When we last checked on Conner O’Malley, it was mid-2018. We were a year and a half into Donald Trump’s presidency, and the kinds of characters O’Malley portrayed in his cult online videos — miserable American men bursting with unrestrained rage fueled in equal parts by conspiracy theories, 3 p.m. airings of The Matrix Revolutions on AMC, unreturned OnlyFans DMs, and decades-old cases of Halo 3 Mountain Dew Game Fuel bought in bulk off Craigslist — were thriving in manic realities of their own creation. But as the calendar turned to 2020 and the gloating waned, these Americans found themselves stuck in the same depressing stasis from which those in power in Washington and in far-right online forums have long promised to free them.
While O’Malley’s earlier videos emphasize how those members of the silent majority were being suckered by Trump’s braying promises, the comedian’s oeuvre since late 2018 spotlights how these spittle-spewing Patriots with a trample fetish have been gleefully crushed under the weight of failing institutions uprooted by a proudly ignorant government. The Trump presidency may be over, but, like a rotting fish left in the walls by a disgruntled employee, it’s impossible to escape the smell of Trumpism in nearly every aspect of American life. Armed with his trusty GoPro and selfie stick, O’Malley has tackled global commerce and the stock market, tin-hat conspiracies about diseases and antifa, police brutality and the historic protests against it, late-era American capitalism and empire, and even the late-night talk-show format, all in his now-signature style of wide-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth psychotic comedy. Here’s a guide to the best of his recent videos.
Since leaving Late Night With Seth Meyers in 2016, O’Malley has released a series of nebulously connected parodies that lampoon the continued existence of late-night shows in today’s fractured entertainment landscape. September 2018’s “Late River With River Guy (Conner O’Malley) The Only Talk Show in the River” begins with droning industrial music — a song by Trent Reznor for Ken Burns’s Vietnam War doc, a hilarious touch by the military-industrial-complex-obsessed comedian — and a drowning O’Malley screaming and taking huge gulps of Portland’s filthy Willamette River. After leveling out his dog paddle, O’Malley brags without explanation about being the only talk-show host with his own river. Then it’s off to rapid monologue jokes about TSA body scanners clogged with cum, Matt Lauer starting his own private island for Me Too’d guys, and an iconic line recognizable to anyone who spent their childhood in a midwestern basement: “I’m the type of guy that I only hang out with cousins.” O’Malley released a sequel in 2019, “Lake Talk Show With Lake Guy (Conner O’Malley) The Only Talk Show in the Lake,” in which he eats a military MRE during a cooking segment and violently threatens talk-show host turned award-winning actor Greg Kinnear, who O’Malley claims was up for the Lake Talk Show gig.
As the country took an even darker turn in 2020, O’Malley debuted his newest talk-show satire, “Bike Talk Show (only talk show on a bike ),” in which he maniacally proclaims that talk-show hosts are “first responders” while he bikes through the barren streets of post-lockdown, pre-BLM-protests Manhattan. But after he is beaten by one of Kinnear’s boys (played by Joe Pera Talks With You writer Dan Licata), O’Malley undergoes a Joker-esque transformation that, inside his damaged mind, turns him into the victor of the bloodstained late-night wars.
With his revamped show, “Bike Talk Show With Joker Guy (Marge Wig),” a massive success, Joker Guy ecstatically accepts an invitation from Robert De Niro to be on his talk show, an offer brought to life with the help of editor Danny Scharar, who green-screens O’Malley into Joker’s homicidal talk-show climax. There, Joker Guy launches into an unhinged comedic mission statement encapsulating O’Malley’s characters: “Comedy is about one weird guy doing something weird and then a normal guy look at him and say, ‘He weird dumbass.’” He then pulls a mask off De Niro’s face to reveal Kinnear. As in the movie, Joker Guy blows Kinnear’s brains out on live TV. But unlike the movie, Joker Guy is fêted by Hollywood and becomes the new host of “Carpool Karaoke.” “Don’t think about the bad stuff,” he says, while a montage plays of Joker Guy cracking jokes with Governor Andrew Cuomo and showing off his paintings on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. Now a toxic mixture of comedians with a Marvel gig on their résumé and George W. Bush’s post-presidency rehabilitation, the formerly weird, subversive comic implores us to chill out and have fun because someone will come along and fix everything.
