Bookworm: ‘Worst Assistant’ – Wasting time on the boss’s dime

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The World’s Worst Assistant”

  • By Sona Movsesian, with a foreword by Conan O’Brien
  • c.2022, Plume
  • $26, 254 pages

Batman had his Robin. Bonnie rode with Clyde, Shaggy has Scooby, Sheldon needed his Amy, and salt sits by pepper. Throughout history – and certainly in the entertainment world – famous pairs seem to gravitate toward one another to hang out. And in “The World’s Worst Assistant” by Sona Movsesian, it’s extra-nice if one is paid well.

“The World’s Worst Assistant” by Sona Movsesian, with a foreword by Conan O’Brien.

For most of her teenage and after-college years, Sona Movsesian worked a series of random jobs: retail, hostessing, running a store for a Hollywood venue, work for an “entertainment research company,” a difficult little of this and that. When she got a job as an NBC page and was assigned to give tours, she made up stories to impress tourists and took “a more relaxed approach to my work.”

It must’ve helped: she eventually became “the events and operations coordinator at NBC.” Then, though she knew almost nothing about late-night TV, when she heard that Conan O’Brien was the new host of The Tonight Show, she asked for a job with him. After making an audacious joke at the interview, she was hired to be O’Brien’s assistant.

“Very quickly into my tenure...” she says, tongue-in-cheek, “this comedic icon whom I had admired my entire adolescent life became... a nuisance.”

“The World’s Worst Assistant” author Sona Movsesian.

Movsesian says she quickly came to realize that getting the job was harder than doing the job – although she admits that she should’ve paid better attention. O’Brien sent her on impossible tasks for laughs. He made her “high-five him after he made fun of me.” He asked her for things he needed and she promptly forgot them, while he used her bad-date stories as fodder for jokes. He picked on her because of her car. She traveled around the world as his assistant. He danced a money dance at her wedding.

Once, she hadn’t been sure she’d like the job. She didn’t think she’d last but she eventually realized that she was “exactly where I’m supposed to be and working for the person I’m meant to be working for.”

Eight months pregnant, she made sure she was with O’Brien at the end of his time at NBC.

For early-to-bed kinds of people, “The World’s Worst Assistant” may be a struggle.

The teasing that author Sona Movsesian writes about may seem juvenile or malicious, if you don’t know much about today’s late-night talk shows. If you’ve never seen the good-natured fun-poking there, you won’t understand how she kept her job and the rapport she had with O’Brien, her boss. Still, you’ll enjoy this book, if you make sure your read-between-the-lines powers are in the “on” position.

That’s because this isn’t a book about being an assistant. It’s about being a friend.

Readers, therefore, shouldn’t expect a cascade of laughter on every page. What they can look forward to are stories of slacking, awkwardness, and wasting time on the boss’s dime, told amid the story of two fun people who’d hang out together, even if work wasn’t involved.

Once you know that about “The World’s Worst Assistant,” you’ll want to hang out with them, too.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.