A Perfectly Calm Oral History of ‘Pierre Bernard’s Recliner of Rage’ from ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’
There’s a lot of anger in America today. From the war in Ukraine to our contentious elections, tempers are running high in this country. It’s been like this for decades, but back in the early 2000s, America had a voice that knew just how to articulate our anger for us. That voice belonged to Pierre Bernard, a graphic artist on Late Night with Conan O’Brien who starred in a series of sketches known as “Pierre Bernard’s Recliner of Rage.”
From the comfort of a recliner, Pierre would rail upon the big questions that plagued our society — from the lack of availability of certain, very specific art supplies, to the fact that Mallomars cookies are only sold seasonally. He also took it to his least favorite character on Stargate SG-1 and went on a tirade when his bobbleheads wouldn’t bobble properly.
Beginning in 2004, the soft-spoken, unapologetically nerdy and somewhat awkward Pierre Bernard was a true voice of the people. And even though he left his recliner behind in 2009, he has fond, albeit paradoxically rage-filled, memories from his plushy pulpit. Or to put it in his parlance, even nearly two decades ago, he still remains “comfortable and furious.”
Pierre Bernard, graphic artist and author behind PB Art Creations activity books: I usually kept to myself at Conan. I just wanted to do my graphics and go home, but despite the fact that I was on a different floor and my door was usually shut, the writers knew of me somehow — and so did Conan. After being there for only a short while back when the show began, I was asked to do my first bit, where I appeared as a guy selling jewelry on the corner of Rockefeller Center.
I hesitated to do it at first, but in retrospect, I’m glad that I stepped outside of myself and did it, because it led to a lot of weird little appearances that eventually grew into the “Recliner of Rage.”
Brian Stack, writer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien: In 2003, we had done a bit on the show with Pierre where he talked about how one of the joke quarters he designed for our “New State Quarters” bit was now being sold as a real coin on eBay. Pierre was kind of annoyed at this, so writer Michael Gordon had the idea to have Pierre get mad at whoever was selling them on the show, because Pierre’s such a sweet guy and he’s so mild-mannered and he never raised his voice. That bit worked really well, so after that, I began to think, “What other things would bother Pierre?”
A few months later, one of those weird thoughts popped into my head. I was doing an outside voiceover thing, and I was waiting in the waiting room. I was looking at this chair and thought, “What if Pierre was comfortably seated, but getting mad while he was comfortable?”
Bernard: A few months after the State Quarters bit, Brian Stack called me one Monday morning and started asking me about my weekend, which was very unusual — nobody cared about anyone’s weekend. He was asking me if I did anything special and what I was doing and if anything was bothering me. I told him that Apple had just released the iPod, and I bought this device called an iMic to try to convert my LP albums to MP3 files. But the software wasn’t compatible. This really annoyed me because the iMic was $35, and I’d have to spend more than $100 to upgrade my computer.
I’m explaining this to Brian, and he interrupts me and says, “Pierre, do me a favor, write all this down and email it to me.” It was crazy. I mean, he called me, then told me he didn’t have time to talk and then told me to write this all out and send it to him. Still, I wrote what he wanted and sent it to him.
Later that day, I got a call from the stage manager, asking me to show up for blocking. I had no idea what this was for, but I was being used sporadically in different things so I figured it was just another weird thing. No one said a word about what it was, they just did the blocking and told me, “We’ll call you when we need you.”
It wasn’t until about a half hour before the show began that someone called me down. Brian was there, and he told me, “Hey, Pierre, you know that message you sent me earlier? We’re going to have you read that message on air tonight. We’ll have cue cards for you.” Then he pointed to a chair and said, “We’re going to have you sit in that recliner, if that’s okay.”
My mind was going crazy, but when we actually recorded it, I wasn’t nervous at all. It’s strange — I get nervous in crowds, but never in front of an audience. Anyway, Conan had a blast with it, the audience loved it and that’s how the Recliner of Rage was born.
Stack: We asked Jimmy Vivino and the band to put in a rocking thing for the title graphic, and Pierre made the little graphic that you see on-screen. Conan was tickled by it, and it became a regular bit after that.
Bernard: I was asked to do another one a couple of weeks later and then another one and another one. It got to a place where there was a Recliner of Rage happening almost every other week, and they all came from real things in my life. Like, I went to a store in New Jersey and bought about 50 bobbleheads, but when I got home, I realized that some of the bobbleheads didn’t bobble. So when the next Recliner came up, I was telling Brian about it, and he said, “This is great!” I also did one about Fruit of the Loom boxers and another about jug handles in New Jersey.
Another one had to do with the series Robotech. I loved the series but I’d only bought random VHS tapes of it, so I never got to see the entire series. Then, someone brought to my attention that Robotech was being released on DVD — but they released several different versions of the series. There were VHS tapes; there were just single-disc DVDs. I could never see the entire series because of all of these confusing releases. I had no idea what was what. It ended up being a great Recliner bit. Afterwards, the company that sells those DVDs sent me a set of the complete series. But between you and I, I never opened it. I’m a collector, so I wanted it to stay in the package. Which means I still haven’t seen all of Robotech.
Stack: We did one about these art pens he couldn’t find and another one about Cowboy Bebop — he was mad that it was taken off the Cartoon Network. One of my favorites was when he was mad that Mallomars cookies were only available seasonally.
They were always things that were genuinely from Pierre’s life that were bothering him. He would write out a full thing, and I’d edit it down and reword certain things. I’m completely nerdy in my own way, but I never knew what he was talking about. One of the great things about Recliner of Rage was that, when Pierre would mention stuff, people would end up sending him things. My favorite of all the outcomes, though, was what happened with Stargate.
Bernard: I’d say I did more than 30 Recliners of Rage, but Stargate was my Cinderella moment. I did a Recliner of Rage about Dr. Daniel Jackson and how I preferred it when the show had killed him off, before they brought him back later. Then, I got a letter from the Stargate people in Vancouver asking me to appear on the show. At first, I thought the staff was making fun of me. One producer in particular, Frank Smiley, was a good friend and he’d always rib me, so I thought it was a joke.
But about a month later, I got a call from Vancouver inviting me to be on the show. I flew up there, and we did a Conan remote from the set. After the first time, Stargate loved me so much they invited me out two more times. I got to meet Beau Bridges and Richard Dean Anderson. I also met Michael Shanks, who played Dr. Daniel Jackson. He was a little apprehensive around me, understandably, since my whole bit was about how I preferred his character to be dead, but he warmed up to me and was very nice.
Those years at Conan were the greatest years on Earth. I really learned how to laugh at myself. Before that, I was extremely paranoid — well, I’m still paranoid — but I took myself way too seriously. Through Conan — and especially the Recliner of Rage — I learned not to take myself so seriously. I was able to laugh at who I am, and I’m now more comfortable with who I am.