Conan O’Brien’s Twitter stunt turns tear-jerker

The comedian follows a stranger on the social networking site, and for once, that sudden fame is used for good

Topics: Twitter, Conan O'Brien,

Conan O'Brien's Twitter stunt turns tear-jerkerConan O'Brien. Inset: Sarah Killen

When Conan O’Brien says that your life is about to change, believe him.

The unemployed late night talk show host, finding himself with some time on his hands, joined Twitter last month — and soon found himself amassing a devoted horde of followers (and possibly creating a few hilarious spinoff accounts). On Friday, he returned the favor a little. “I’ve decided to follow someone at random,” he wrote. “She likes peanut butter and gummy dinosaurs. Sarah Killen, your life is about to change.”

Sure enough, it did. In mere days, the woman known on Twitter as LovelyButton has found her own ranks of followers swollen to 18,587 and counting — up from a previous total of three (including a few that seem suspiciously Coco-flavored). And because the world loves an instant celebrity, she’s been interviewed on MTV, the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. The budget-challenged 19-year-old has already also raked in a new iMac, the promise of a custom-made wedding gown from Kelima K for her forthcoming nuptials and lots of other swag. Jackpot!

At a moment like this, a girl suddenly in the spotlight might be expected to turn into a real douche. Who’d have raised an eyebrow if she flaunted her ignorance on a talk show, plowed into the nearest telephone pole or embarked on an ill-fated hookup with John Mayer? But what Killen — and her new friends — have done instead is rather extraordinary.

Before the fateful O’Brien connection, Killen and her mother had been setting up a sponsor page for the Michigan Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for breast cancer. Mere hours afterward, Killen posted a link on Twitter to her new donation page. By the next day she’d raised almost a thousand dollars. She’s currently closing in on $3,000.  And amid the outpouring of attention, she’s emerged as a young woman of remarkable grace and gratitude, cheerfully posting, “Thanks for brightening my day!” and encouraging followers to sponsor her mom’s Komen race as well. “It’s awesome,” she told Tonic.com. “I was afraid we wouldn’t even be able to raise that much money for months.”

You Might Also Like

Killen’s altruism has had a domino effect. That freebie wedding dress she scored? Kelima offered it  to her in exchange for promoting their own favorite cause, the Children’s Hunger Fund.

Sure, there’s a pleasure in the fame of it all for her, too. Killen admits her “dream” is to be on “Chelsea Lately” (hint to Killen: Get better dreams) and that her fiancé would like Conan to be his best man. But there’s something lovely and breathtakingly generous about someone with newfound notoriety leveraging into something other than just more notoriety. Conan may have chosen her at random, but it turns out his one Twitter friend was an inspired choice, setting off ripples of kindness in the direction of breast cancer research and children in need. In the midst of random 140 character observations about gummy dinosaurs, sometimes, lives really do change. Killen’s was just the start.

Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>