For episode #167 of The Nerdist podcast, they interviewed Conan O’Brien about falling into rabbit holes, how talent is overrated, and about how self-loathing is part of the equation of success.
It’s almost two hours long but it is probably one of my favourite episodes of any podcast to date. I suggest you skip ahead three minutes in as the intro is a little drawn-out.
Conan said so many great things that I had to listen to it a third time to take some notes. Here they are for those of you that want to get the gist of it…
On talent and self-loathing:
I actually think talent’s overrated. Plenty of people have talent! I mean, there were many great bands in Liverpool, you know? You gotta have talent but you gotta mix these other things in and it’s an equation. Probably an important part of that equation is some degree of self-loathing in the right amount. But if you have too much self-loathing it can hurt your comedy.
I described it to my wife, I told her I feel like I have herpes sores in my brain that are on fire when things are not going the way I want them to go comedically. I mean, I don’t have an ego about my athletic ability or how I look or anything like that, but everything is invested in if something’s funny or not and when it’s not or when I think it’s hacky, it’s these red, pulsating hot sores in my brain and it takes, like, three days for it to crust over, as disgusting as that sounds.
I think the biggest common denominator to a lot of stuff is just don’t lie. Just be yourself and when you make a mistake, let them know. I think over the years probably the number one rule I’ve learned is don’t try and project something that’s not you.
The illusion is always that you can get to a place where there will be no unhappiness.
If someone told me, “You’ll have your own show and it will be called The Conan Show and people will recognize you and be nice to you,” I would say, “I would be completely satisfied. I will never complain about anything again.” Bullshit! I’ve read interviews with Paul McCartney where he’s complaining about something and I’m like, you’re a billionaire who is acknowledged as the greatest entertainer of all time and you’re healthy and what? What?! And you think, it’s because he’s a human being.
In the happiness there’s sorrow and in the sorrow there’s some happiness. There’s always going to be that mix. We’re going to have a bad show, we’re going to have a good show, we’re going to have a bad show with a pretty good moment, we’ll have a bad show with no good moment. We’ll have our ups, we’ll have our downs […] If you’re around long enough you’ll see how the whole thing is kind of this absurd theatre.
That said, I probably lose my perspective at least five times a day. Perspective seems to be something that we have for minutes at a time, you know, a close friend dies and you think, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I worry about these trivial things! I’m not going to worry about that ever again.” Then eight minutes later: “Where’s my Snickers bar?”
What he says here totally describes how I feel about pursuing graphic design:
In a long cycle of shows you dream of not doing shows and then the minute you’re not doing shows, you dream of doing shows.