• 05.20.11

Conan O’Brien’s Guide To Creativity

Our cover comedian talks about improvising to find the funny, learning from smart CEOs–also, horse betting, surfing, and marinating.

Conan O'Brien collage for FC cover

Most Creative People in Business 2011When we visited his office on the Warner Bros. lot for this
year’s 100 Most Creative People in Business package, Conan O’Brien opened up
about how he works. He’s an analytical guy. He thinks a lot about the creative process, how to turn a
half-baked idea from a morning brainstorm into comedy gold (or a diamond–see below) by the
4:30 p.m. taping of his TBS late-night show.


In addition to our story, a running account of O’Brien putting
together a show last month, here he is talking at more length. For all the
preparation he does, the best material often comes from going off-script and reacting
in the moment. Which is like surfing. We’ll let him explain.

For audio from our Conan interview, click here. But these are his curated comments on creativity:

Creating a show is
like playing the horses.

No, wait–it’s
really like making of a jewel.

Prepare like crazy so
you can wing it.

Improvising is like


Creativity should be
fun. Seriously.

Fostering a
collective comic sensibility is like cooking.

What Conan has
learned from CEOs.

Conan’s pep talk to
the staff.

Follow Conan O’Brien on Twitter.

Follow Chuck Salter on Twitter.


About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.