Conan O’Brien sat down with Parks & Rec co-creator Greg Daniels over the weekend for a panel called Smart Asses: The Harvard Lampoon in Hollywood. The Lampoon alums met at the University of Southern California’s Comedy@SCA Festival to talk comedy and the influence of the Lampoon in Hollywood. The Hollywood Reporter has a lot of great quotes from the event, like Conan’s thoughts about having to ditch long-running characters after leaving NBC.
“I was really looking forward to the period in my career where I could cruise – I’m being completely honest with you – a period where I could say, ‘OK, here are the sketches people like and no one judges them anymore. Just do them. … Now, I can be on cruise control. I can put this thing at 60 miles per hour, rip off the steering wheel … and go down the highway. … Then I went through this thing, and suddenly we couldn’t use any of that stuff. … We’ve had to work extra hard to find new things, which someone, to be honest, my age probably wouldn’t be working that hard to find five. I started to try things on a whim.” One of those new things was video-game reviews, which “became this whole thing that I never would have found if I was relying on old material.”
Below, he recalled meeting John Candy while he was a student.
“He was everything I wanted him to be; he was funny, generous, over the top,” he said. O’Brien was told that Candy was on a strict Pritikin diet, but when he arrived, the first place they went was a pastry shop, where Candy filled the box with eclairs. “But what about the Pritikin diet?” O’Brien relayed. “Don’t worry kid, they’re Pritikin eclairs!” O’Brien remembered Candy saying. Later that evening, O’Brien asked Candy for advice about trying comedy. “It’s not something you try,” he remembered Candy advising him. “You gotta go all in.”
Meanwhile, Daniels talked about the formula of a writers room, and how it affects long-running comedies.
“The people who are good at story and character at the upper-level roles and the younger writers are the best at the jokes,” Daniels said. “As the show ages, the guys in the higher positions become too expensive and try to do their own shows, and the guys in the lower positions … [fly] through the ranks and become the higher-paid senior people, and it gets inverted. I think that’s why a lot of shows get broader as they go on.”
Be sure to check out the rest of the piece for Conan’s thoughts on his early days in LA, why SNL in the 1980s was like Mad Men, and Marge vs. the Monorail.