Conan O'Brien and Lisa Kudrow Owe Each Other Their Careers
I listen to a lot of celebrity podcasts — the type that Marc Maron sort of modeled, where the podcast interviewer goes through the guest’s entire career. If you listen to enough of them, you’ll hear the same celebrities tell different variations of the same stories on different podcasts, and it’s those repeated stories that end up sticking with us the most, particularly when those stories involve other celebrities, and we also get to hear their side of the story.
To wit: One of my favorite celebrity friendships — and one that you’ll likely only know about if you listen to a lot of celebrity interviews on podcasts — is the one between Friends’s Lisa Kudrow and Conan O’Brien. One would probably not exist in our pop cultural landscape without the other, and to hear the two interact together on the same podcast is like listening to people who have been friends for 30 years shoot the sh*t in intimate and unguarded ways, as though they were unaware that an audience is listening in.
Conan figures prominently in Kudrow’s career early on. The two attended the same improv class back in the 1980s. Weirdly, it was Jon Lovitz — one of the best friends of Lisa Kudrow’s older brother — who initially encouraged Lisa Kudrow to give comedy a shot. He’s the one who convinced Kudrow to join the Groundlings. That may be why Lovitz later showed up on an episode of Friends in what is still my favorite scene in all ten seasons of that series:
Unfortunately, Kudrow couldn’t immediately get into Groundlings, so she took instruction from someone who taught an improv class designed to prepare students to enter The Groundlings. Kudrow was not initially taken with the class. She thought the improv exercises were silly, and she felt self-conscious doing them. After one week, she nearly quit until she saw another guy in her class performing an exercise — throwing a “ball” — with so much conviction that Kudrow actually understood what it meant to “commit.” It wasn’t silly when this student was fake throwing a ball, because he believably looked like a guy throwing a ball. She was so taken by the other student that she decided not to quit the class, and she ultimately became lifelong friends with him.
He was, of course, Conan O’Brien, and the two would eventually end up in The Groundlings together.
The two have remained close friends for years, and they even briefly dated (these days, Conan seems smitten with Kudrow’s French husband). But it was several more years after The Groundlings before Kudrow repaid the favor to Conan, after Lorne Michaels approached Conan about taking over Late Night.
“I asked lots of people — people close to me — ‘What if Letterman left and I took over for him?’” Conan said in a recent episode of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. “‘How would you feel about that?’ And the common reaction was, Oh, man. Really?”
“But Lisa, exclusively, was the only person in my life who had said, ‘You have to do that. You are the perfect person. It’s what you have to do.”
Conan credits Lisa Kudrow for making him try out for Late Night, despite his insecurities. “I don’t know if you weren’t in my life if I’d have done this show,” Conan said to Kudrow. “I will always be indebted to you.”
“No one we knew of could replace David Letterman,” Kudrow said to him. “So it had to be someone that no one knew of. That was the only possibility. And you were perfect. Super funny. Really smart. Can talk to anybody.”
“I couldn’t find anyone who was that [confident in me],” Conan continued. “You had a religious conviction [that I should take over Letterman’s show]. And I lived off that … you have been one of the best friends in my life.”
In short, if it weren’t for Conan, there’d be no Lisa Kudrow on Friends, and if it weren’t for Kudrow, there’d be no Conan O’Brien, late night talk show host.
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Source: Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
Header Image Source: Getty Images
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