One month later, in July 2020, O’Malley livestreamed his most dangerous video yet, which is saying something for a comic who regularly films on freeway offramps inches away from speeding cars. As footage emerged of federal agents throwing Portland protesters into unmarked vans, O’Malley traveled to Rip City to tell purposely staid Trump monologue jokes as the police beat and tear-gassed protesters. Although the video has since been taken down, O’Malley, as quoted by the A.V. Club, says directly to talk-show hosts, “All you guys are in your beautiful, beautiful, beautiful attics in your second homes … I wanna say that you guys are really pushing comedy forward, and you’re able to accurately satirize what’s going on in this moment instead of just wishing and hoping it was 2006 all over again.” Given the surreal state of late-night talk shows in 2020 — in which hosts tell jokes about wacky news items to an empty, silent COVID-era “audience,” and episodes are regularly kicked off with a somber speech about a mass shooting we’ve already forgotten about — it’s a near-perfect distillation of the dying institution where O’Malley made his bones.
The Howard Schultz Saga
Remember when the Coffee Man almost ran for president against the Covfefe Guy? That’s the premise of O’Malley’s Howard Schultz saga, which began with several manic clips on Twitter before being edited in 2019 (with the help of frequent collaborator Jack Bensinger) into an 11-minute short called “Howard Schultz Tapes (4K FULL MOVIE 2019 FREE).” The video stars O’Malley as a young man from Fight Club City, Indiana, who becomes fueled with a demented desire to see the former Starbucks CEO and chairman run for president.
“Howard Schultz Tapes” is deranged in typical O’Malley fashion. But if you can even recall what the world was like when Schultz teased a run in early 2019 (for context, Mike Bloomberg’s aborted presidential run lasted from November 2019 to March 2020), then O’Malley’s grotesque character — complete with hastily ripped-off EKG pads and a massive head wound bleeding under his custom “Schultz/Deadpool 2020” hat that suggest an escape from the mental institution — isn’t that ludicrous. “I am sane! I am normal!” he howls at a dump while sanitation workers go about their day. “I wanna fucking vote for you so many fucking times it’s not even insane!” Honestly? It’s a fairly sensible response upon learning that Schultz thought he was the centrist Democrat necessary to take down a wannabe dictator with millions of armed, willing militiamen at his disposal.
After imploring Schultz that the war in Afghanistan will end if he builds a Starbucks in Kabul, the Schultz superfan is abducted by two members of the Starbucks Mobile Response Unit, who torture him while demanding that he “stop acting weird” and “be normal” so their boss can concentrate on making cake pops. Multiple waterboardings later, O’Malley is dumped outside the Queens Center mall as a part of Operation Venti Renormalization to see if he can convince virtual-reality-kiosk operators and U.S. Army recruiters that he’s a normal guy. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t stop proselytizing about the Coffee Man to senior citizens doing laps around the mall. So when Schultz himself records a secret message at the Apple Store asking O’Malley to hibernate in case the Democrats nominate someone “too far to the left, like Rob Lowe,” O’Malley snaps out of his deprogramming and immediately begins digging a hole to bury himself alive. Kabul may never get its Starbucks, but if you ever find yourself in Iraq, you’re in luck. While America failed in spreading democracy, it succeeded in inspiring one unfettered capitalist to open up a fake Starbucks.
The Lincoln Project & QAnon
In January 2019, Schultz hired MSNBC contributor and former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt to consult on his potential presidential run. After Schultz decided not to run, Schmidt trod a new path to electing centrist Dems by co-founding the Lincoln Project with people like noted George Zimmerman defender Rick Wilson and Ben “I’d have shot Mike Brown right in his face” Howe. The Lincoln Project became notable for raising tens of millions of dollars from gullible Democrats and Never Trump Republicans to produce attention-grabbing yet ultimately fruitless attack ads before collapsing in February 2021 after the revelation that co-founder John Weaver was an alleged sexual harasser.
In “DemAnon,” one of his most restrained and overtly political videos, O’Malley plays Patrick Razberry, a social-media consultant hired by the Lincoln Project to “bring dignity back into politics.” Talking over Zoom to a group of “radical centrists” he presumably found through Craigslist, Razberry gives them the pitch: Democrats should create their own QAnon, targeted toward “middle-aged people living in despair” who lean Democrat, providing them with a “fun little game” that will distract them from popular, life-improving policies that Democrats refuse to enact, like universal health care. The somnolent restraint O’Malley shows as Razberry is startling, mostly because the comedian’s real-life interactions in his videos are usually with spooked NYC pedestrians, not innocent prank victims in their home offices. But O’Malley understands that QAnon cult members in Facebook groups and Resistance libs who spend all day retweeting @BrooklynDad_Defiant! share nearly identical DNA. The only difference is in how they digitally express their anger over the American Dream they saw vanish for good in what was supposed to be their golden years.
