Conan O'Brien and the internet -- The ''Late Night'' host gets his first taste of the new interactive café society

By Dana Kennedy
October 06, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Conan O’Brien, all 6 foot 4 of him, is sprawled on a couch backstage at NBC’s Late Night in Manhattan. He sounds worried, but not about the taping of tonight’s show, which just ended. He’s concerned about his trip downtown with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY to one of the new computer bars — think Starbucks meets MIT — booting up all over the country. ”I’m not highly computer literate,” O’Brien frets. No problem. He’ll get plenty of help. Our plan to accompany O’Brien to the Cyber Cafe in the trendy SoHo district should go without a hitch.

To make sure, I’ve spoken three times by phone with Michael, one of the owners. Cyber Café, like CyberJava in L.A. and Cybersmith in Cambridge, Mass., offers latte lovers the use of 40-megabyte computers with access to online services and the Internet (for $7.50 to $12 per hour). ”Everything’s all set,” promises Michael. ”We’ve got a whole staff to guide you.”

On the limo ride downtown, O’Brien couldn’t be more charming. He’s optimistic about his third season on Late Night, having weathered frequent criticism during the show’s first two seasons. He likes Late Night‘s new opening segment showing him goofily riding a bike to work. ”I’m thinking of bringing it with me to Cannes,” he says. ”It’s that good.”

We’re a few blocks from the Cyber Café. ”They’re probably really excited you’re coming,” I say. ”I hope the place isn’t too jammed.” We stop outside a nearly empty café and check the address. Uh, this is it. We enter, but nobody’s around — just a waitress at the coffee bar in the back. A confused-looking guy named Dino who says he works there appears from behind the bar.

O’Brien takes a seat in front of a PC, mochaccino in hand, and we browbeat a reluctant Dino into introducing him to the Net. The talk-show host, who does not have a computer at home and has been online only a few times, must be the gamest celebrity on the planet. He picks up the mouse eagerly. He’s a huge Elvis fan and wants to see one of the Presley home pages. Dino fulfills this request, then gets a little testy and suggests O’Brien surf some on his own.

O’Brien searches under Artists on the World Wide Web’s Yahoo menu for one of his ”favorites,” Zamfir. He’s disappointed to find that the pan flutist of late-night-TV renown isn’t listed. We drop by the Underground Music Archive, where he checks out new bands, and explore Late Night‘s own site. It’s the first time he’s seen it (”very impressive”). Then we examine nude cyberpinups of Jessica Hahn, Demi Moore, and Cindy Crawford. O’Brien wonders if there are any naked pictures of Bea Arthur. Dino says no.

Customers begin to drift in. One 30ish man named Tom walks up and tells O’Brien that NBC and parent company GE are part of an international conspiracy to distribute dangerous ”nuclear chips.” He hands O’Brien some crumpled leaflets about the ”Trilateral Commission.” ”The last person to see these papers was killed,” Tom says with a smile.

After asking Tom if O’Brien can return to the computer, we log on to America Online so O’Brien can visit a chat room. He wants to sign on as ”Lance” (he just likes the name), but we have to use my password — so he’s stuck with my handle. We try the Flirts Nook, where I suggest that O’Brien begin with the following announcement to provoke a response:

Dkennedy: I have a crush on Conan O’Brien.

Kimmy520: Who’s Conan O’Brien?

Then comes this bold announcement from a 22-year-old New Jersey guy.

Awmarino: I look like Conan O’Brien.

O’Brien describes himself as a beautiful 21-year-old woman from Jersey City and suggests a date.

Dkennedy: Let’s meet at the White Castle by the highway at 11. I’ll be the one in the acid-washed jeans. I’m really fat but I’m really nice.

Awmarino: Are you a brunette?

Dkennedy: I don’t have much hair but I have a nice personality.

Awmarino: Did you go to college?

Dkennedy: I was kicked out for not bathing.

Awmarino: Forget it then. I need a clean woman.

O’Brien looks up from his terminal. An hour has passed; it’s time to go. I worry that it’s been an ordeal, but he looks oddly enthusiastic. ”I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like, but it’s kinda fun!” He won’t be going to White Castle, though; he’s dining with NBC execs at a posh restaurant in neighboring TriBeCa. And what does he think about the brave new world of cybercafeé? ”The mochaccinos were excellent,” O’Brien says as he strides toward the limo.