I first met Conan O’Brien and saw him perform in the summer of 1988 in Chicago. He was in town to do a sketch comedy show with my old college friend, Robert Smigel and several other former members of the local improv group All You Can Eat. With the Writer’s Guild on strike at the time, Smigel combined part of his old improv group with fellow SNL writers, Conan O’Brien and Bob Odenkirk to create the Happy Happy Good Show.
In the program for the show (above), which was performed at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Studio Theater, you’ll see a photo of the cast with an arrow pointing to Conan.
Inside the program (below) you can read Conan’s bio, in which he refers to his rich uncle Conius C. Coneworthy, and the bios of Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel which are also highlighted by arrows. In addition to this trio of now well-known performers, several others in the cast have continued their careers in entertainment. Dave Reynolds, in fact, went on to co-write the classic Disney film “Finding Nemo.”
In a review of the show that appeared in the July 15, 1988 edition of “The Reader,” a Chicago alternative weekly newspaper, critic Tom Valeo wrote, “If any television executives see Happy Happy Good Show, they may decide to let the writers’ strike go on forever.” He also declared the show “remarkably unfunny” and said “almost nothing works.” On the bright side Valeo does call the performances “pretty skillful.” And in referring to one sketch with Conan and Bob Odenkirk, the critic says they are “wonderfully manic as ‘bithespians’ who team up to give a single performance.”
Conan fans may remember that this was the summer Conan famously roomed with another unknown comedian named Jeff Garlin, now on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” On another occasion I will describe my 1987 encounters with Garlin and perhaps show a clip of the standup video I hired him to host that year.
When he was selected to host “Late Night” in 1993 Conan O’Brien was best known as a writer and not a performer, so NBC included his Happy Happy Good Show experience in his official bio (see above). Months before his version of “Late Night” premiered I showed Conan the old program from Happy Happy Good Show and he was excited to see it. Apparently he never saved a copy for himself. So if he still wants one… he knows where to find me.
All items are from the collection of Paul Messina. ©Paul Messina