The Stock Market
If COVID-19 reaffirmed one thing in 2020, it was this: The stock market, especially in relation to the general financial health of a nation’s citizens, is complete bullshit. Despite March 2020 giving us not one, not two, but three weekdays preceded by the economic-disaster adjective black, Wall Street recovered all its COVID losses before the end of the summer. But for most Americans, the fiscal fallout from the pandemic is an ongoing mentally and physically taxing hellscape with no end or substantial legislative help in sight. So naturally, O’Malley, comedy’s preeminent depicter of the supremely dumb American male, devoted multiple videos to an idiot’s desperate attempt to fix what he believes is the sole solution to the country’s problems. In “GET STOCK MAKET UP” [sic], which was uploaded on March 10 — a few weeks after global markets began plummeting as the coronavirus spread from China — O’Malley films himself outside the gates of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. Standing in the middle of Melrose Avenue, O’Malley screams at oncoming traffic that he’s there to pitch one of America’s last remaining exports: a movie. Specifically, a movie about then-presidential candidate Joe Biden entering the Matrix to fix the stock market.
In “POWERADE THE STOCK MARKET,” released days after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test essentially jump-started the COVID-centric society we now live in, an extremely moist-looking O’Malley hawks homemade aggression-inducing Powerade (Listerine spat into an empty milk jug) on Wall Street in an attempt to fix the Audioslave and Velvet Revolver markets. And in the final video, “FIX THE MARKET,” uploaded in August 2020 when “no one got job, everybody found out about racism, and disease be going bad,” a distressed O’Malley heaves a Hail Mary pass to fix the stock market: He eats a revolting concoction of shrimp tails, pineapple juice, and nondairy coffee creamer and buries himself alive. While underground, he hallucinates a vision of Gary Vee, the entrepreneurial motivational speaker whose Instagram feed is an endless sewage drain of front-facing inspo porn inspired by Everest College commercials, imploring his followers to go beast mode on their fears and stop being such a pussy about COVID-19. With Vee’s motivational truisms bombarding his brain, O’Malley runs into the Pacific Ocean and swims out past the breakers, no longer interested in fixing the stock market, the economy, or the country. The only thing he’s keen on improving is himself. It’s the American way.
One recurring theme in O’Malley’s videos both old and new is his characters’ ardent belief in conspiracy theories. Take 2017’s “Outlet Mall Special Ops,” which came out in the early days of QAnon yet predicted the belief that the United States’ most boring and unimportant regions would be under attack by foreign invaders. With tens of millions of Americans fully submerged in the dark waters of conspiracy theories, their heads held underwater by the president himself, nearly all of O’Malley’s videos have a tinge of conspiratorial motifs. And in 2020, O’Malley released a series focusing on some of the year’s most popular conspiracy theories: 5G, Jeffrey Epstein’s suspicious suicide, and the role of antifa as the all-inclusive bogeyman for anything that right-wing media deems frightening.
In “ANTIFA TOOK OVER MY BURGER KING” and “ANTIFA VAN PARKED ON MY BLOCK,” O’Malley plays a professional paranoiac who believes his Chicago neighborhood is under attack by nefarious leftist anarchists. Like the millions of Americans whose only takeaway from historic months-long nationwide protests against police brutality was that a fully insured Wendy’s was set on fire, O’Malley’s unpaid tanning-salon security-guard character is aghast that his shuttered local Burger King was spray-painted with the acronym “ACAB.” He falls further down the rabbit hole when he meets an ex–Party City employee and fellow anti-antifa activist (played by his brother, Sean O’Malley) who introduces him to the simple pleasures of smoking crack rocks. Now engorged with antifa neuroses, O’Malley’s character even believes the plumbing van outside his Chicago home is antifa — but this time, he’s right. Antifa abducts him and brainwashes him into believing he’s an antifasexual, a “vegan hipster who likes salads.” Dumped into the forest, O’Malley undergoes a deprogramming effort that involves jerking off to Maxim magazines and watching episodes of American Chopper (the ones from before it got famous). It works, and somehow O’Malley finds a way to personally tell New York City mayor Bill de Blasio the news at the end of the video.
With “SMOKING 500 CIGARETTES FOR 5G,” O’Malley continues to make fans fear for his safety with a crazed, up-tempo celebration of broadband cellular networks recorded on the side of the Mario Cuomo Bridge. But unlike the “real” 5G conspiracy, in which telecommunication masts were burned down for supposedly spreading COVID-19, this conspiracy has a more sinister twist. Upon smoking his 500th cigarette, O’Malley unlocks 5G and begins consuming a tidal wave of lightning-fast content. But as he scrolls through Instagram babes and eBaum’s World memes, he makes an ominous discovery that pins both the pandemic and Epstein’s supposed suicide on Burlington Coat Factory. The underlying message — that humans are now drowning in an unceasing torrent of knowledge and misinformation spurting from the same sewer pipe — is reminiscent of postmodern video-game developer Hideo Kojima’s exceptionally prescient PlayStation 2 masterpiece Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, particularly an iconic mission in which the main character, Raiden, stripped of all his clothing, has to escape a mobile fortress while his trusted commanding officer, revealed as a deceitful piece of AI, taunts not just Raiden but the players themselves for playing too many video games.
