This could mean something, but is probably nothing. Nonetheless, I found it interesting.
It has to do with Conan O’Brien. His father is well-placed and a very important man, but I see his genealogy, while not scrubbed, only goes back to the turn of the 20th century. His mother is a Reardon, maybe a peerage name, and her genealogy goes back to the mid-1800s.
Conan went to Harvard, studied hard and got good grades. He happened to join the Harvard Lampoon at the urging of a friend, and found he had a bent for making people laugh. This was not his original calling or his plan for his future. After college, I believe he did some improv, and then ended up as a writer for Saturday Night Live. He was not on-screen talent, and only did rare camera appearances. He did love making the entire writers’ room laugh.
From there he left to become a writer for the Simpsons. His work was well-received, and he is credited with what is perhaps the best episode ever there, Marge and the Monorail. That is where he sat when Dave Letterman quit NBC to start his own Late Night Show on CBS. There was a hole to fill.
NBC turned to Lorne Michaels to fill the whole, and as I read this, Conan was asked to try out for Letterman’s old slot. They did it after the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, emptying the studio, bringing in a fresh audience, and having Conan do a monologue (that he wrote on his way to the studio) interview two guests, who though famous I do not remember.
Because Conan was relaxed and funny and did not expect to get the job, his try out went so well that he was considered a strong candidate for the job. However, Michaels cautioned him that the job would likely go to Gary Shandling, who had done the popular Larry Sanders Show. Conan did not think that Shandling would be interested, as the Sanders show was a parody that made fun of the talk show format. He thought Shandling would not think himself a fit.
He was right. Conan was offered the slot, and accepted. He was scared, of course, but smart enough to know he really had nothing to lose.
Letterman did his last Late Night Show on NBC, and Conan went to his dressing room after to wish him success with his new show. As he left that room, in the hallway, Tom Hanks came up to him and put his hands on either shoulder. O’Brien said it was as if he was looking right through him.
“This does not happen,” Hanks said. He was not being congratulatory, not even especially friendly.
That is what I thought odd. We all know that all celebrities are juiced, of the peerage, and that outsiders need not apply. O’Brien was not an insider, though obviously of important parentage. But it was his talent that got him the job, not his parents. That is probably what Hanks was puzzled about. O’Brien was not juiced.
O’Brien struggled for the first couple of years in the former Letterman slot, cancellation hanging over him at all times. Then the show caught on, and he enjoyed great success, first as host of NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and then later with TBS, a 27-year career as a talk show host. I think he beat the system, perhaps only to a degree, but I consider him one of the funniest men alive, and like to think that this is what made him successful.
By the way, his father, Dr. Thomas O’Brien, once said to Conan, roughly quoting, “You are making your living doing something that would be otherwise treatable.”