Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Conan O’Brien Once Met His ‘Hero’ John Candy and It Was ‘Everything’

Conan O’Brien Once Met His ‘Hero’ John Candy and It Was ‘Everything’

Conan O’Brien once spent a day with his comedic “hero” John Candy, and the legendary actor was “everything” O’Brien hoped he’d be. 

The late-night star attended Havard University before becoming a legend in his own right. He went to the Ivy League institution for a degree in History and Lecture, despite having secret dreams of becoming an entertainer—dreams that were fueled by Candy. 

As a young boy, O’Brien watched a John Candy skit on Second City Television. In it, Candy played a character named “Yellowbelly,” and O’Brien couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of the story. 

“One night, my brothers came and woke me up and said there’s this thing on TV that’s so amazing. It was like finding a rare jewel,” he told Howard Stern during a 2022 interview. “They showed me SCTV… It is so wrong, and I laughed so hard.” 

Fast forward to O’Brien’s college days—John Candy asked to tour Harvard University, and Conan O’Brien was the lucky student who got to facilitate it. The future Simpsons writer even got to pick Candy up from the airport. Once they were in the car together, they instantly bonded. 

“I’m sorry, Mr. Candy, but …. Yellowbelly?” O’Brien said to break the ice. The Uncle Buck star responded with “a big John Candy laugh” and agreed that the sketch was wild. 

John Candy Pushed Conan O’Brien Towards His Comedic Dreams

O’Brien remembered how natural it was for Candy to be “over-the-top funny” and how easy he was to talk to. 

The university had given O’Brien a list of intimidating instructions to follow while handling the celebrity. But Candy wasn’t a typical diva, and he also didn’t want to follow the rules. 

Before returning to Harvard, Candy asked his chauffeur to stop the car and walk him around campus. O’Brien happily obliged. But Candy’s first request was to stop at a bakery, despite him being on the Pritikin diet, which didn’t allow for sugary indulgences. 

“We go into the pastry shop, and he goes, ‘I’ll have one of those, one of those, one of those, one of those’ — and they start stacking all these different eclairs into a box,” O’Brien recalled. 

When John Candy realized Conan O’Brien was worried about the instructions that explicitly called out the comedian’s diet, Candy nudged him and quietly said, “Don’t worry, kid — they’re Pritikin eclairs!’” 

Later that day, O’Brien found himself alone with his hero in the Harvard Lampoon building. So he took the chance to tell Candy that he also wanted to try a career in comedy. 

“His head whipped around. He looked me right in the eye, and he said, ‘You don’t try comedy. You do it or you don’t do it,’” O’Brien said. 

Conan O’Brien said Candy’s words “hit” him “powerfully,” and it was in that moment that he realized he had to put all of his effort into his dreams. So, instead of taking the LSAT as he planned, he just dove right into a career in Hollywood.

“I’m not going to have a backup,” he remembered thinking. “This just has to work.”

As for his lasting impression of John Candy?

“What I remember most clearly,” said O’Brien, “is he was everything I wanted him to be. He was John Candy.”