Living for Laughs
By John D. Thomas 86C 97G
Courtesy Joel Godard
If ever there were two things at opposite ends of the spectrum, they would have to be chemistry and comedy. In an almost alchemical fashion, Joel Godard 60C took a degree in chemistry from Emory and turned it into a golden career in the entertainment industry.
For an amazing sixteen-year run from 1993 to 2009, Godard (www.joelgodard.tv) was the announcer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. In addition to being the voice of the show, he also appeared as himself in more than 330 comedy sketches on the program. And, as with a lot of comedy, his on-camera role on the show was the result of some great timing.
Soon after the show started, Conan O’Brien was watching television and happened to see the only film Godard ever acted in—a small role in 1980’s made-for-TV Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.
“Conan came in the next morning and was telling the guys in the writing room, ‘I heard this voice, and I knew it was Joel, but I didn’t know he could act,’“ recalls Godard in his deep, mellow voice.
“And Conan said, ‘Write something for him.’ So they used me two or three times and got laughs, and then [one of the writers] wrote something called ‘Joel Is Sad.’ And the direction was to say all of these nihilistic things like, ‘Can’t wait for the cold embrace of the grave,’ and then give some stupid grin. And it got a hell of a laugh.”
Godard’s life could have been very different. When he graduated from Emory College, he was accepted into the Emory School of Medicine, but decided to pursue a much different field. Thankfully, his parents were supportive of his decision.
His stint on Late Night with Conan O’Brien is not the only iconic TV role on his resume. In addition to a successful run as a radio and TV broadcaster in Atlanta before being hired by NBC in the mid-1980s, Godard was also the announcer for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1999 to 2010.
His advice to current Emory students with aspirations to entertain?
“Follow your heart and you’ll live longer, but it’s a rocky, rocky road,” he says. “It’s a really tough business. The only reason I married my wife is because I can’t live without her. And you better feel that way about this business if you get in it.”