Sona Movsesian

‘Worst Assistant in the World’ Sona Movsesian Set to Be Best MC

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LOS ANGELES — Sona Movsesian has come a long way from being known jokingly as the “world’s worst assistant” to talk show and podcast legend Conan O’Brien to a podcast host and author.

Movsesian is O’Brien’s sidekick on the podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” along with the show’s producer Matt Gourley. O’Brien’s podcast is one of the most downloaded on iTunes; It is routinely in the top 20 and has been downloaded at least 250 million times. The guests don’t disappoint — from Martin Short and Steve Martin to Bruce Springsteen and both Michelle and Barack Obama.

The contrast in styles makes for a particularly delicious aural recipe. O’Brien and Movsesian always come across as bickering siblings who secretly adore each other.

Said Movsesian, “When I first started working for him [O’Brien], I was kind of buttoned up. I was working for a TV legend. I really wanted to make him proud. Now, it’s 14 years later. To give you an example of our relationship change, he is the godfather of my twin boys,” she said. “We’ve become much closer. We’re like family. I also don’t assist him as much as I used to. I’m much more of a podcast co-host. He is like a surrogate brother to me. I send him videos and photos of my kids all the time. I think it’s safe to say our relationship has evolved from a boss-assistant relationship to that of a brother-sister, a more familial relationship.”

A running joke on the podcast is that one of Movsesian’s twin children, Charlie, did not laugh at a joke and Conan is demanding an apology from him. Charlie, 2 now, committed the unforgivable deed when he was 6 months old.

With her booming laugh, she said, “He [Conan] is not going to forgive him forever. When you are a comedian and you are giving your best material to a six-month old and he doesn’t give you what you need, you are going to remember it forever.” She added, “Charlie is kind of done in Conan’s book.”

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When interviewed by the Mirror-Spectator in in 2016 and 2020, life was very different for Movsesian. The pandemic had yet to happen and her twin sons, Mikey and Charlie, were not in the picture.

In a skit Conan O’Brien bought a “new” car for Sona Movsesian

And just how is motherhood for this ultra-chill woman?

“It’s a lot. They just started school. They were both bawling and sobbing, which is really not fun. It has changed my priorities a lot,” she said.

She added that now work is not the central focus of her life.

“[Before the babies work] dictated what I did day to day, I gave a lot of myself to it and I was always available when we needed to travel,” she said. “Having kids changed all that. I am more interested in whether my boys are pooping than whether Conan gets to an event on time.”

She added, “Conan was, for a very long time, the person I prioritized because that’s what you do when you are an assistant.

“First my husband came along and Conan fell down the ranks with that and when these two guys came along, everything else just took a back seat to them. Conan has to compete with two toddlers for attention now,” she said.

Her husband, Tak Boroyan, and O’Brien have developed a close friendship separate from Movsesian’s relationship with O’Brien.

“They have a very special bromance, Tak and Conan. They have a very special bond and I don’t want to mess with it,” she added.

Movsesian is proud to call herself the world’s worst assistant, and exude a slacker image, though of course, that is far from the truth. Her cool contrasts well with the more expressive and cerebral O’Brien.

Another contrast between them is that Movsesian’s love of trash TV such as the ultra-icky reality shows “Bad Girls Club” and “Gigolos,” much to the chagrin of O’Brien, who is a devotee of history books especially pertaining to the Civil War. “I love guilty pleasure TV. Most people would not tell their boss who is a comedy icon that they like those things but I am unapologetic about it.”

The first time O’Brien fans saw Movsesian on his TBS show was in a taped segment in which Conan comes to Movsesian’s desk after she fired off a company-wide email complaining that someone swiped her “Gigolos” mug. (“Gigolos” ran for six seasons on Showtime and was about a group of men in Las Vegas who were, well, gentlemen of the night.)

Sona Movsesian

“I sent that email because I was so fed up. An hour later he showed up at my desk. That’s one of the things that shows the spontaneity of it. Conan was able to make an entire segment of it based on me not finding my mug,” she said.

