What Conan O’Brien’s Assistant Learned Working for Him

What Conan O'Brien's Assistant Learned Working for Him
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  • Sona Movsesian was an NBC page and took the assistant position with an internal recommendation.
  • Movsesian says he and Conan have an unusual boss-employee relationship.
  • He shares three important lessons he learned about working in Hollywood.

This essay is based on a conversation with Conan O’Brien’s assistant and New York Times bestselling author Sona Movsesian.The worst assistant in the world.” Edited for length and clarity.

I have been Conan O’Brien’s assistant since 2009.

Of course, everyone is replaceable and I could be fired tomorrow, but I’ve considered myself irreplaceable in my job, and so I get away with a lot when I work for Conan. I push the boundaries of what a normal assistant should or shouldn’t do. In the majority

So, with Conan’s blessing (and her foreword), I wrote a book called “”.The worst assistant in the world“It’s currently a New York Times bestseller. There are some very important techniques and tips in there – how to sleep at work, how to watch a feature film at your desk without alerting your co-workers, or how to generally do the least amount of work possible.

Could this tip get you fired? Yes Yes. It could be. Or maybe your situation is like mine, you could write a book about it instead.

I have not always tried to get away from my work. In fact, when I started I was quite the opposite – I worked really hard at my jobs, always trying to impress and go above and beyond. I wanted a career in television and I was willing to work hard for it.

When I started in the entertainment business, there was a whole culture of paying your dues and giving yourself completely to your work—compromising who you are and what you want to achieve, whether it’s getting a job or hiring your boss. happy.

I thought I should do it. Until he started working for Conan.

The way I got my job was pretty simple

Before I started working as Conan’s assistant, I interned at NBC and then became a page. After that I got a job at NBC and while I was working there I heard that Jonah’s show was moving to LA. I remember going to HR and saying, “Hey, I want to work on Conan’s show.”

I didn’t have a plan on how I was going to be on the show. I just knew I wanted to work on it. The human resources department said they will announce the jobs in the fall. I checked the website every day until a PA job was posted. I applied and was surprisingly brought in for an interview as Conan’s assistant.

I had my first interview, which was very professional and straightforward, and then I had my second interview with Conan and two producers. I think right away they could see that I was cool under pressure – an important trait for a Hollywood assistant.

Plus, right before my interview, the publicist for Late Night at NBC, who I crossed paths with, texted Conan and said, “Sona is a rock star” or something along those lines. I feel like now she should probably apologize to Conan for lying to him about it. But I really think that for me, having that inner confidence set me over the edge to get hired.

There is a whole world of personal assistants who are willing to go the extra mile: they will go to their boss’s house, fill all the flowers, sprinkle rose petals around the bathroom and fill the bath with lavender…

I think Conan must have run into a few of them when he was doing the interview, but I was someone who obviously loved television and knew what it was about, and I think we both felt that it was something that could really work.

The subsequent relationship was unexpected for both of us. But I learned some pretty important lessons from Conan during the 13 years I was his assistant.

1. Being professional isn’t as helpful to a comedian as having a sense of humor

When I first started, I remember looking back on my working relationship with Conan, and I was so fixated. Conan always teased and joked around the office, but when I first started there was a very strong mutual professionalism and respect.

The breaking point of our professional dynamics started about three months ago – one day I was talking to my grandmother in Armenian on the phone. When I hung up, Conan said, “What was that?” I told him I was talking to my grandmother and he said, “Oh, you’re arguing with Dracula.” That was joke number one.

Once I met my father and started joking about his mustache. His story was that my father made my brother out of wood because he was Gepetto the puppeteer.

After a year, he told people that I was born on the island of Armenia, and my father grazed goats. Apparently there was an attack, and my father put me in a basket, and I sailed into this country, where I jumped out of a bush as Conan was walking down the street, and he thought, “Oh, I’ll tame this man, and make him my assistant.”

It was just riff after riff.

I think our dynamic would have been very different if I hadn’t laughed at the joke he made about me when I argued with Dracula – but I laughed then and at all the other ridiculous things he said about me. I think I realized I have a sense of humor.

And I admitted that she really appreciates having someone around to talk to and laugh with. We both let the professionalism slip between us. Now there are just none left. Conan went from being just my boss to my friend and surrogate brother – as the dynamic changed, so did my work ethic.

