I was eleven years old when I first really watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien. You may wonder what is a sixth grader doing up at such an hour? Well, I was up trying to finish a book report on Dickens’ Great Expectations and remember wondering if my teacher was going to realize I didn’t actually read the book as I only had time to read and summarize what I thought of it from Cliff Notes (sorry Ms. Nefsky). Irregardless, that’s beside the point.
I sat up and watched this orange haired man with an almost albino complexion, talk and crack jokes while soon finding myself to be rather smitten with him. He was quirky and charming, courteous and kind not to mention, hilarious – absolutely hilarious and he had a way with words when he’d interview his guests. He made them feel important and established, even if no one in the audience knew who exactly this person was that Conan was interviewing.
That is the appeal of Conan O’Brien.
He is a brilliant and good-natured comedian, who just like you and me, enjoys a good laugh. For years, he’s built a distinct type of humour, employing recurring characters that have become fan favourites like Triumph the Insult Dog, Vomiting Kermit and the Fed-Ex Pope amongst many others along with comedy bits and sketches where Conan involves himself in various situations and activities.
It was that night when I was eleven, I realized how amazing it would be if I ever one day got the chance to work for Conan O’Brien. I never really realized how and what my job would consist of, though there was a point when I thought I could just be the kid who would get his imported Danish from Studio A to Studio B for him on a purple tricycle. However, as I got older, the thought of being a writer for his show crossed my mind. After all, I enjoy writing thoroughly (in any capacity) and if anything, the years of being exposed to Conan and the quirks of his humour have been etched into my foundation and basically moulded me into who I am.
Prior to hosting his show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien on NBC from 1993-2009, Conan was a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1988 for two years and it garnered him and his fellow SNL writers an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy or Variety Series. Shortly after that, he moved out west and became a writer and producer for The Simpsons (1991-1993) and wrote fan favourites like “Marge vs. The Monorail”, “Homer Goes To College” and “Treehouse of Horror IV”. Shortly after that, he became the successor to the Late Night franchise, previously hosted by David Letterman.
Now Conan is by far one of the smartest men on television to date. It’s true. It’s not even an understatement; he graduated magna cum laude in 1985 from Harvard with a BA in American History and Literature and edited The Harvard Lampoon for two years. It’s innate within him to convey his humour in various ways for all audiences as in the abstract and ridiculous (In The Year 2000, SAT Analogies, etc) and the lowbrow and idiotic (The Interrupter, The Horny Manatee, etc). He’s also been one to push the late night talk show envelope over a bit but it’s always in good spirits and he means well.
The beauty of a Conan joke though is that if he improvises, he’s going to run with that joke and it makes it all the more fun. When he was on Late Night, he cracked a joke about a non-existent horny manatee website and then actually went out and purchased the domain. Fans all around found that highly entertaining and the best part of it was that they could interact with Conan, even if they were millions of miles away. That’s what makes being a Team Conan player fun; you feel like you’re a part of that experience.
That’s who Conan is. He’s the people’s entertainer. He’s working for us, while laughing at himself.
Since attaining the famous and legendary, The Tonight Show back in June from Jay Leno, ratings haven’t been what they were and now with this whole NBC late night talk show fiasco that’s involved both Conan and Leno, you have to really pay attention to the players in this game.
Why am I Team Conan player? Well. For reasons stated. Why am I not a Team Leno player? Well, humour is humour but not at the expense of a personal ego boost. It’s been seemingly noted that Leno has always taken pride and amusement in making those around him, seem lesser. Sure every late night talk show host takes jabs at what’s going on in the news regarding politicians or sports stars and celebrities but Jay Leno has taken quips at the common man without a bit of understanding.
Jay’s level of comedy over the past few years has always been to make people look dumber than his opening monologue or the jokes that no one really laughs at, be it tourists in a segment he creatively calls, “Jaywalking” or when he barges into people’s homes unexpectedly and asks them if they’d like to be on television. Jay’s type of comedy was and seems to be that he makes himself look smarter than the average man. It’s rather weak of someone with such an overrated history.
Conan doesn’t resort to patronizing those he comes across, instead he makes them feel welcome, like a friend or just like any other guest on his show. They’re all treated alike.
With this whole late night talk show shuffle, I stand by Conan. He released a statement Tuesday that showcased his modesty but firm stance on the issue and in a nutshell expressed that as much as he enjoys hosting a show that his childhood icon, Johnny Carson moulded, that he cannot participate in what he honestly believes is the “destruction” of a late night staple. It’s a history. The Tonight Show is a part of pop culture heritage; being a part of something you love and watching it get destroyed is not something anyone with a genuine love and passion for would want.
The Tonight Show debuted in 1954 and was a variety show back then hosted by Steve Allen and then Jack Parr who switched the format to the one that audiences have known today. He was followed by Johnny Carson and both men were hailed as the quintessential talk show hosts of their time.
Now as a fan and someone who’s grown up watching Conan and admiring his panache and wit, it’s been extremely hard for me these past few days to really fathom any of this. You see, in my mind, if you retire, it means you’re done working — professionally. I don’t get why Jay Leno doesn’t get that but then again, it’s Hollywood. Who really wants to retire when there’s good money to be made?
Like I said though, I’ve been a wreck and it hasn’t been easy – let me tell you, sitting and wallowing into a bowl of mashed potatoes, then moving onto a box of chocolate chip brownie cookies while wiping my eyes and nose with Kleenex and craving ice cream and then passing by a mirror, isn’t easy to admit….but I just did.
Nevertheless watching someone like Conan, who I look up to and admire take such a beating from left and right and still stand tall is rather inspiring. He doesn’t for a second want his fans feeling sorry for him. Sure, we all do though. We have heart like him but like, they always say the show must go on and life is what it is.
On the very last show of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Conan said something that seemed to have stuck with me from last year and really struck a chord since. He said, “It’s fine to be funny, but if you have no character, none of its worth a damn.”
It’s true. All his fans rallying up on Twitter and various other micro-blogging sites is a strong and bold testament to that character in him. It’s what Lincoln said best when he said, “character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it and the tree is the real thing.”
Conan is that tree; rather a strong pale tree like perhaps one of those tall white birch trees of New Hampshire as it seems befitting or perhaps The White Tree of Gondor from Lord of The Rings. Whatever the case, we still see him as he is the foundation of humility, geniality and hilarity that we all so lovingly look up to.
So to everyone who’s on Team Conan, I say to you as I say to myself: “keep cool my babies”.
Check out The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, weeknights at 11:35pm on NBC (For now – check your local listings) and be sure to follow Conan on Twitter and his trusty and hilarious Tonight Show blogger, Aaron Bleyaert.