The skit is both ridiculous and ridiculously clever as O’Brien goes from desk to desk asking about the mug and realizing that many on his staff like drinking on the job. His completely serious face and unexpected questions contrast with the reactions of his staff, including Movsesian, who seem like students caught red-handed by the teacher.

Podcast Star

Movsesian was modest about how popular her podcast is.

She explained: “You have no idea who’s listening, you have no idea where they are when they are listening. There are times when we do a live show, like the Beacon Theater in New York or the Wiltern in LA and there are thousands of people watching. And that’s when you get an idea of how popular it is.”

The hosts have done a handful of live episodes in theaters. “They are so outside my comfort zone. There is a moment when I feel my soul leaves my body and I am just looking at myself and asking what are you doing talking to Stephen Colbert in front of 3,000 people?”

And the fact that people know her blows her mind, too, she noted. “Sometimes I will walk around and some random person will ask me how Mikey and Charlie are doing.”

The podcast has topnotch guests whom O’Brien interviews, such as Sir Paul McCartney, Bryan Cranston and Kelly Clarkson, with liberal doses of comments by Movsesian and Gourley. Another type of show the crew does now is a weekly segment when O’Brien will talk to a fan. “The fans can be all over the world and when they talk about how much they listen to the podcast and how much they love us, I understand how big the scope is. But if I sat down and thought about the fact that millions of people listen to the idiocy we create in the studio every day, it would get in my head. I just try not to think about it. I don’t want to let that pollute my brain.”

She gave full credit for the success of the podcast to O’Brien. “The podcast is popular because of Conan. Bar none, it’s him. What people are noticing is how quick he is, how funny he is. It’s all unscripted. Everything he says, the comedy bits, it’s all off the top of his head, in the moment. Even after 14 years, watching him come up with the stuff that he comes up with, I’m like how does your Brian work like that? How does that happen? It’s really incredible to watch.”

She added, I’m very lucky to be a supporting character in it. My job is not to do a lot of heavy lifting. He does all the heavy lifting and he can make anyone around him charming and funny.

Movsesian exudes the kind of happy-in-her-own-skin attitude that most people can only dream about even when O’Brien has on Michelle Obama or Harrison Ford. To her, it seems they are just normal folks.

“I don’t know why I don’t get more clammed up when I meet people like Michelle Obama,” she said. “Certain people do a very good job of making you feel at ease and reminding you that they are just a human being and as much as they have accomplished in life and they would prefer the people around them treat them normally,” Movsesian explained.

That sangfroid, however, was tested a handful of times: twice with basketball standouts Magic Johnson and the late Kobe Bryant, guitarist Slash of Guns ‘n Roses, who was her first crush, and two US presidents.

“Certain people have held a place not just in my life but in the life of my family. My family immigrated here [from Turkey] and one of the things they really connected with was Lakers basketball. So meeting legends that were part of that team was not only just a big deal for me but for my family,” she explained.

Another group that made her somewhat starstruck included presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

“When I met Jimmy Carter, I remember I just started crying. It has something to do with the knowledge that my family immigrated here. It all ties back to where I come from. Meeting a president as a granddaughter of Genocide survivors and daughter of immigrants and getting to have these moments that I meet people very important to our lives here, it really hits me.”

History of Trust

One of the reasons O’Brien and Movsesian get along so well is the implicit trust O’Brien has in her, as she was there and had his back when his world crumbled around him.

“When I first started working for Conan [in 2009], not only was he about to start one of the most storied franchises in late night history [“The Tonight Show”] — probably the most storied — but he was moving his entire staff and family cross country,” she said.

Less than a year later, in 2010, the whole thing imploded in a debacle when O’Brien felt he had no choice but to leave “The Tonight Show” on NBC because its former host, Jay Leno, who had retired from the show, decided he wanted back in. O’Brien has spoken about the toll the episode took on him. To take his mind off it, he embarked on a standup tour of the US, which was successful beyond his expectations. Movsesian was with him every step of the way.

“We go on this multicity national tour for two months. I think we would have gotten to the point that we are in our relationship, but that kind of sped it up. Very early on, I became someone he could talk to and bounce ideas off of,” she explained.

