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Review: 'The World's Worst Assistant' by Conan O'Brien's Assistant, Sona Movsesian

By Dustin Rowles | Books | July 26, 2022 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | July 26, 2022 |


I read a lot of books, but I don’t read a lot of celebrity memoirs. I mean, honestly: I don’t care that much about the version of a celebrity’s life that they want to put out for public consumption. There are exceptions, of course (Tina Fey, Steve Martin), but most celebrity memoirs — even from comedians — aren’t that funny (see, e.g., Colin Jost’s memoir) and they never have as much gossip as I crave.

But Sona Movsesian is not really a celebrity, is she? She’s the assistant to a celebrity, and apparently one so bad that her book is called The World’s Worst Assistant. I was a Letterman guy growing up, but I’ve always been fond of Conan, but I will also concede that I like the podcast iteration of Conan more than the late-night version. On his podcast, he takes what we loved about his talk-show interactions with, say, Timothy Olyphant, and turns it into a full hour each week. It’s also more manageable and easier to keep up with than a nightly talk show.

Moreover, and with all due respect to Andy Richter — a funny human being — I find Sona Movsesian (in both the late-night and podcast form) to be a better sidekick. Sona Movsesian gives Conan shit. A lot of it. And he gives it back, and that — in addition to what is clearly a deep reservoir of affection for one another — is what characterizes their relationship and comedic partnership.

Movsesian decided to write a book about it, and it’s exactly what I expected it to be: Light, silly, and fun, with a number of behind-the-scenes accounts of her experiences working with Conan, which are mostly stories about the two of them relentlessly mocking one another.

But is she, as the title suggests, actually the World’s Worst Assistant? I mean, yes and no. If she worked for another celebrity in the same manner, she’d be quickly fired. But she’s also the exact right assistant for Conan, someone who is far more interested in having someone he can do bits with than someone who can get him coffee. Movsesian — in her role as Conan’s assistant — is basically a major character in Conan’s sitcom world, and if she were a “good” assistant, he’d have much less material with which to work.

On the other hand, when you cut through all the self-deprecation and razzing, Movsesian is also clearly very good at her job when she needs to be. She had plenty of experience in similar positions before she started working for Conan and when called upon to do something important — provide last-minute note cards for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, arrange to receive the gift of an actual horse from David Letterman, ensure that close friends and family members are well taken care of — Movsesian is always up to the task. It’s also clear that, though it may not be the typical role of a personal assistant, Movsesian provides ample emotional support during difficult days, even if that means sitting with Conan in silence and watching a bad reality show while his lawyers work out his exit agreement from NBC.

The book is not entirely about Conan. Some of the best stories are about her bad dating experiences (stories that, yes, Conan often uses as comedic fodder), and there’s a brilliant chapter early on where she compares the work of a typical assistant to the movie Human Centipede. There is also, however, one irksome chapter where she rambles on about nothing in order to meet her word count, which both feels like a bit and also something Movsesian would genuinely do in order to fill space.

Largely, however, The World’s Worst Assistant is a delightful, breezy, and short read (clearly, she didn’t go over her word count) that offers some genuine insights into her relationship with Conan, a few horror stories about working in the industry, and some interesting behind-the-scenes accounts of her time with the late-night host, who genuinely seems to be a more popular (and beloved) figure now than even when he was hosting The Tonight Show.

The World’s Worst Assistant by Sona Movsesian (with a terrific forward from O’Brien) is in bookstores (and in audiobook form) now.