To say that I am a fan of Conan O’Brien is a bit of an understatement. There are very few celebrities that I can consider myself particularly ravenous for, and so this post may border on insane or even creepy. As I just said, there are few people of fame that I would trip over my own feet chasing down simply for the opportunity to shake their hand, and those people include:
Nobuo Uematsu (video game composer)
Hironobo Sakaguchi (video game director/producer)
Jim Cummings (A-list voice actor)
“Weird” Al Yankovic (parody musician)
…And Conan O’Brien.
Which of these does not belong?
Basically, I pay very little attention to popular social media. I used to pay a little more attention to what was popular when I was younger. Like, middle school, younger. That’s when I first stumbled upon Conan O’Brien. I can’t recall if I stayed up to watch for any particular reason – if it was for a guest or if I was just bored, whatever. But I remember I realized very quickly that this man was the kind of comedy that I could appreciate (even if I was perhaps a bit young at the time). His self-depreciating humor is what initially inspired my own. Making fun of myself was eventually what had kept me sane throughout my school years, keeping further insults from peers at bay and mocking myself before they’d ever get the chance to do so themselves. I remember specifically thinking, “Maybe I should be like Conan.” It seemed to help. It didn’t help that he was pretty much the only celebrity that I ever reminisced on being an attractive male, while Hollywood kept portraying these hunky, sporting, luxurious men as the womans’ ideal. I found something very personable in Conan, something very similar to myself. It was like, if this man weren’t a celebrity, he’d probably be somebody I could just casually get along with.
Late Night with Conan O’Brien was totally brilliant to me. Most of the time I didn’t see any of the jokes coming. It seemed mostly more clever than the majority of other late night programming and less predictable. It was wild and crazy and zany, and there were reoccurring characters that I completely fell in love with. The writing seemed more aimed at someone a little older than I was at the time, but you know young teenagers, they always wish they were a little older than they really are. The writing wasn’t too filthy, but it felt adult enough for me to feel like, “Heh, this is something I probably shouldn’t be watching,” and I felt great. Of course, my parents would catch me watching the show at 12:35 PM, and they’d punish me and tell me to turn the tv off immediately because I was supposed to be sleeping before school the next morning. I remember getting crafty, keeping a set of headphones nearby so that I could listen to the broadcast without waking up my parents, but sometimes my mom would catch the light of the tv under my door. So I’d start to set my VCR to record. But I remembered, “I want more Conan, not more commercials!” So I would try my damnedest to stay up and manually record it myself to avoid commercials and boring interviews and musical performances, even if I had to be sneaky to do it.
My friends in school all knew I loved O’Brien. One girlfriend of mine went on a family vacation to New York where they got to visit NBC Studios, and she brought back with her a Late Night with Conan O’Brien coffee cup for me. I still have that cup, and mostly have used it as a pencil cup, rather than drinking from it. I bought a few of the Late Night books that had been published around that time, for example the “If They Mated” and “In The Year 2000” publications. Those are still prized posessions of mine in my library.
I remember learning that Conan actually had a writing hand in other shows I loved, including the GOOD days of Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. To think, one of my favorite Simpsons episodes was actually noted as Conan’s favorite episode to write for – the Monorail episode. As a writer for SNL, he’d occasionally slip into some skits, one of my favorites being the Irish Drinking Song Album skit.
For years, I was waiting to see Conan’s debut on The Tonight Show. It was something that had been coming for years, and was something that Conan had always joked would never necessarily happen. Of course, as a fan, I was thrilled, and I waited in eager anticipation for five years from 2004 to 2009 for Conan to take that spot. It was something that technically should have gone to David Letterman years earlier, but got passed over. I always felt Conan was quite the worthy apprentace. Of course, me speaking as a fan, take that with as many grains of salt as you need.
Fast forward to now. Conan is the host of the Tonight Show. But for how long? Will he last another week? Or, heck, will this past Friday’s show have actually been his last? That’s possible. We’re waiting for Sunday to roll around and give us a more clear-cut answer. But one thing’s for certain – Conan is finally leaving NBC.
How sad is that? I admit, how can you expect a company to not want to protect themselves when the ratings of a show are under-performing? At the same time, though, while some little things were not written under contract, there’s just little unspoken rules that I suppose we all took for granted. For example, we always figured that The Tonight Show would always be a staple of American television, airing just after local news across the nation. We also figured that it would be a very secure job. Just look at Johnny Carson. That man hosted that show for 30 years. Jay Leno, afterward, hosted it for just under 20. It seems that once you’ve made it on The Tonight Show, all your worries have gone away. I suppose that’s not the case.
