An Uninterrupted Oral History of The Interrupter from ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’
Conan got interrupted a lot on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. There was announcer Joel Godard, who would interrupt Conan with the details of his lewd sexual exploits. There was Preparation H Raymond, who would interrupt Conan to distribute hemorrhoid cream. There was a ghost who interrupted Conan to sing him offensive old-timey songs. But there was only one character whose sole purpose in life was to interrupt Conan. That character was, of course — “Me! The Interrupter!”
Created by former Conan writers Brian Stack and Michael Koman — and played by Stack — The Interrupter was a bizarre character even by Late Night standards. He had long black hair and a curled mustache and dressed in a cape and a silky purple ruffled shirt. His personal life was a disaster, as he would reveal that he was the son of illiterate hill people and that his greatest sexual fantasy was bedding the head of Donald Sutherland — if it had the body of Jennifer Love Hewitt.
To Conan, he was maybe the most annoying character to ever grace Late Night, but to Late Night fans, he more than deserved such undivided attention, no matter what (or who) he interrupted in the process. Which is why I’ll more than happily allow Stack and Korman to interrupt me now to provide the uninterrupted tale of The Interrupter.
Michael Koman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien writer: One day in 2003, Conan and the writers were having a meeting in head writer Mike Sweeney’s office and Conan said, “I’m a little tired of characters where, I start talking and some character in the audience interrupts me.” Naturally, the first thing I thought was, “What if there’s a character where that’s all he did?” Brian Stack and I wrote together a lot in those days, and as soon as that meeting with Conan was over, I was talking to Brian in the hallway and said, “What about this?”
It was originally just supposed to be a joke that would aggravate Conan in real life, but in rehearsal, Conan liked it right away. I think what made it special was that Brian had picked out this nonsensical costume, and he had this vision of a guy out of the 19th century, with this cape and this long hair and that his personality was a complete mess. It made The Interrupter a more three-dimensional character.
Brian Stack, Late Night with Conan O’Brien writer: For some reason, I ended up looking like an old musketeer. I honestly don’t know why.
The Interrupter first appeared in a “New Characters” bit, where Conan would introduce a bunch of crazy new characters at once. He started as a one-off character that was an inside joke making fun of Conan for making fun of us. It went over well. Then, I was thinking about it a couple of months later, and I thought, “Maybe we could expand that a little bit and find out a little more about that guy.”
Koman: I was more one to stop doing something. I never wanted to go back and have a less successful version of something, but Brian always felt very confident about it, which is a much more successful way to work — to make something better next time, so that’s what we did.
Stack: If I remember correctly, the next time he appeared it was for a tease act. Those only lasted a few seconds. When we didn’t have time for a whole sketch, we’d do a bit to tease the guest for the next night’s show. That was fun, then Michael and I were having so much fun writing him that they turned into longer, full sketches where you’d find out more and more about The Interrupter’s horrible life, like how he lives behind a dumpster in the Port Authority bus terminal and that he has seven different types of hepatitis.
One of my favorite things about The Interrupter is something that runs through a lot of my characters, and that’s someone coming in with positive energy, but talking about incredibly dark, horrible things. That’s why I loved writing for Joel, our announcer, because, in a very upbeat voice, he’d describe what a shambles his personal life was. It was just my way of dealing with what a lot of comedians deal with in terms of feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. It was cathartic to write and play characters who gleefully talk about how horrible their lives are.
Koman: What made it fun was that he’d interrupt Conan with all of these details about his own biography — Conan was trying to insult him, but The Interrupter interrupted with something much worse and sadder than Conan could have imagined. He was a truly sad, shameless character.
There was even one where Brian suggested I be the second Interrupter who was walling him into a tomb. I barely ever acted on the show — I’m a horrible actor — but that was one of the few times where he insisted. It was fun for me, though I remember screaming so loudly that I got a migraine.
Stack: I always had fun doing that character. Also, briefly in L.A., I got to meet Fred Willard when he was a guest on the show. He was such a hero of mine, and he told me how much he liked The Interrupter. That meant the world to me.
My favorite one involved my wife, Miriam Tolan, coming out as the female Interrupter that was a potential love interest. Not only was it fun to have her there, but it also had some of my favorite lines. For that one, my little daughter was in the green room having cookies or something, and she said, “Daddy’s interrupting Conan!” like I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to, because you teach your kids not to interrupt.
For my very last show at Conan in 2015, we were on TBS at that point and I hadn’t done The Interrupter in like seven years. For the episode, Mike Sweeney had put together a highlight reel of stuff I’d done on the various shows. It was very sweet, and at the very end of it, Conan said, “There was one character that wasn’t in that, and I’m glad because I always found that character to be so incredibly annoying.” Then I came in and said, “Me! The Interrupter!”
We weren't legally supposed to be doing it because it technically belonged to NBC, but we went ahead and did it anyway. We even made reference to it being an infringement of copyright. Aubrey Plaza was on the show that night, and I got a photo of her with The Interrupter. She did an evil, Interrupter-like face in the photo, which was really sweet.
Her and Ron Funches were on that show. It was an especially fun way to go out with two people I love so much. And it was really great that The Interrupter was the last thing I ever did after 18 years with Conan.