Meet Dustin Penner, the 30-year-old “Conan” intern.
Penner has eagerly rattled off his favorite "Simpsons" lines at the Los Angeles Kings’ training facility. He once commented that a jarring playoff collision that he weathered “almost felt good, it was so pure,” and at one time he worked an IHOP shift for charity in self-referential jest following a comment that he had injured his back while sitting down to eat a stack of pancakes.
Adept at infusing his own comedic disposition into the repetitive cycle of press conferences that follow every practice, morning skate and game, much of Penner’s personality was revealed to the rest of the hockey world as it had been to Kings fans in the team’s two-month blitz toward the Stanley Cup.
As the team’s title defense is iced while the league and players’ association inch toward the completion of a new collective bargaining agreement, Penner called his agent when faced with the continued hockey void and large swaths of free time.
“I told him I want to get out of the house. I’ve done everything I can with working out and skating. I need to get out of my house and stop playing Xbox or watching reruns of 'Modern Family',” Penner said by phone Wednesday.
With plenty of industry connections, Penner’s agent worked on trying to get his client into writing sessions for "Family Guy" and "Conan", and ultimately worked out an agreement with the latter for Dustin to visit the show and take part in a sketch. As the show's "intern," he assaulted, intimidated and body checked members of the "Conan" staff. “Great Job, Dustin!” was written in chiron script after he threw his kitchen mitts to the ground and punched a staff member in the face following a complaint that the pie Penner was cooking for O’Brien had not arrived timely enough.
“Dustin's best quality as an intern is that he shows a lot of initiative,” O’Brien said by email on Wednesday.
“He didn't wait to be told to high-stick or clothesline his co-workers, he noticed himself that these people needed to be hurt and he took care of it. He will do very well in Hollywood.”
Fortunately, the show’s insurance rates aren’t about to go through the roof following the multiple employee-inflicted injuries suffered at the workplace.
“Those weren’t technically real interns,” Penner said. “They were trained stunt personnel. I made them sign verbal waivers saying they couldn’t sue me if they ended up getting hurt. They were all really good at taking a beating.”
While there were plenty of jokes, it appeared to be an experience that strongly resonated with the Kings forward. He was able to meet with O’Brien and Conan sidekick Andy Richter for several minutes and found the talk show host “to be really engaging and genuine.”
“All the cogs in the wheel that make that machine move – it was a lot of fun to be around those people,” Penner said.
“Their job is to help make people laugh and come up with funny skits. I got along with everyone really well on set there.”
After the sketch was shot last Friday, Penner returned on Monday to take part in the live taping. His "internship" concluded in a live follow-up sketch in which he rollerbladed onto the stage at the Warner Bros. lot to deliver O’Brien his coffee, which he was instructed to place on Richter’s podium.
There were a few jitters as he waited to emerge from behind the curtain during the live shoot.
“It’s not something that I’m used to, that’s for sure. I would have rather been taking a penalty shot in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals,” Penner said. “That’s not to say it was awful, but I’m saying that to be able [to act] with those nerves – like, it’s something that you get used to, but it was such a different situation for me – that I was like, ‘Wow, I haven’t encountered this type of feeling before.’”
So aside from the occasional cameo here or there, don’t expect Penner’s Los Angeles career to jumpstart any expedition into acting or stand-up comedy. As his Twitter bio articulates, he is a “comedic enthusiast.”
And that’s too bad, because there’s a fellow 6-foot-4 public figure who sees some on-stage potential in the bruising power forward.
“Comedy is about contrast, and Dustin is so much bigger and stronger than all the dweebs that work on my show that it's instantly funny,” O’Brien joked again.
“He's also missing a tooth, which gives him the same street cred as Popeye,” he said
The comedy just never stops.