As spring 2020 turned into summer, O’Malley released a batch of unrelated videos, all edited by frequent collaborator Scharar, that succinctly summed up the collective national mood at the time: feeling weird as hell. In “BIRDFEST 2020,” O’Malley combines corporate America’s blithe misreading of the pandemic’s impact — remember when Coachella’s organizers thought they would bring together 99,000 revelers in October? — with our individual feverish desire to Have a Normal One with our friends. And in “Bill,” released shortly after the peak of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, O’Malley plays a living, breathing Punisher logo who records an adoring screed for Mayor de Blasio’s “eight-o’clock bedtime” curfews and the protection of midtown Manhattan’s bowl restaurants from looters. Both videos are soundtracked by obnoxious early-aughts Metallica, a hilarious sonic touch since O’Malley’s characters are the type of guy who would fast-forward through all the therapy scenes in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
In November 2000, Tom Cruise and director Cameron Crowe finagled what they thought was a once-in-a-lifetime shot for their film Vanilla Sky: For three hours, the NYPD shut down Times Square and allowed Crowe’s crew to shoot Cruise completely alone, lost in a sea of illuminated advertising and urban vacuity in one of the most congested places on earth. Two decades later, O’Malley took advantage of the pandemic to film his own version of this hallucinatory setting in “Leather Metropolis dir Michael Bay (2003).” Clad in Columbine-shooter chic, O’Malley delivers a disturbing soliloquy about transforming into “a new being merged with digital flesh” that is part Neo in the final scene of The Matrix, part red-pilled weirdo in the back of your computer-science class who is now an Elon Musk reply guy. Drawing a line between digital dependency and our human need for social interaction, “Leather Metropolis” is built upon a startling early-pandemic image from our phones, one that astounded American urban dwellers: opening up Google Maps to see our freeway systems as a sea of green lines, even at 5 p.m. on a Friday, instead of the usual bright, arterial red.
Video games are a recurring theme in O’Malley’s comedy, but in January 2020’s “Hudson Yards Video Game,” he finally unlocked his inner Shigeru Miyamoto — that is, if the legendary Nintendo game designer had taken a heroic dose of psilocybin mushrooms at an Amazon shipping facility and was inspired to design a game mocking the fading days of the American empire. With the help of 3-D animator and editor Cole Kush, O’Malley becomes the main character in a nightmarish third-person open-world game set at the Vessel, the 16-story sculpture–art installation–adult jungle gym that serves as the centerpiece of NYC’s sybaritic new neighborhood Hudson Yards. In the game, O’Malley lifts kettlebells, does meal prep and sex prep with his wife, tediously talks about old episodes of The Office with corporate-sponsored NPCs, and collects “Hello Points.” He earns the points by shouting a pleasant “Hi!” at every passerby he sees, a one-sided interaction that unlocks every woke white man’s dream title: ally.
When O’Malley’s character unlocks allyship atop the Vessel, which is now indefinitely closed after its third suicide in just two years, we get a needle drop of Tool’s “Schism” and a frightening CGI music video every bit as disturbing as the prog-metal band’s actual music videos. Buttressed with fake quotes that promote a mantra of bloodthirsty, individualistic capitalism (“‘I worked hard to get the chance to kill people with drones’ — Barack Obama”), O’Malley opens his third eye to reveal his inner self. But the DMT trip with free two-day Amazon Prime shipping unlocks an ugly truth: His bloodstream and brain waves are teeming with Michelob Ultra, Apple Pay, kombucha, and heavy weight lifting. As he solo slam dances over an image of the seven chakras, the quotes become more homicidal.
By video’s end, O’Malley has essentially become the 21st-century Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the Vessel as his obelisk … or at least a LinkNYC kiosk so he can scroll xHamster in public while charging his phone. His feverish vision of the Vessel is a reverse Statue of Liberty: Whereas Lady Liberty was gifted in part to inspire French citizens to embrace American ideals of democracy, this ugly, pointless, and technically nameless eyesore was erected by Americans, for Americans, providing them the opportunity to upload the same exact photograph to Instagram until the day comes when Manhattan is underwater. In that sense, it’s the perfect centerpiece for the insipid existence of Hudson Yards, just like “Hudson Yards Video Game” is a masterful avant-garde takedown of every putrid detail encoded in our country’s DNA.