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James Lipton holds Conan O'Brien and hundreds of others hostage

by Kona Gallagher, posted Dec 10th 2008 5:01PM
lipton inside the actors studioRecently, I had the opportunity to attend the venerable Bravo series, Inside the Actors Studio. The guest was Conan O'Brien, and since I have a thing for late night hosts, I was pretty psyched to see him up close and personal. I've seen the show a million times before, yet I wasn't really sure what to expect from the taping. Would it be like The Daily Show, in which it's taped live with pauses for commercial breaks? Or would they do a longer taping and then edit it down for broadcast?

After discussing it with a few of my friends, we figured that they would cut it down. What I didn't realize is that I should have packed a snack. "What is your mother's name?" "What is the name of the primary school you attended?" "What did your father do for a living?" These are only a few of the questions that led Conan to crack, "I feel like I'm applying for a credit card."

Everyone has seen Will Ferrell's James Lipton impression, with it's over-the-top praise and seemingly endless stack of question-filled blue note cards. It's funny, but I didn't realize until I went to the taping how chillingly accurate it actually is.

Actors Studio usually tapes at 7 PM, but since that interfered with Conan's taping of his own show, it was pushed back to 8. Being awesome and smart, I decided not to have dinner beforehand. The questions started out on a very basic, biographical level (hence the credit card application quip). Lipton clearly missed his calling doing background checks for the FBI and digs up people and events that even the interview subject himself has trouble remembering.

I won't go over everything that I learned about Conan O'Brien, although rest assured, I probably know more about him than most of his ex-girlfriends do; I'll just give you the basic gist: Conan O'Brien is smarter and better than you'll ever be.

When Late Night with Conan O'Brien premiered in 1993, most people wondered where in the hell this red-headed geek came from. Some people knew about his stints as a writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, but to most, he was a complete unknown. The thing about O'Brien is he didn't come out of nowhere: he was destined for success. Not only was he valedictorian of his high school class, but he went to Harvard and even became president of the prestigious Harvard Lampoon his sophomore year. He was a king of comedy way before he ever brought us the masturbating bear.

While O'Brien was reticent to talk about his accomplishments, Lipton gushed enough for the both of them. While gushing is one of Lipton's strong suits, this was different. Lipton has been a guest on Late Night over 30 times by his count and credits these appearances with single-handedly reviving his acting career. So in addition to the normal "you are the master of your craft" gushing, there was an added bonus of..."and you've made me a crapload of money and I'm kind of in love with you" subtext.

So maybe it was the fact that Lipton totally has a mancrush on O'Brien that made this interview the longest thing ever. After the first hour, we were just getting to Conan's experiences at Harvard. Around hour two, O'Brien started making desperate jokes about hiding the rest of Lipton's cards. Around hour three, he finished his pitcher of water and downed an entire glass from Lipton's.

It was nearly midnight when Lipton got to his last blue card, and it was actually a little disappointing for me. After spending a good chunk of time talking about and showing clips from Lipton's appearances on Late Night, get got to the juicy stuff: namely Conan's planned takeover of The Tonight Show next year. Conan has been noticeably quiet about the subject, and I was hoping for some dirt. Unfortunately, we didn't get anything more than him saying he was excited and nervous--and that they'd fly Lipton out to L.A. so he could still be on the show.

All in all, when the nearly 4 hour interview was finished, everyone felt drained. Even Conan seemed to be glad it was over. I overheard a conversation between some people who were sitting next to me, and they seemed to share my feelings: that if the guest wasn't as funny as O'Brien, it would have been boring as crap. However, instead of being boring, it was like, well, it was like having the funniest person in any room entertain you for four hours. James Lipton may have been holding us all hostage with his stack of blue cards, but we were all willing captives.

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I've been searching for an airdate since I heard he was going to be on the show. I'm still looking, anyone get any info yet?

And on the "Conan isn't an Actor" argument, Lipton has had numerous non-Actors appear on the show. Elton John, Jay Leno, Steven Spielberg. There are others, but those I can name off the top of my head. All are involved in "The Business we call Show", except Elton John, he puzzles me, since he's in music. But whatever. If you can interview Elton John, I guess you take advantage of the opportunity, no?

Though the little dirt on the Tonight Show takeover is depressing, I'm waiting on pins and needles for the show to air! I LOVE Conan!

January 05 2009 at 11:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sarah's comment

It aired on the Bravo Channel here in Philadelphia this past weekend (i.e., SuperBowl weekend). I really enjoyed it!
Conan O'Brien is a Comic Genius & James Liston played an excellent straight man for him

February 03 2009 at 7:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No, you could argue that, but it would be entirely without merit.

See Selena and then let's have a discussion.

December 11 2008 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Given the non sequential nature of Inside the Actors Studio, why are you surprised that the taping was 4 hours? One of the reasons I can't watch IAS (besides the gushing) is that sooo many answers on that show deserve a follow up question. Either the question is never asked or it's never shown in the edited version of the show broadcast.

Any of you that have been to a taping, can you answer if Lipton is capable of a follow up question or does he simply just move onto the next card?

December 11 2008 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was also at this taping, and agree that it was A) Very long, and B) incredibly interesting and entertaining.

As for the fact that Conan is not an actor, while it wasn't addressed during the taping, I will mention that Lipton really does seem to see these interviews as classroom material for the students first, and a TV show second. In the Pace MFA program there are actors, directors, and writers, and if I was a young writer, I would have felt extremely lucky to have been there that night -- well, even luckier than I already was.

December 11 2008 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Is anyone going to mention the fact that O'Brien is not an actor?

December 10 2008 at 9:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Zachary's comment

True but they had J.Lo on and one could argue the same of her.

December 10 2008 at 10:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jenniffer Lopez is a decent actress, as a matter of fact it was acting that led to the singing. You must have forgotten Selena and Out of Sight.

December 11 2008 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

that's an episode I don't want to miss. Love Conan!

December 10 2008 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kona... My old roommate was at the same taping. I look forward to seeing it.

December 10 2008 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kona Gallagher

I was told by NBC today that the episode is scheduled to air in January. The episode isn't ready yet, but once it is, we'll have clips for you. It should be pretty good.

December 10 2008 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Any idea when that episode may air?

December 10 2008 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

I don't supposed there is a video clip of the edited version of the video that we could see?

December 10 2008 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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