Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Conan writer Laurie Kilmartin talks about joking through the pain of losing her mom to COVID

Conan O’Brien, Laurie Kilmartin
Conan O’Brien, Laurie Kilmartin
Screenshot: Conan

Twitter is the terrible thing we all just can’t stay away from, its incessant blurts of peremptory whim very often laying bare people’s worst selves in one irrevocably handy, 280-character nugget. Donald Trump, just to pick one example, routinely uses the microblogging platform to spout criminally inaccurate, inadequately ass-covering, woefully ungrammatical gibberish about COVID-19, the worldwide pandemic currently responsible for some 150,000 U.S. deaths on his watch. But, like any potentially insidious and potentially harmful way of communicating, Twitter can be used as a force for an opposing good. As comedian and Conan writer Laurie Kilmartin demonstrated ably with a Wednesday interview with boss Conan O’Brien about tweeting her way through the uniquely horrible pain of watching her mother die of coronavirus last month.

“Watching” is the real kick in the gut word there, as Kilmartin explained to O’Brien how attending the death of a loved one stricken with the virus is a lonely and harrowing experience too many Americans (who watch Fox News) are prone to ignore. As Conan put it in introducing Kilmartin when listing off the current death toll, “each of those numbers is a person.” That’s including Kilmartin’s Trump-loving mom, who spent her last days isolated from her family in a sealed room, attended only by medical staff she didn’t know and whose faces she wouldn’t have recognized under their layers of protective gear anyway. “Old people don’t deserve to go out this way,” stressed Kilmartin, responding to what she termed the “Well, everyones old anyway, so who cares?” crowd. (Even though, as Kilmartin said correctly, it’s not just old people who are dying.)

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If that sounds like a rough ten minutes of TV to sit through, you don’t know Kilmartin (and Conan), as the comic shared with O’Brien her widely read, laugh-so-you-don’t-scream running Twitter account of her mother’s final days. (In a “skilled nursing facility” where her mother contracted the virus, and about which Kilmartin tweeted her intention of leaving a one-star Yelp review.) Noting that she—as a comedian—doesn’t “like to sit in a feeling too long,” Kilmartin explained how cracking the best one-liners she could come up with while watching her mother die alone via facility-supplied iPad was not only cathartic for her, but allowed her to turn her comic rage on those who royally fucked the country’s catastrophically inept response to the pandemic’s early stages. Plus those whose continued, all-American refusal to take basic safety precautions (‘cuz freedom) ensure a whole lot more loved ones dying alone.

“Our huge mistake was telling Americans a mask will protect somebody else,” joked-not-joked Kilmartin, calling us, with wry comic understatement, “a pretty selfish people.” Conan, for his part, was touchingly subdued throughout the interview, letting his colleague tell her story illustrating how much each and every one of those hundreds of thousands of COVID deaths individually sucked for everyone involved. At least until the end of the interview, where his effusively empathetic goodbye concluded with the sort of quick-turn Conan joke that left Kilmartin snorting with unexpected—and one suspects—heartily needed release.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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