“The World’s Worst Assistant,” a new memoir by Sona Movsesian, recounts what happens when an ambitious young woman who excelled at both the Burger King drive-through and the NBC page program managed to turn things around when she landed a job as Conan O’Brien’s assistant — a deal she sealed by asking if she could lie down during the interview.
“The HR rep told me that Conan liked my couch joke,” she writes. “I got my job working for Conan because I made a joke about being lazy — foreshadowing at its best.”
Thirteen years later, Movsesian, who co-hosts the podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” has amassed plenty of skills and work experiences rarely boasted about on LinkedIn. Once, for example, she watched 58 episodes of “Friends” on the clock over a four-day period because she’d heard that Robert De Niro’s assistant had watched 55. Sleeping on the job? How to “abuse your corporate card without technically embezzling”? “Worst Assistant” has illustrated guides for that.
But Movsesian’s story is not about celebrating laziness or ineptitude. It’s about how two flawed people who were meant to be together found each other: a boss accepting an employee for who she is and how she does her job, and an employee accepting her boss for everything that he is.
“I give Sona the space to be Sona (see book),” O’Brien writes in the foreword, “and she in turn gives me the space to knock a delicious cupcake out of her hand just as she is about to take a bite.”
Here, the world’s worst assistant talks about the movie she’s watched the most, the TV she can watch with her kids and the Girl Scout cookies she buys in bulk. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. Cher Cher is a very important person, and not just because of her contributions to culture and fashion. She’s part Armenian, and I’m Armenian. For us, we have very few famous people in the limelight, and no one is bigger than Cher. She’s an icon, and the fact that she’s half Armenian was a really big deal for all of us, especially growing up.
2. The Evil Eye The Evil Eye is in a lot of cultures, including Armenian culture. It’s a round eye that’s usually blue, white and black. It keeps the evil eye away from you. If people are trying to curse you in some way or wish ill upon you, it pushes that away and protects you. It’s in my car. It’s in my house. It’s at work. It’s a big part of who I am as an Armenian and who I am as a human being.
3. “Galaxy Quest” “Galaxy Quest” is the first movie I saw in the theaters four times. When I ran out of people to go with, I went and saw it in the theater by myself. I’d never done anything like that. I don’t know why, I just always felt like it was weird to go to the movies by yourself. “Galaxy Quest” broke that seal for me.
4. Fred Rogers We have twin, 1-year-old boys. My husband and I were like, what could we watch with them that we won’t hate? And so we bought all the old seasons of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The episodes are timeless. There’s an episode where he meets Yo-Yo Ma. After, he’s like: Let’s reflect on how Yo-Yo Ma talked about how he would feel playing the cello. And there is just a minute of complete silence. No one would ever do that now. No one would ever not do anything for a minute.
5. “Cheers” I started bingeing the entire series about six years ago. Then I met the man who would become my husband, and I found out he was also bingeing “Cheers.” We were at almost the same place. When he told me that, I was like: Oh, we have to get married and we have to finish “Cheers” together.
6. The Rock Wrestling was a big part of high school for me. It was like a soap opera I didn’t realize I needed in my life. And The Rock was the most important character. When The Rock left wrestling, he took my wrestling love with him. But I’ll still watch anything he’s in. I don’t care if I’m interested in it, I will abandon my kids and go to the movies for a couple hours.
7. Cock Sparrer When I met my husband, he was in a Cock Sparrer cover band — a British punk rock band. It’s a genre I’d never really gotten into, but when we heard that Cock Sparrer was playing in Santa Cruz, we went and saw them. It was really cool to connect with my husband in that way, to see something that he loved in a genre that he loved and then realize I also really liked it, too.
8. “Step Brothers” Years ago, after I bought a condo, I cut a window in the wall between the kitchen and the living room specifically so I could watch “Step Brothers” while cooking. With Will Ferrell movies, the more you watch them, the more you catch the nuance in things. But I also love that I can put it on, do something else and then stare at the TV at any point and laugh at whatever is happening.
9. Disneyland When I was a kid, I was filled with absolute wonder when I went to Disneyland. My mind would explode. Now I can go there and buy a Popsicle and then five minutes later I can buy popcorn and then two minutes later I can have chicken tenders. I can do Disneyland the way I wanted to do Disneyland as a kid, but I can do it as an adult because I’m paying for it.
10. Girl Scout Cookies Girl Scouts is where I met my core group of friends when I was in elementary school. Today, it doesn’t matter if you’re a co-worker’s daughter or a stranger on the street. If you say “I’m a girl scout — will you buy some cookies?” I will say yes and I will buy an inordinate amount of cookies from you. Most of the time, it’s Samoas.