Emmys 2021: Conan O’Brien’s Big Night Made Him the Real Winner

The biggest night in television’s greatest moments didn’t come from one of the 2021 Emmy Award winners. Instead, the ceremony’s best moments belonged to a non-recipient, Conan O’Brien. Despite a loss early in the evening, O’Brien gave the long event some much-appreciated humor. Without speaking, O’Brien managed to be a major high point of the night. His behavior made him one of the ceremony’s major winners, even if he didn’t take home a trophy. 

Conan O’Brien didn’t win at this year’s Emmys 

O’Brien received a 2021 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Variety Talk Series. His show, Conan, received the nod. Though it was the final season of the long-running series, O’Brien did not take home the prize. Instead, the award went to John Oliver for Last Week Tonight. In his acceptance speech, however, Oliver paid homage to the comedy legend.

“Thank you so much. Like many in this room, I was kind of rooting for Conan, so this is bittersweet,” he said.

“If you have any time in the next week, do what I did and just spend time rewatching clips of Norm [Macdonald] and Conan… It doesn’t get better than that,” he added.

He was still a highlight of the evening

The talk show host walked away empty-handed, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the night’s biggest winners. As Oliver gave his speech, the cameras cut to O’Brien to catch his reaction. He was impeccably celebratory, excitedly waving and shaking his hands in recognition.

Later, O’Brien took matters into his own hands after a few of the night’s wobbly jokes. When the president of the Television Academy, Frank Scherma, took the stage to present the Governor’s Award to Debbie Allen, O’Brien delivered an enduring yet straightforward bit. He encouraged the audience to continue clapping, then stood in salute as Scherma spoke.

His final, arguably best, bit came when Stephen Colbert won for Outstanding Variety Special (Live) for Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020: Democracy’s Last Stand: Building Back America Great Again Better 2020. As the worthy winners took the stage, O’Brien dashed along beside them to the podium. After hugging Colbert, he stood back to listen to the acceptance speech.

“These people behind me are absolutely — most of the people behind me — really deserve this Emmy right now,” Colbert said in a nod to O’Brien’s appearance. 

This was Conan O’Brien’s last Emmys for ‘Conan’

O’Brien’s loss at this year’s Emmy Awards felt particularly caustic because it was his last opportunity to win for his long-running talk show, Conan. That role made him the longest-serving current late-night talk show host in the United States. 28 years after starting his late-night career, O’Brien announced he was leaving his TBS show. Per Deadline, he will begin a new series on HBO Max.

Though he will return to hosting a variety show, the move is a bit of a departure from his typical work. He’s moving to redefine his career, but his smart, silly behavior at the Emmys proves that his comedy has incredible longevity. 

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