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Who was the first guest on ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’?


With almost 30 full years since its debut, Late Night with Conan O’Brien has officially been canonised in the history of late night television. It was an unlikely feat, especially since the show (and O’Brien) were emerging from the shadow of the previous host of the Late Night franchise, David Letterman. When O’Brien first took the stage on September 13th, 1993, Letterman still loomed large with both the public and the Late Show itself.

In fact, O’Brien’s show seemed defensive about the comparisons immediately, with its first gag on its first-ever episode clowning on O’Brien for being an unknown comedy writer and emphasising the pressure that came with following Letterman. The otherwise cheery bit comes with a pretty dark punchline, indicating that although Letterman had stepped away, the subversive streak that made Late Night so watchable would continue with O’Brien at the helm.

It took a while for O’Brien to settle in and find his voice, while critical assessments of O’Brien’s atypical approach to hosting were largely dismissive at first. Slightly twitchy and clearly uncomfortable taking the reigns of the show, O’Brien would need some time to fully embrace his gawky and absurd strengths. But some of those traits could be seen immediately, as was the case when O’Brien welcomed his first-ever guest John Goodman.

Goodman had recently completed work on The Flintstones and was ostensibly there to promote it, but his role as the show’s first guest was strategic as well. Goodman had appeared on Saturday Night Live for the first time as host in 1989, the same era that featured O’Brien as one of the show’s writers. As a seasoned comedic actor with at least a cursory previous history with O’Brien, Goodman was a logical choice to banter with the new host and play up some of the sillier gags he had planned.

That included an over-the-top presentation of a medal for being the show’s first guest, complete with photographers and triumphant fanfares. At one point, O’Brien does a cutaway gag that leaves Goodman giggling in his seat, and his interview segment concludes with Goodman leg wrestling George Wendt. It’s a ludicrous sounding premise on paper, but the sheer dedication to physical comedy from both men makes brings the wonderfully bizarre first interview of O’Brien’s career to an end.

Following Goodman, O’Brien also interviewed a 17-year-old Drew Barrymore, who had recently starred in the television film The Amy Fisher Story, and The Odd Couple star Tony Randall, who had made numerous appearances on Letterman’s Late Night prior to O’Brien’s run. O’Brien wouldn’t welcome his first musical guest until the following episode, when the host introduced an upstart British rock band by the name of Radiohead playing their then-recently re-released debut single, ‘Creep’.

Check out the full first episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien down below.