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Originally published April 15, 2010 at 7:00 PM | Page modified April 16, 2010 at 4:28 AM

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What's Conan O'Brien like? Just ask his Seattle in-laws

Comedian Conan O'Brien wasn't able to talk about his recent TV travails, but his in-laws, a member of Pearl Jam and other locals have lots to say about him.

Seattle Times staff columnist


Conan O'Brien

Sunday and Monday, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $37.50-$77.50, (800-745-3000 or )


Tonight in Prime Time

So this wisenheimer your daughter married loses his job to a guy who thinks he's a comedian.

And he isn't just called into a room and told to pack up his stuff. This thing was like the Fourth of July at the National Mall. The whole country was watching, oohing and ahhing at every blast.

You feel bad for him, for this was his dream job; something he'd been working toward his whole life. But he got a hell of a severance package, and your daughter is still laughing when you talk on the phone.

"They're doing great," Jake Powel says of his son-in-law, Conan O'Brien, and his daughter, Liza, who were married at Seattle's St. James Cathedral in 2002. "Conan really has, for the first time in a decade, had the chance to think about what he wants to do with his career."

(TBS officials announced earlier this week that O'Brien will host an 11 p.m. show weeknights starting in November on the basic-cable network.)

In the three months since NBC tipped O'Brien out of "The Tonight Show" chair and rolled it back to former host Jay Leno, O'Brien has collected a $32 million severance package, which prohibits him from speaking to the press.

But the network's about-face spawned an "I'm With Coco" army on Facebook (O'Brien was given the nickname by Tom Hanks). And in his time off the air, O'Brien grew a beard and kept up a Twitter account. (A sampling: "just celebrated the end of Lent by eating 22 sleeves of Peeps. My religion rocks!" "I'm confused by the new census form. There's no box for 'Sickly White.' ").

On Monday, he launched his 30-city "The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour," which stops at Seattle's McCaw Hall on Sunday and Monday.

The show will include his former co-host Andy Richter, along with members of the former "Tonight Show" band, save for leader and drummer Max Weinberg. Seattle beat-boxer Reggie Watts is also on the bill.

Powel knows that when the tour hits Seattle, Conan and Liza will spend time at his Seward Park home, where Powel, a retired insurance man and jazz musician, and his wife, Pamela, will keep a happy eye on their grandkids, Neve and Beckett.

"We're either baby-sitting or we're just kind of hanging out together at our house," Powel said of their plans. "My daughter has a lot of friends here, and Conan loves to hang out with them."

It all sounds pretty normal — even the O'Briens' $10 million house in Brentwood, Calif., which Powel described as "fairly modest."

"If you were to take that house and put it in Seattle, it would be a nice house in Mount Baker," he said. "Not a Guy Lombardo villa."

O'Brien met Liza Powel when he was hosting "Late Night." They were making a commercial makeover for the "worst advertisers" on one of NBC's affiliates in Texas, and Liza Powel's company was hired to produce it. She appeared on camera with Conan, "and you could see the connection forming right in front of your eyes," Powel recalled. "Not too many parents get to see that."

She brought him home, he brought her home and a year or so later, Liza and Conan were sitting with Madison Park florist Martha Harris, picking out flowers for their wedding. Liza had worked for Harris when she was living in Seattle.

"I had heard that she was dating him through a friend of hers who was working for me," Harris said. "I thought, 'Good job. New York was a good move.' "

(They picked green orchids and red roses for the service at St. James, in case you were wondering).

When O'Brien kicked off "The Tonight Show" in 2009, he chose Seattle's Pearl Jam as his first musical guest. Workers were still putting the backstage area together when the band arrived.

"The show was running right down to the wire," said Mike McCready, Pearl Jam's lead guitarist. "I just remember how cool Conan was to us backstage. We talked some Seattle stuff. He likes it here.

"We were, of course, honored and excited to be part of his first show," McCready said. "I loved it. I still have the sign with our name with the 'Tonight Show' logo on it. I ripped it from the door when I got there."

Just seven months later, NBC announced that Leno's name would go back on the door.

The Powels traveled to Los Angeles to watch O'Brien host "The Tonight Show" for the last time.

"It was very impressive," Jake Powel said. "He made a classic comment at the end of the show, telling people to be kind. He has always taken the high road and has always been classy about the way he handles things."

The show staff, without knowing that the Powels were family, raved about their boss.

"He's a great guy and his ambition all his life was to be Johnny Carson, that kind of person," Powel said of O'Brien. "He loves doing that, loves making people laugh and being in touch with what's going on, here and now.

"And I think he's going to keep doing that," he said, "one way or another."

Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or

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