only thing they'd ever have to eat; B, snorting lines of cocoa powder like coke; or C, trying to have a transfused into their body instead of blood?
O'BRIEN: The answer is B - snorting cocaine - well, cocoa as cocaine.
SAGAL: Freudian slip there.
O'BRIEN: Old habits...
O'BRIEN: ...Die hard.
O'BRIEN: The answer is B, snorting cocoa.
SAGAL: You're right, Coco.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Or Conan. Snorting chocolate was championed by a Belgian chocolatier who invented a little device that would shoot cocoa powder into your nose.
O'BRIEN: Oh, I know that engineer, and I've worked with him.
SAGAL: Have you?
SAGAL: Have you tried the snorting coke?
O'BRIEN: Yes, I have. It's fantastic. There's an incredible high. It lasts for about 20 minutes, and then you have to cough out the marshmallows.
O'BRIEN: But, other than that, it's a wonderful experience.
SAGAL: I bet.
O'BRIEN: And when you wake up, you're wearing German shorts. I don't know why.
SAGAL: All right. Last question. You can get this right. For true chocolate lovers, there's a pill created by a French scientist which, for $13 a bottle, will do what? A, make anything you eat, including meat, taste like chocolate; B, make your farts smell like chocolate; or C, it gives you chocolate dandruff? Instead of dry skin, you shed chocolate flakes.
O'BRIEN: The answer is A.
SAGAL: Your answer is A - that it makes anything you eat...
SAGAL: ...Including meat, taste exactly like chocolate.
O'BRIEN: ...Exactly like chocolate.
SAGAL: So you'd be sitting there eating, say, prime rib...
O'BRIEN: Yes. And it...
O'BRIEN: Yes - chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.
SAGAL: It's B.
SAGAL: Yes. I'm sorry, but yes. The idea is it's a little pill, and you take it, and if you take it, your farts smell like chocolate.
HONG: No way.
SAGAL: There's also a strawberry option.
O'BRIEN: You know what? I'm going to tell you something. I didn't go for that because it's scatological. I don't work blue.
O'BRIEN: I didn't realize this was that kind of show.
O'BRIEN: But I guess it's all about farts now...
O'BRIEN: ...With you. And I hope you're proud of yourself.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Conan O'Brien do on our show?
KURTIS: We throw the score out because he's the only guest we've had when anything he says is right. Conan, you're the king.
O'BRIEN: Thank you.
SAGAL: Conan O'Brien is the host of so many shows, including the new podcast Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend. You can also see him on "Conan Without Borders" on Netflix and on "Conan" on TBS.
Conan O'Brien, what a pleasure to finally have you on. Thank you so much.
O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: Thank you, Conan. See you soon, now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COCO")
TONY BENNETT: (Singing) Coco, Coco, hoping too high.
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill gets some alone time with his Doritos in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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