Getting to this interview on time was a miracle.
The way from San Luis Obispo to L.A. was fraught with traffic, delays, press pass mix-ups, navigating a venue literally the size of a soccer stadium, the works. We caught him just at the end of his set, five minutes before the interview time.
Who, you might ask? You clicked on the article, didn’t you? It’s Conner O’Malley.
Conner O’Malley. Comedian. Artist. Jay Leno? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little star-struck. O’Malley has been a comedian for years, but he really first caught attention for his bizarre series of Vines, featuring O’Malley politely greeting the upstanding citizens of New York city.
Since then, he’s gone on to write for Late Night With Seth Meyers, and he currently writes for Joe Pera Talks With You, a show currently airing on [adult swim]. It’s all great stuff, really.
On top of that he still produces independently made “sketch” content to his criminally underrated YouTube channel, which is currently sitting at around 40k subscribers. Seriously, some of the most creative comedy on the platform is found here. If you have even a passing interest in comedy, performance art, or dudes in large bodies of water, you gotta check it out.
We talked with Conner in his dressing room. It was probably the quietest, most remote place at Banc of California stadium, where [adult swim] festival was underway. And the room was still inundated with the sounds of death metal, courtesy of Dethklok performing to a stadium full of metalheads several hundred yards away.
Here’s the interview.
JD: Did you get in the comedy scene in Chicago or did you really get your start in New York?
CO’M: No, in Chicago. I was right out of high school. When I was 18, I signed up for a class at I.O. (Improv Olympic) and started doing improve there, then [I] went through classes there and got on a team. And then I started working a lot at this place called The Annoyance in Chicago, and basically those two theaters till I was 25 and moved to New York.
JD: And this was before the Vine Fame?
CO’M: Yeah, the Vines happened when I moved to New York, I started doing them there.
JD: I got the feeling, looking at a few compilations, of a little bit of a pent up aggression at the citizens of New York. Do you think there was any of that there, or were you kinda just screwing around?
CO’M: I mean, it was pretty much just screwing around, I was trying not to be too overt or conscious about stuff. I was a dog walker in New York, and I’d never seen so many, like, Ferraris. I had never seen so many men in suits. I’m just used to, like, if you were wearing a suit in Chicago, you were going to a funeral or a wedding.
Everyone in my family’s an elevator mechanic, so it was a little bit of a culture shock. So I think that that’s basically what it was. Just funny to be loud, basically.
At this point, friend and fellow DJ at the station, Taylor Garvey, chimed in with a question.
TG: When you did that Jay Walking video, I saw you in that Ferrari. How’d you get that?
CO’M: There’s guys on Hollywood Boulevard that have Ferraris you can pay to take for like a test drive basically, so I paid them, like, $75 for that shot. And then guy was like, “Yeah, 20 minutes,” and then after 10 minutes he was like “Okay, you can leave.” Like, alright. Fine.
JD: So I’m assuming you’re a pretty huge Leno-head then.
CO’M: I was obsessed with late night and I watched Leno pretty regularly in the fourth grade.
JD: You were a writer for Seth Meyers for a while.
JD: What was that like?
CO’M: That was great. I mean, I started doing the vines in New York and then Leno left and Fallon took over The Tonight Show and I submitted to be a writer on Seth’s show and I was like the third or fourth person they hired. That’s kinda exactly where I wanted to be when I moved there and I kinda didn’t believe that I got the chance to do that. Seth first saw me as a performer at JFL (Just For Laughs) and they were looking for writers so that’s kind of how it happened. He saw me performing and asked me to submit a packet and I got it that way.
JD: I feel like for a lot of young comics that must have been like ,“Oh, man I made it.”
CO’M: I mean, to be part of a show that’s launching from the ground up and you get to help decide what the show is going to be — or get to contribute your comedic voice to it — was kind of the dream. They also wanted performers. So that was a huge thing. I would never get hired at a late night talk show unless it was in that scenario where it was like, “We don’t know what this is gonna be.”
Those staffs — if you look at like the inaugural staffs of late night talk shows –they’re always like, “Whoa, that person worked there? And that person? And that person?” Michelle Wolf was also one of the first people that they hired. Just this insane group of people. It was great to be a part of.
JD: Well, that was something that I found so interesting, because I would consider your brand of comedy quite alternative and quite underground, so seeing that like breaching into the mainstream… I don’t know, that was pretty cool to see.
CO’M: All that credit goes to Seth; he’s such a good appreciator of comedy. He was a head writer at SNL for like ten years. That job is so much how you put together this bouquet of all these different comedic voices. Give people extra, special time and make sure their voices are seen. He’s a great appreciator of all different forms of comedy. That show is his voice, but he truly is — in a way that most comedians are not — a huge fan of everybody’s comedy, in a really cool way.
JD: Speaking of a different form of comedy, you’re working with Joe Pera right now. Right now, talking to me, you’re a very laid back and easy going guy, but like Conner the man is different than Conner the character, I think.
CO’M: Yeah, I guess, yeah.
JD: What’s it like working with someone who is so different, energetically? What’s that collaborative, creative process like?
CO’M: It’s pretty smooth, it’s pretty natural. Joe is, you know, he’s such a good writer, he has such a pristine voice. He knows exactly what he wants everything to be, he’s got a vision. That show (Joe Pera Talks With You) is pretty easy to work on because you just kind of– there’s never questions of “What is this supposed to be? Who is this?” It’s very clear what the voice of the show is and what is trying to be done. So in that sense it’s kinda fun to just be like, “I’m just helping my friend make this show,” and helping him talk out ideas and just being, like, “Yeah, that sounds funny, you should do that.” It’s almost kind of like a nice vacation from producing your own stuff where it’s like “Oh fuck, I actually have to do this.”
