James Lipton

James Lipton on Will Ferrell, Conan O'Brien, and Horny Manatees.

on Mar 17, 2008

Like all the late-night programs, his show tapes late in the afternoon. When he arrived in his dressing room after the mascot remarks, he got a call from NBC's Standards and Practices office, informing him that he couldn't legally mention the Web site on the telecast unless they owned it. Conan announced proudly that, "for $159, NBC is now the proud owner of the HornyManatee Web site!"

In four days the Web site had had more than a million hits. It was, he said, the birth of a phenomenon, with viewers submitting a deluge of "manatee" photos, drawings, poems, and fittingly erotic stories.

"And," he added, "we couldn't think of anyone better able to do justice to one of these submissions than the dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School of Pace University, and host of Inside the Actors Studio, Dean James Lipton."

I recited an "Ode to a Manatee," then turned to Conan and asked permission to dance with "that sultry seductress, the horny manatee."

"Ask and you shall receive," Conan responded, and, behind me, the curtains opened on the manatee, the occupant of the massive costume gyrating to the band's throbbing music -- to be joined by me as Conan's audience cheered.

One week later, there was another urgent call. On arriving, the audience and I were informed that in the seven days since my last visit, the manatee Web site had received more than ten million hits, and YouTube was shaking with the beat of our feet. Once again the beast and I danced, and in the days that followed, the Web site took another ten million hits.

In sum, Conan has single-handedly resurrected a performing career I thought I'd left far behind. Since he decided that I wasn't nearly as gloomy as Will Ferrell portrayed me, I've appeared in four episodes of Arrested Development in a role they created for me; shown up on Joey, The Simpsons, appeared with Will Ferrell on the big screen in Bewitched, and even merited a visit from Ali G, in which I wrote a rap and performed it with him. My next ASCAP royalty distribution listed an airing of Da Ali G Show in Finland that netted me $1.59 as the rap's author, which, as far as I'm concerned, makes me a professional rapper.

In recent months, my "acting career" has accelerated. I'll soon be seen on ABC's According to Jim in a bright red suit as the Devil, to whom he sells one of his children; and this fall I'll be back on the big screen in two star-studded animated films, the Weinstein Company's Igor, and Disney/Pixar's Bolt, with John Travolta in the title role as the canine star of a television show, directed by a temperamental self-proclaimed authority on everything, played by me. Typecasting?

And all of it thanks to Conan.

Oh -- and did I mention the Geico commercial? Might as well. Everybody else has. Somebody in the advertising game has told me that it's been seen by 75,000,000 people. From the number of times I've heard about it from friends and strangers, I'm inclined to believe it.

Am I comparing my "acting" to the work of my Inside the Actors Studio guests? No way! But I've been told that my blog should contain musings about whatever's happening in my life -- and, for better or worse, this is what's happening. So, I thought I ought to give credit where credit's due. Thanks, Conan. He may want to decline the honor on his Web site, but, honestly, how else can I explain this strange occurrence?