Conan O’Brien is stoked for Stephen Colbert and the producers of Showtime’s Election Night 2020 special. Aidy Bryant presented the award to the team.

October 11, 2021

Mr. Excitement

Whether he won or not, Conan O'Brien was determined to have a good time at this year's Emmy awards.

Since his first Emmy nomination in 1989 as a writer on Saturday Night Live, Conan O'Brien has stacked up 28 noms and four wins.

So he could be forgiven for a little Emmy fatigue. But that was not the case when his TBS show Conan — in its final season — saw the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Talk Series go to HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver for the sixth consecutive year.

When presenter Kaley Cuoco made the announcement, Conan was ebullient, jumping up from his seat. And from the stage, Oliver acknowledged his friend. "Like so many of us in this room, I was rooting for Conan, so this is bittersweet," he said, with a nod to O'Brien. "Thank you for 30 years of inspiring comedy writers."

With hands clasped by his head like a winning prizefighter, O'Brien accepted applause from the crowd. Then he accepted, briefly, an Emmy handed to him by Chrissy Shackelford, seated nearby; she was among the winners for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series (also won for the sixth consecutive year by Last Week Tonight with John Oliver).

But O'Brien wasn't done having fun. When Television Academy chairman Frank Scherma took the stage, O'Brien began cheering, encouraging the audience to join him in a standing ovation.

"Thank you, Conan," Scherma said, as the guests took their seats. But O'Brien remained standing, saluting Scherma throughout his remarks — which were punctuated by scattered laughs at O'Brien's antics. Scherma held back his own laughter, though he couldn't help but crack some smiles as he introduced Debbie Allen, recipient of the Governors Award.

O'Brien's final bit of fun came when Stephen Colbert and his team won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special (Live) for their 2020 election-night show. O'Brien cried, "Yes!" when presenter Aidy Bryant delivered the decision, and he joined the Colbert entourage on stage. As Colbert spoke, O'Brien excitedly hugged coexecutive producer Opus Moreschi. And when Colbert acknowledged executive producer Chris Licht, O'Brien reached for him, too.

"Most of the people behind me really deserve this Emmy right now," Colbert said, before yielding to the play-off music.

Reginald Hudlin, who executive-produced the Emmy show with Ian Stewart, later revealed that none of the O'Brien bits had been planned. "It was fun," he said. "That's what we love as producers, when things happen that you didn't know were going to happen. And you know [Conan] was only doing it in good humor."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2021

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