CO’M: I gotta go in the river again.
Conner sounds exhausted at the thought of it.
JD: Where did you come up with that? It’s brilliant, one in a million.
CO’M: I just like putting my head under the water in the river, I don’t know.
JD: We are a radio station, so I thought I’d ask you what music you’ve been listening to recently.
CO’M: I don’t know, I’m so basic. I almost kind of don’t want to reveal. I got this playlist that I have on Spotify that’s just like all horrible songs that I’ve been listening to… Lot of Don Henley, just cause I find it repulsive and I like to listen to it when I write. Been doing a lot of Liberace. His solo stuff, actually his instrumental stuff, is really good. Yeah, I like listening to dumb shit. Fucking Korn, Static Acts. Who else? You know, all the hits of nu metal.
JD: Sure. Iowa?
CO’M: Yeah. Iowa by Slipknot. All those dudes.
JD: Back when you were doing TruthHunters and all that stuff, that was a pretty crazy time — 2016, the era of Alex Jones and all that. I think we’re entering a period pretty similar to that because we’re entering another election. Do you think that the art you make … do you think you’d be interested in making stuff akin to that right now? Or do you think that’s kind of a period that’s come and gone?
CO’M: I definitely feel like there’s more to mine there. Probably in a different way. I’m not super interested… the main thing I try not to do is just repeat myself. So, I have been thinking about it and there is an opportunity to do different stuff.
Problem with that is that it’s just kind of hard to keep up with an election cycle. We were shooting all that stuff on our own and self-funding it and it’s just like, at a certain point the quality of what you’re making goes down. It’s hard to maintain that pace and keep the quality up. So, it’s something that’s just like– I do have an idea and I could work on it but I’d just need to do it in a different way.
JD: What do you think of striking a balance between working in television for like [adult swim] and Seth Meyers and also being like an independent creator?
CO’M: I mean, I’ve been pretty fortunate enough where I haven’t had to take jobs for money and I, you know, don’t have any children or anything like that. So, I’ve been able to take some creative risks… but I’ve also been lucky enough where, you know, working with Seth Meyers is an incredible job and working with Joe has been even better in a different way– just also an incredible experience. It gives me freedom to not have to take jobs that would just be a paycheck and I’m like “Whatever.” Both of those jobs I’m just very passionate about.
And I don’t do anything, I don’t spend my money on anything. I just go home and watch Letterman clips like a loser. So, extra money I have, I spend on funding videos and stuff like that. And that’s fun for me. We have one video– and it’s great because with Joe’s show we have deadlines and production schedules. If you’re making something for yourself on Youtube, you can spend a full year working on it and you can be like “I need to take a couple of weeks just to think about this,” and you really don’t have that when it comes to when somebody’s paying for it. I think it’s really important to keep doing that. It’s like sketching in a notebook. Artists do that. And then they paint with oils. You know, you can’t paint with oils every day, but you can sketch every day. One informs the other.
JD: I noticed when I’m watching a lot of your comedy, it seems like it’s being completely from the realm of absurdity. I remember watching the bit where you’re at the porno convention and you’re talking to the guys about your Pop Pop’s stroke and you’re talking about your several uncles that are all eating from the pot of spaghetti– you can’t get any spaghetti! All sorts of stuff, Eric Trump cumming diarrhea. Where, in the deep deep unconscious of your brain do you think that comes from? I’m dying to know.
CO’M: I really don’t know… I think you have to kind of be in touch with the intuitive part of your brain when you’re making stuff — that stuff just floats to the surface and you can’t intellectualize it. You kind of just have to work yourself up to that place. It’s interesting you ask that question, I was just watching an interview with PTA (Paul Thomas Anderson) and somebody asked him that, about what are the themes of There Will Be Blood and he was like “You know it’s all details and if you work on the details then hopefully themes will emerge.”
I think when it comes to comedy you just have to focus on like… the comedy version of that is like “Well, what’s funny?”, like just what’s making you laugh. And just staying in tune with that. Lynch calls it a “You Know-Feel.” Like you know and you feel it at the same time. It takes a long time to hone those two things so that they work in tandem, but it’s like an intuition type of thing. Not to get too heavy about it, but it’s all coming from your guy and just making sure that you’re on the right side of history too. That you’re not creating hateful comedy. I think that’s the danger of when you’re working from your gut. But, if you put a filter on it– or not a filter but… you know I’m lucky enough to edit. You know what I mean.
JD: I think that’s all I have. Speaking of Paul Thomas Anderson, and I guess Daniel Plainview, you guys have a very similar intensity.
Conner lets out a hearty chuckle at this.
CO’M: Well, he’s an incredible actor and I am not. I’m just a guy that yells a lot.
After the mic stopped recording, I assumed that’d be it.
Conner would go off into the night, and Taylor and I would be left with an audio interview with one of the most brilliant comics of our generation. Except, that’s not what happened. He stuck around and we talked. He asked us about our lives, the lives of two nobody college students. Not with passing politeness, but with genuine interest.
I walked away from this interview with the impression that Conner O’Malley is a guy who gives a shit. About the people he works with, the comedy he makes, and the schmucks like me who enjoy it.
Jake Davis is a Cal Poly Journalism senior and a KCPR staff member. He wrote the article and created the featured image.