An interesting Tom Hanks story

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.”

23 thoughts on “An interesting Tom Hanks story

  1. And this is probably why the Tonight Show was swiped from him. They got rid of Jay Leno because he I believe bucked the system too. And they didn’t want to put another one in who wasn’t bought like Jay. My two cents.


  2. I haven’t seen even so much as a photo of Conan in probably 25 years. I never one time, ever!, found him funny, so I moved on.

    Now, Gervais/Pilkington? 90’s Howard Stern gang? Gaffigan? Regan? Birbiglia? “Corner Gas”? ….In tears every single show.


    1. Comedy, like music, is personal preference.

      I remember Gervais sitting down with Rock and Seinfeld and one other, and he introduced Seinfeld by saying the Jerry is perhaps the greatest comedian who ever lived, a legend, someone we all admire. Seinfeld is getting uncomfortable, and after just the right pause, Gervais says “His words.Not mine.”


      1. What one likes is subjective, and fairly random. Lots of experientials and error.

        What is Quality, brilliant, etc.? Not so much.


  3. O’Brien had a DNA test which indicted he was 100% Irish. His doctor concluded he was inbred as no one, not even Irish in the old country, are 100% of anything. His father was a professor at Harvard so he’s a legacy. If Hanks’ comment means anything, a 100% non-Jew doesn’t happen in show biz. But, he’s from Brookline, home of the pre-fame Kennedys so maybe he’s from an enclave short on viable inbreds and he became a reliable resource. ‘Legitimized’ commoners do get recruited when the royal gene pools are too shallow. His being blocked from the seemingly inevitable rise to Tonight Show host suggests his legitimacy was either revoked or curtailed.
    Hanks, as MM has pointed out, is from Lincoln’s line through Abe’s mother, a Hanks, if memory serves.


  4. BTW, I’m of the opinion that today celebutards are more powerful than the royals of old who occupied the decommissioned thrones of old. Influence is the power yielded and the collective imagination is no longer enthralled by monarchies. Thousands of screaming idiots flock to concerts, not to coronations. (Supposedly England still does, but I’ll wager the numbers are inflated and the photos doctored)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Agree Conan can be hilarious – I listened to that podcast you recommended of him and another comedian. Too funny. I’d usually rather listen to Fakeologist but it’s a nice break.

    As far as them all being juiced or peerage… Idk but Letterman often acted a bit like he was on the outside looking in. Whether that was schtick or genuine. He would often act as if many of these people who cut up with him on the show wouldn’t give him the time of day if he met them on the street. Joking about it of course, like what a loser he was in their world, except that they temporarily needed him to promote x project.

    Hard to know how to read that Hanks comment, indeed. Seems to me those late night roles would require at least some talent, AND desire to be in a daily grind. Not quite as glamorous as other options the juiced and talented might have. The juiced alone could not easily make it in such a job, at least back when TV was prime real estate. How many people have all three factors? But a kid from the upper middle class might have talent and drive, and no better options.


        1. The punchline at the end is indeed a bit funny (if not obvious), but overall this clip is cringe. Two mega-dorks, awkwardly giggling at themselves for ten minutes while drooling over a girl who has always been way, WAY out of their league.

          I don’t see the talent.


    1. Carson, like Letterman, was moody and could be surly. Letterman made mild irritation work because such a response to a celebrity guest was never seen on Carson. They both drank and dried out to a degree. They both were drunk drivers with DMV problems. Carson hand picked Letterman as his successor but NBC overruled him. Carson could make careers and break them. Letterman would quickly shut his guests down if he didn’t like the direction the interview was going. Letterman would drop regulars if the act stopped working. They both yielded great power but came off as aw shucks victims in their own way. They both had issues with women. Carson more so. They were kindred spirits.
      O’Brien on the other hand cME off as an imbecile to help elevate his guests. I often said his NBC show was the best written, worst performed show on TV. There seemed to be less cynicism in O’Brien’s approach. More frat boy goofiness. If that suggests a different gene pool, one would have to make a close study of ethnic humor to make a case.


  6. didn’t Conan just sell a podcast for 150 millions? And you think he’s not “juiced”? They are all. Everybody with a face in the media comes from the families.


    1. True. No one get a contract w/out being blood kin & selling their soul. Look at who run’s these operatives to keep the sheep asleep. They call it La-La Land. Movie Magic. And, the pro sports charade is rigged city.


  7. I walked by Letterman’s theater years ago just as someone who looked like him was getting out of a car parked next to it. He gave me a big smile, seemingly in a jovial mood. Not sure if it was him, but an odd coincidence either way.


  8. While it’s true that many games are rigged, they are not rigged to benefit ONLY “the families” or “the Eastern Europeans.” There are mechanisms by which others can serve the secret establishment, including initiations, willingness to play ball, and “taking the ticket.”

    Plenty of Harvard Lampoon members make it big in Hollywood. And plenty of Lorne Michaels proteges make it big in Hollywood. Neither path is unusual. And Conan had been on the inside of that system for a long time…Harvard Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons (longest running show on TV, culturally influential, famous for predictive programming).

    We have to remember that Hollywood is a SYSTEM, a system of control, propaganda, money-making, etc. It’s not nepotistic just to give kids from “the families” fun and fame, it’s nepotistic because that helps to keep the system easily steered by the controllers.

    And there is SOME “meritocracy.” Not a real one, not a truly merit-based one. But within the favored groups, they do generally prefer the better-looking ones. And even outside the favored groups, they are willing to bring in a few beautiful or funny or smart people to serve the system.

    Every talk show host promotes the party line on Covid, Ukraine, etc. That’s far more important than preventing ANY Irish people from appearing on TV.

    So what did Tom Hanks mean? He certainly seems to be a connected creep who sold his soul to the Devil. He COULD have meant “this doesn’t happen” to Irish people, or people who haven’t visited Epstein’s island yet. But he also could have meant that instant prime-time network superstardom opportunities aren’t usually given to unknown nerds from the writer’s room.

    But clearly this “highly unusual” Irish breakthrough didn’t change a single thing about late night talk show propaganda. If Conan secretly thinks forbidden thoughts unapproved by the powers that be, he certainly never shared them with his audience.


    1. We don’t know for sure if Tom Hanks said “This does not happen” to Conan. Unless Tom admits to saying that quote, and should explain himself since it could have been about anything out of context. Maybe he stubbed his toe or something of that nature. To make it that far up the ladder in mainstream televised showbizness one needs a door open, if you think otherwise, good luck trying to make it big.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s