Conan O’Brien is having lots and lots of fun these days — so much so that he can feel the time flying; 2016, he feels, is zipping by. “I went to a doctor the other day, and he said, ‘Let me explain to you that time accelerates as you get older …,’” the brilliant late-night comic, writer, producer, and all-around entertainer said in a recent phone conversation. On Saturday, April 16, UCSB Arts & Lectures hosts the wildly popular and prolific TV and web personality at the Arlington Theatre, where he will answer audience questions and speak about his life and one of his favorite comedic subjects: himself.
Since his Emmy Award–winning early years as a writer and actor on Saturday Night Live and then as a writer and producer for The Simpsons, time has brought an ever greater abundance of opportunities for O’Brien to flex his comedic muscles and engage with his audience. He has been filling his recent months with a wider range of experiences and locales, like a visit to South Korea this year or a trip to Cuba last year. “I want to have a body of work that people are still discovering long after I’m gone, which my doctor says will be very soon,” he said playfully.
He even starred as a haughty, neckerchief-wearing version of himself in the SyFy original movie Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, in which he gets impaled by the massive shark monster before his severed head is tossed about by volleyball players. “People know I don’t take myself too seriously, and I love the idea that anytime when I can play Conan O’Brien, it’s a chance to portray him as a completely out-of-touch boob who’s ranting and raving,” he said. “It’s very fun, and it’s sort of therapeutic because in real life I’m way too concerned about what people think of me.”
This character flexibility makes a lot of sense for someone who has a background in improv comedy. In fact, O’Brien cites L.A.’s Instaplay — which played each Saturday night and was co-created in the 1980s by beloved Montecito residents Bill and Cheri Steinkellner — as a foundational cornerstone to his comedic development. He and friend Lisa Kudrow would watch Instaplay while they were students at The Groundlings. “We were starving for good improv, and we went to Instaplay and said, ‘This is it,’” he recalled.
These days, the Internet and associated technologies have offered O’Brien the greatest chance at expansive expression, connecting him with fans across the globe who otherwise would never have heard of him. He’s been known to show up in Armenian soap operas, for example, and has developed a reputation in the gaming community for his hilariously inept gaming abilities. “I’ve been more jazzed about my career lately — it just feels more invigorating,” he said. “I never wanted to have that feeling that I was running out the clock. I want to have fun and have new experiences I haven’t had before and find new ways to be funny. I love the experience especially of making young people laugh — that just never seems to get old for me.”
With blazing red hair coiffed to perfection with mayonnaise and tile grout (his secret), O’Brien has a bright future ahead. As for what’s next, he said he might get started on his modeling career. “I’m happy to come to Santa Barbara and do a lot of local catalog work,” he joked. When asked if he had any final word, he said, “Just say at the end, ‘When I got off the phone, I realized I had spoken to a truly great man.” I hung up and realized I had spoken to a truly great man.
UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents Conan O’Brien Saturday, April 16, at 4 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre. For tickets and more information, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.