In addition, the “Tonight Show” saga was fodder for gossip columns and the paparazzi who were throwing everything at the people involved for morsels. Movsesian never broke rank at this difficult time and in fact made life easier for O’Brien by taking him to and from work in her old car, thus eluding the photographers who were expecting the host to emerge in a high-end car.

In addition, she noted, she loves his sense of humor. “If you listen to the podcast you know I love to laugh. And I don’t think there is anything more valuable to a comedian than someone around them who loves laughing. I love laughing and he loves to make people laugh.”

Shortly after the drama, he ended up on TBS with a new talk show, “Conan,” which he ended in 2021.

Sona Movsesian with Conan O’Brien in Armenia, at Garni Temple

Traveling to Armenia

O’Brien often does travel shows too, taking his camera crew around the world, from Cuba to Ghana, and Mexico to Israel, with one of the best episodes in Armenia in 2015.

Watching the lanky O’Brien (try to) dance in full Armenian traditional garb in front of Garni temple or learning the Armenian affectionate expression which literally translates into “let me eat your liver,” is priceless. Along the way they visit a matchmaker to find a husband for the then-single Movsesian, as her grandmother had requested right before the group left Los Angeles, and get O’Brien a bit part in an Armenian soap.

“I think that of all the things I’ve done with Conan, that’s what I am most proud of. There are still moments where it’s surreal to think I went for my very first trip to Armenia with Conan O’Brien who is a late night host I used to watch when I was younger. Fast forward how many years and not only am I working for him but he is taking me to Armenia for the first time. When my time with Conan ends, whenever that is, probably when he does, I am going to look back on my career and without hesitation that’s going to be the thing I am going to be most proud of,” she said.

The show led to many positive and permanent changes in Movsesian’s life.

She explained: “Something that not many people know is that after that episode, I was inundated with Facebook friend requests from people who had watched it. Six months later I went to Comicon [comic book convention] and met my husband. He was one of the Facebook friend requests that had been sent to me months earlier. When I accepted, he and I started talking. So in a way that episode is responsible not only for my marriage but for my family.”

In addition, her grandmother passed away a few months after that episode. “It’s a beautiful reminder of my life at that moment. I still am so grateful that Conan wanted to go and that he made an episode that not only Armenians can be proud of but non-Armenians can watch.”

Movsesian has not been back to Armenia since then, but she said she is “desperate to” return, especially since her husband, Tak, is from Armenia.

Tak and his family moved to the US when he was 11. “When [the twins] are old enough, definitely it’s a trip I want to take with my family,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to going back without cameras following me.”

Sona Movsesian on her wedding day with husband Tak Boroyan

Book

Movsesian’s first book, The World’s Worst Assistant, got very good reviews and made it to the New York Times best seller list. She also was featured in the New York Times.

“I don’t look at myself as a writer. I didn’t know how to write a book,” she said, adding that one of her friends had encouraged her to do.

“It was the perfect time to write it. I got pregnant and had my kids, which is essentially the end of my time assisting Conan,” she said.

Her message in the book is to enjoy what you do and don’t give yourself over completely over to it, all with some humorous content.

She explained, “There is this contingent of people like me that want to make a paycheck that sustains their lifestyle but also doesn’t’ want to fully give in to making work the most important aspect of their life.”

She is still pleasantly surprised by the book’s success.

I never thought I would become a NYT bestseller. “They called and told me and it was a very surreal moment,” she recalled. “It’s a better reception than I would get.”

For now, she is loving her work and life situation.  “My husband is my soulmate on a personal level, but Conan is my soulmate on a professional level. I want to ride this Irish wave until he dies, because he is probably going to work until he is 95,” she joked.

To hear “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” and its sister programs, log onto https://www.earwolf.com/show/conan-obrien/ or visit any major platform, including iTunes and Spotify.

(Movsesian will be the master of ceremonies for the 90th anniversary gala of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, on October 28, at the Boston Marriott Burlington Hotel. For more information or to support about the gala, visit https://givebutter.com/UMfFcB.)

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