Now, granted, NBC isn’t actually doing anything to break any contracts. Conan signed a contract to host the Tonight Show, but not necessarily under contract to stay in the 10:35/11:35 PM time slot. But this is just one of those things we all took for granted. Why should this time slot change? Well, it would appear that, despite the fact that Jay Leno was saying he was ready to retire, the Jay Leno Show is proof that he really wasn’t. Will he actually fulfill the ratings that NBC is hoping he will after this? I’m assuming not, if only because the public has completely villianized Jay. I don’t know if that blame is necessarily correctly placed, though I do know that the blame rests fairly squarely on the rest of NBC. It’s not Conan’s fault that NBC’s ducks aren’t all in a row. And it isn’t as though the Jay Leno Show is doing particularly well (in fact, as far as I hear, the ratings are pretty sad) so it’s quite odd that, after all of this controversy, NBC expects moving Jay back to his old time slot would do them any better. Actually, the NBC executives are probably loving the current publicity. All of the controversy has given them ratings on the Tonight Show like nobody’s business. I admit to having missed a fair numer of recent Tonight Show episodes, but that this controversy brought me right back around to my ten-year lust-affair with O’Brien. I feel like a bit of a jerk, feeling as though maybe I’m just one of the reasons why we’re in this predicament at all. Ratings fell off, and now, here we are. Was that my fault, for turning my back on the Tonight Show, only because I have this odd desire to get some sleep before I wake up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work? Shame on me… I should have been watching more!
The jokes at NBC’s expense have been just about the funniest jokes ever written for late night TV. This is because you rarely see networks poke fun at themselves. So, to see a network employee take a serious matter and throw it back at us and make it funny is simply golden. Maybe that just paints me as a horrible individual, because I laugh at the expense of this network. But it’s previously been noted that comedy is watching someone else get hurt. I think that’s just in human nature. Why stop now?
But, do you know what the true crime and villiany is in this situation? It’s all the little things, other than Conan. It’s Conan’s whole cast of colorful characters. It’s the group of people who created an entire chemistry that exists not only on the Burbank set of the Tonight Show at Universal, but had lasted for about 17 years while on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. What a terrible injustice it is, to remove great personalities and performers from the air, such as Andy Richter and Max Weinberg. Andy has always been the perfect “sidekick” to Conan, giving him just enough commentary to create cute banter. And Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7/Tonight Show Band is an amazing group of musicians, playing awesomely classy late night swing music. Of course, you know you have a good band when the leader himself came from Bruce Springsteen’s very own band. The writers and side actors that had some of the best running gags over the course of the years have all created wonderful, laughable, lovable characters. The Tonight Show was truly the greatest success they could have hoped for. What a terrible shame it is to separate these comedic geniuses from their success.
To kind of step back to part of the reason why this group’s comedy speaks to me, some of the best pieces done by Conan’s Late Night team has been the instances where Conan and Andy have visited Bang-Zoom!, a Los Angeles-based anime localization/dubbing studio. Redubbing Ghost in the Shell was wonderful, and me as an anime fan and a member of the anime community, I was thrilled to see this piece. For me, not only did it speak well of anime, putting it in the public spotlight, but it put my favorite comedian behind the microphone of one of my favorite movies. How could I not comment on such a comedy gem?
Right about now, I would be genuinely interested to hear what Lorne Michaels has to say about this predicament. For those who are unaware, Lorne Michaels is the Executive Producer of Saturday Night Live and hand picked Conan to take the desk at Late Night (Executive Producing that show as well). Conan has often spoken his respect for Lorne and gives him thanks for picking such a minor SNL writer to take that seat. Because Lorne gave Conan that small chance, he was able to hold a late night TV program for 17 years, which eventually led to him getting chosen to host The Tonight Show. Lorne obviously had faith. What about now?
In any case, no matter what Conan chooses to do after leaving The Tonight Show, I hope that he still gets the spotlight he deserves. He’s a talented and funny man, and his numerous fans know this to be true. Rumors of being asked to host a show on FOX spread across the Internet like wildfire. Considering how often FOX axes good comedies (including Andy Richter’s own FOX sitcom a few years back), I wonder how smart of an idea this would be, but then I suppose they must not have treated him too particularly poorly, considering his previous episode writings for The Simpsons. Or maybe he’ll be one of those Stars-to-Politicians, following up behind our Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the Governer of California (hey, there’s a Twitter account out there right now campaining to make this happen). Either way, all I really wanted to say is that Conan O’Brien is a man who has held great comedic influence over my life as a young adult. As a brilliant Harvard graduate, it’d be a terrible shame for his wit to be lost to us over an incredibly silly NBC decision.
Good luck to you, Mr. O’Brien, godspeed, and thank you for making my young life filled with more laughs than I could have imagined otherwise. I look forward to all of your future endeavors.