A Far-From-Cheap Oral History of ‘Joel’s Antique Booth’ from ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’
On the PBS series Antiques Roadshow, ordinary people can bring in their family heirlooms to be appraised by expert antique dealers. Sometimes their items are worth a fortune; other times, the hosts have to politely let the guest down. If you were to take your treasures over to “Joel’s Antique Booth” on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, however, you were guaranteed to get a far less courteous response.
“It’s crap!” Conan’s announcer, Joel Godard, would shout in his velvety baritone. “Take a hike, dumbass!” was another popular Godard response. When a distraught woman found out that her antique pillow was worth just 98 cents, she said to Godard, “I thought it would be worth a few thousand dollars.” To which Godard snapped back, “Only if it was stuffed with cocaine!”
The surly announcer always got his comeuppance, though. The final item during the segment would generally be some cursed ancient artifact that would explode or result in a mummy strangling him — something that rarely happened on Antiques Roadshow. It was a typically silly and surreal recurring sketch from the beloved days of Late Night. And because memories are priceless — even to the dastardly Godard — both the announcer and longtime Conan writer Brian Stack stopped by our interview booth to share how they infused the bit with such value.
Joel Godard, Announcer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien: Oh, I know nothing about antiques. I don’t think I’ve ever even watched Antiques Roadshow. I loved doing “Joel’s Antique Booth,” though; they were a lot of fun.
Brian Stack, Writer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien: Ironically enough, I watch Antiques Roadshow a lot these days because I’m a middle-aged man and it’s mandatory, but back when I wrote the “Joel’s Antique Booth” bits for Late Night I hadn’t watched it at all. I knew it was popular, but I was under the mistaken impression that the appraisers were kind of snotty and dismissive. In reality, while they’re honest, they’re very kind, warm people.
Anyway, from that mistaken impression, I got this idea to apply the premise to Joel and make him a complete jerk who would tell people their stuff was worthless and to “hit the bricks” or something. Joel’s an incredibly nice guy, and over the course of Late Night, we all learned that Joel was willing to do anything, so it was always fun to think of new ideas for him. He always committed to whatever we threw at him.
Godard: We started this sketch back in 1999, before Andy Richter left the show. I know Conan liked it, but I don’t think we did it again until a few years later, after Andy left. I ended up doing more and more sketches after he’d left.
If you watch the “Joel’s Antique Booth” sketches on YouTube, there are some familiar faces bringing me their antiques. There’s some of our writers, like Andy Blitz and Allison Silverman. There was also one with Jack McBrayer, years before 30 Rock. In that one, after telling him his family’s antique serving dish was worthless, I punched him in the face and said, “Back to the cotton fields, Gomer!” He was on the show a lot back then. He grew up near where I did in Georgia, and one day, as a gift, I left him an RC Cola and a Moon Pie — that’s as down-home as you can get.
There’s another one where I got strangled by a mummy at the end. I think it was Stack who played the mummy. I can’t remember.
Stack: I’m 95 percent sure that mummy is me. He moves like me and kind of has my posture. That’s also why I played Frankenstein so much on Late Night.
Godard: The ending of the mummy one is funny because he’s only supposed to strangle me for a few seconds, but Conan dragged it out for almost a minute. He held off on the commercial break and kept having the camera cut back to us over and over again as I was getting strangled. Conan loved to do stuff like that, and the gleefulness with which he’d tease us was such fun. Conan was always at his best when he went off-book.
Unfortunately, it’s not online, but my very favorite segment of “Joel’s Antique Booth” was one where a woman brought me this heirloom and I examined it and said, “Oh my, do you know what this is?” Then I pulled out a little sign that just said “CRAP.”
After that sketch, I took that “CRAP” sign and hung it above the mirror in my announce booth. It stayed there for the entire rest of Late Night. It was my little way of keeping my ego in check — it was my announcer humility equalizer.