The Life-Changing Advice John Candy Gave To A Young Conan O'Brien

Before he was Uncle Buck, John Candy was a young aspiring comedian who broke into the entertainment business by performing in Canadian children's theater (per History). After joining the Toronto wing of Second City at age 22, he became a frequent presence on the troupe's TV show, "SCTV." And it was there that he drew the attention of another young would-be comedian, Conan O'Brien.

By the time O'Brien reached Harvard University, where he joined the staff of the Harvard Lampoon, Harvard's humor magazine, Candy was a major comedic success on his way to becoming a movie star. In 1984, Candy would star opposite Tom Hanks in "Splash," in which he played the dissolute elder brother to Hanks' protagonist, per IMDb.

Around that time, O'Brien was an ambitious undergrad with dreams of performing comedy and a backup plan of going to law school, as O'Brien recently recounted on his podcast, "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend" (posted on YouTube). He wanted some advice from one of his comedy idols, so he essentially leveraged the Harvard brand to lure Candy into a campus tour guided by himself.

Meeting the charitable, animal-rescuing family man

"I orchestrated basically a scam to get John Candy to go and visit the [Harvard] Lampoon building," O'Brien recalled on his podcast last month. "And I got to go and get him and chauffeur him around."

O'Brien spent a day and a half taking Candy around Cambridge, and he found the great comedian kind and down-to-earth — not always a given when dealing with celebrities in general and comics in particular, who often have their dark sides. But Candy, who died of a heart attack in 1994 at age 43, according to History, left behind a wife and two children, all of whom recall him as a family man who loved rescuing animals and bringing them back to his family's farm. His two kids told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that their dad was also a devoted supporter of charities like the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, always trying to help out struggling children.

"He was everything I wanted John Candy to be in person. And, you know, sometimes that's not the case," O'Brien went on. But Candy was his goofy, amiable stage presence "times 10 — he was the John Candy that I was hoping he would be."

Candy steered O'Brien right

Candy's kindness extended to O'Brien, whom he kept calling "kid" in an avuncular sort of way. On his podcast, O'Brien described the whole experience as "magical," because the comedy legend was able to impart a pithy, searing lesson before he left campus.

Perhaps seeing through O'Brien's "scam," Candy asked the undergrad what he wanted to do with his life. O'Brien told him he was thinking of trying comedy. And Candy looked the young man in the eye.

"Kid, you don't try comedy," Candy told O'Brien. "You do it 'cause you have to." That simple truth has never left O'Brien, who went "all in" on his dreams — and was crushed when Candy died before he had a chance to have the older comic on his late-night talk show. But Colin Hanks and Ryan Reynolds are now making a documentary about Candy's life, per Vulture, and O'Brien's recollections of the comedian who steered him right may yet make it into the final cut. Candy fans will just have to watch to find out.