2. You don’t have to act like trash to get promoted in Hollywood

Not only did Conan let me be myself early on, he got a kick out of it — and made sure his audience did, too.

Being on screen with Conan was not something I expected. It was really organic. Conan is good at using the people around him for comedy. And so he began to put me on the air in pieces. I think it was the biggest one day when I lost my cup, and I wrote a very scathing email to the entire cast, which was a total abuse of that email list — every person who worked on the show and everyone at the network, all the executives — everyone. And I’m just like, “Where’s my cup?” And an hour later Conan shows up at my desk and he has a camera crew. From there it just turned into something.

I think what Conan appreciates about me is that I don’t try to put her on camera. I don’t really change who I am. I have no desire to be in front of the camera. I have no hope of being the next Conan. I think I’d be fine if it was all over tomorrow and he didn’t use me a little bit or I wasn’t on the podcast – and I think he likes that about me.

I also think our dynamic is just fun to watch. When you put a camera on it, people are like, this can’t be real. And then they get interested when they realize it’s real. I think what fascinates people is that authority is a complex concept in Conan and my dynamic.

He’s the boss – he hired me, he pays me, and he can eventually fire me. But sometimes, I really don’t. I talk back to him. I forget important things. I ignore the things he thinks are important. But at the end of the day, Conan knows that I would do anything for him or his family and he can trust me.

My job is to make sure Conan has everything she needs and is somewhere she needs to be. To do that, I don’t have to have the boss-assistant relationship with him that everyone expects. And Conan knows that he doesn’t have to treat me like the back of a human centipede to do that.

3. I don’t need to ‘move up’ from being a helper. Everything I want in a job, right here

I don’t know how I got off the ambition wagon, but I’m thankful for it. When I first started, I was like a lot of people. I wanted to take over the network. I wanted to work in development or programming or planning or research — I wanted to run a show and I thought, ‘I’m going to take over TV.’

Then I saw many people in that position. I’m not going to say that CEOs don’t like their jobs. I’m sure they do. But I also think they feel like they’re constantly on the chopping block. I think they always feel like people want their jobs or if new management comes in they will rebuild everything and they won’t have jobs anymore.

None of this appealed to me. I wanted to be happy at work and not feel this fear and pressure.

When I got my job at the Tonight Show, I loved going to work every week. There are many people who dread going to work on Monday. I never felt it worked for Conan. I began to understand how special it was and how valuable it was. I’m working with, in my opinion, the funniest person on television, and I’m working on a show that I’m proud of. I realized that I don’t have to keep looking for the next thing. I think I’ll be Conan’s sidekick until he dies – riding this wave as long as I can.

A few years ago, I would have thought it crazy that I was still an assistant. Most people don’t think of an entertainment assistant job as a permanent job. Sure, there are people who are career assistants, but I’ve never seen myself as one.

But I get to work with people I love, Conan asks me my thoughts on things, and everything I want from a job is in this role. I don’t want to go anywhere else.

I don’t know if it’s ambition – I think my ambition has changed to something else.

My old self (back in my NBC page days) looked at me and thought, wait—are you still an assistant? But then my page would look at me and say wait – you wrote a book and finished it? Are you on the New York Times bestseller list? This was never on the vision board. Are you on the podcast? Do you even know what a podcast is?

When I was a page, I never imagined I would end up here, and that’s a good thing. Keeping an open mind has served me well.

If I can inspire even one person to quit a job that makes them miserable, I’d be happy

I think a big part of being lucky is that I can go with the flow. I had family around me, so if I didn’t like a job, I was privileged to leave it and have the financial and emotional support to do it. I know a lot of people are not in this situation and I understand that. But I want to empower people to quit miserable jobs—and that’s one of the goals of my book.

I think everyone just wants to work with people who treat them with respect and be compensated appropriately, whether you’re a Hollywood assistant or working at the local grocery store.

Unfortunately, if you want to work in an industry as competitive as television, whether you get it or not, you’re going to have a chance.

Alternatively, if that doesn’t work, you can read my book for tips and tricks on how to abuse your corporate card without hacking. Or how to use your pregnancy in the workplace.

But I really hope that people will read The World’s Worst Assistant and see that there are exceptions to what they consider to be the rule for this industry, and hopefully they’ll start demanding more for themselves.

If you work in Hollywood and want to share your story, email Eboni Boykin-Patterson at

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