Earlier this week, Conan O’Brien’s website commemorated the 20th anniversary of his audition for Late Night by releasing a short clip from it, an abbreviated “mock show” in which he interviewed Mimi Rogers and Jason Alexander in front of a live studio audience. O’Brien is clearly nervous (and can you blame him?), but Lorne Michaels and the Late Night producers saw something in that performance, and gave him a shot. That’s the beauty of the great comic audition — even when a talent is a little rough around the edges, the joy of discovering someone fresh, new, and funny wins out. After the jump, we’ll take a look at that tape and several other killer auditions from very funny folks.
O’Brien, best known then merely as a writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, is more than a little jittery, even in this short clip (and let’s be honest: he was noticeably uncomfortable for a good long while after the show hit the air). But a key element of his comedy persona was in place from the beginning: self-deprecation. He jokes with Alexander about what a nobody he is; he gets a good laugh with Rogers off the idea that he’s done any modeling. And that was the key to his likability, right off the bat: he was as surprised to be behind that desk as we were to see him there.