“Late Night with Dana Carvey,” the show that almost wasn’t Conan O’Brien’s in the first place

Danacarvey_carson Dana Carvey as Johnny Carson on SNL, in 1990

A lot of the way that show was conceived was by thinking about what talk shows weren’t doing. Dana Carvey was asked to do that gig months before it landed in anyone else’s hands, right after Carson announced that he was retiring. Lorne knew that he was going to get to oversee the show, and the first person he wanted to host it was Carvey. He wanted Conan and I to work on it, and at that time no late-night talk show was doing any sort of sketch comedy at all. That idea expanded when it was decided that Conan would become the host. But before that happened I thought that the show would feature Carvey playing a lot of different characters. Months later Conan called me and said that this idea would work in reverse—he could be the straight man to all of these crazy characters. The sketches evolved into playing with visual jokes because Conan and I bonded over our love of cartoony humor.

— Robert Smigel, explaining his approach as the initial head writer for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, in October's "comedy" issue of Vice Magazine.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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