Lisa Kudrow told ex-boyfriend Conan O’Brien he was a ‘no one’ when he took over David Letterman’s former talk show spot in 1993

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Lisa Kudrow told her then-boyfriend Conan O’Brien he was a ‘no one’ – in an effort to bolster his spirits – as he took on the massive task of appearing in the late night NBC slot once manned by David Letterman in 1993.

The exchange was chronicled in a new Vanity Fair piece documenting an oral history of the first year of the Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

The actress, 60, who played Phoebe Buffay on the sitcom Friends, explained that she sought to relax O’Brien in expressing to him that whoever was to try to take the spot couldn’t be an established name. 

SNL alums Chevy Chase and Dennis Miller both had short-lived runs on late night in the same timeframe, in the wake of the 1992 retirement of the late Johnny Carson; the Vanity Fair piece indicates NBC was looking at the late Garry Shandling for the spot.

‘I don’t know how much we talked about it,’ Kudrow told the publication. ‘I just knew, “You’re trying to replace David Letterman. No one replaces David Letterman. You’re no one.” It can’t be anybody that an audience would know.’

Conan was pictured in NYC in November

Lisa Kudrow, 60, told her then-boyfriend Conan O’Brien, 60, he was a ‘no one’ – in an effort to bolster his spirits – as he took on the massive task of appearing in the late night NBC slot once manned by David Letterman in 1993

The Friends star was a guest on O'Brien's NBC series in 1995

The Friends star was a guest on O’Brien’s NBC series in 1995 

O’Brien, 60, said in the piece that auditioning for the hosting slot was akin to ‘linguine meeting marinara sauce for the first time,’ and that there were a number of growing pains along his path to establishing himself as a steady presence on late night.

O’Brien, who hit the air on NBC in September 1993, said he and his team ‘were very naïve’ and ‘just had to go through the spanking machine’ in order to cement himself in the spot.

‘I had to develop from a fetal pig to a full-size pig in front of America,’ O’Brien said. ‘And that just had to happen. There was no way around it.’

O’Brien dealt with potential cancellation in his first year, but an appearance from Letterman himself in February 1994 helped buoy O’Brien’s confidence and ratings.

He turned the corner months later, as his summer 1994 season saw increased ratings, with college age people driving his surge in popularity.

‘Suddenly the audiences became great,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know what was happening. And then it dawned on me. Colleges let out. So college students started to come.’

Kudrow told Vanity Fair of O’Brien’s persistence: ‘He just kept showing up as him. 

‘He just kept being himself, with his own kind of humor and comedy, where if you just keep doing it, then people get it: “Oh, that’s you. This isn’t an awkward thing. It’s you.”‘

Late night icon David Letterman, 76, was pictured in LA at an event this past March

Late night icon David Letterman, 76, was pictured in LA at an event this past March

In all, the series Late Night with Conan O'Brien ran for more than 2700 episodes from 1993-2009

In all, the series Late Night with Conan O’Brien ran for more than 2700 episodes from 1993-2009 

The former couple reunited for a virtual appearance on Conan on TBS in 2020

The former couple reunited for a virtual appearance on Conan on TBS in 2020

In all, the series Late Night with Conan O’Brien ran more than 2700 episodes from 1993-2009, ending with O’Brien’s ill-fated overtaking of The Tonight Show.

The show would win an Emmy in 2007 for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program amid 28 nominations it racked up during its 16-year run.

Following his departure from NBC amid acrimonious circumstances in 2010, O’Brien inked a deal with TBS, where he stayed until 2021 with his talk show Conan for more than 1,400 episodes.

On his final episode in June of 2021, O’Brien said, ‘My advice to anyone watching right now – and it’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to do, but try; try and do what you love with people you love. If you can manage that, it’s the definition of heaven on Earth.’

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