The 2021 Primetime Emmys might be the last time comedian Conan O'Brien is at the awards show as a nominee, at least as a late night talk show host. The Conan host did not win any awards Sunday night, but he still found ways to sneak into the spotlight. He even walked up onstage when Stephen Colbert picked up an Emmy for The Late Show's 2020 presidential election night special, even though he wasn't involved.
O'Brien's only nomination for the night was in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category, as his TBS series Conan was nominated for its final season. The show lost to HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver though. When Oliver picked up his award, he paid tribute to O'Brien and the late Norm Macdonald, who died last week. "No one is funnier than Norm Macdonald on late night comedy," Oliver said. "If you have any time in the next week, do what I did and just spend time rewatching clips of Norm and Conan... It doesn't get better than that."
Although Oliver mentioned O'Brien during his speech, he later told reporters backstage he has no plans to share the award with him. "Conan? No, he can take it from my cold, dead hand!" he said. "I realize I said I appreciated him... not that much!" Oliver later said it was "hard to overstate the influence" O'Brien has had on comedy writers. "There's a whole generation of comedy writers who look to Conan to see what their sense of humor on TV for the first time," Oliver added. "He's a monumentally influential figure to a lot of us."
Later, before Television Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma gave his usual speech about television, O'Brien drew all the attention to himself. He stood up and saluted Scherma, and almost stayed that way for Scherma's entire speech. But that was not all for Conan! He made a surprising appearance later on when Stephen Colbert's Election Night 2020: Democracy's Last Stand: Building Back America Great Again Better 2020 won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special (Live). O'Brien had nothing to do with the show, but he jumped onto the stage anyway. His laugh could be heard over everyone, even as Colbert tried to give a serious acceptance speech.
O'Brien chose to end almost 28 consecutive years on late night television by ending his TBS series earlier this year. O'Brien, 58, started his late night show run in 1993 when he took over NBC's Late Night, which he hosted until 2009. After his brief stint on The Tonight Show, he moved to TBS to host Conan. He announced plans to end the series in November 2020 and is now working on a variety show for HBO Max. O'Brien also still hosts his podcast Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend and has other productions through his Conaco production company.