Conan O'Brien: The chat-show host on the influence of Monty Python and the curse of James Dean

 

Monty Python was my generation's atomic bomb I watched a lot of British shows when I was younger; Python in particular changed everything in comedy, as they didn't have to have endings for their sketches; they did something only for as long as it was funny. It was sort of Picasso discovering abstract art; a huge leap forward. They still hadn't caught up in the US even 20 years later. I did Saturday Night Live for four years in the late 1980s and we had to narratively end these sketches, even when I only had three minutes' worth of a funny idea.

So much in life is out of your control I was dealt some shitty cards with The Tonight Show [which O'Brien quit after seven months, in 2010, when the NBC network wanted to shift its airtime]. But I think it's all about how well you play those cards. It thrust me fully into the world of social media because that was the group that rose up in my defence, saying, "What's happening to this guy is not cool." I realised I had all these supporters out there and it pushed me into going on the road and putting material on the internet [which led to Conan gaining his own, eponymous talk show].

I want my chat shows to look like a disaster I like loose conversations and I'm at my most comfortable when they are going off in the wrong direction – that's when things are funny. When my sidekick and I were interviewing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson recently, he was telling a story about how he passed out on the set of his new film. We were making fun of him, acting out him fainting in a very Victorian sort of way – back of the wrist to the forehead – and then I'm mock-fanning him. And he's going crazy – yelling at us – and I could feel it catch fire with the audience.

James Dean ruined American acting He brought that whole self-conscious-about-being-funny, brooding thing. Which means many American actors now take themselves too seriously, and on talk shows there's a lot of that school of looking down, running hands through hair, mumbling and being tortured. I prefer the British sense of not taking yourself too seriously: the Richard Burton "to hell with it" approach of just having fun.

My daughter can only start talking to boys when she's 28 I saw Matt Damon a few weeks ago and he was wearing a hat that said "DADD" on it. And I said "Matt, what's that's for?" and he said, "Dads against daughters dating." He's got small girls – and my oldest daughter is 10. So I thought – yes! I'll keep a baseball bat by the front door and make sure I always answer it when it rings. I'll get some big dogs, too; that's the way to go.

Since I was dating, the rules have changed completely I hear among my young staffers how there's less a sense of formal dating now; many of them are using apps such as Tinder, which put them at an advantage over what I was doing 15 years ago. But I think they lose out, too, as there's so many other people on the internet to meet, it's harder to sustain things, and fewer among my staffers are in long relationships.

I just can't stop performing I do my show, then I go upstairs and I perform for the writers and they're like, "Please get out of here – go home," and then I go home just as my wife has settled the kids to sleep, and I start acting like a clown and the kids start laughing and that feeds me; that's my heroin. So then I'm performing twice as hard and they're jumping off the walls. Then my wife comes in the room and she's like, "Enough already!" It's fortunate that what I do for a living is what I would do naturally.

Conan O'Brien, 51, is an American talk-show host and comedian. His series 'Conan' will be showing on the new British free-to-air channel truTV on Mondays to Thursdays at 11pm (channel 68 on Freeview, trutv.com)

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