This past Friday Late Night with Conan O’Brien aired its final show. I am a fan of Conan’s humour, and when I did the NBC studio tour in New York last year, one of the highlights was going into the studio where the show was filmed. Sadly, I never got to see a show live in the studio, and I’ll have to go out to L.A. if I want to check out his act at 11:35pm.
For Conan’s final show, I was impressed at how it went, as it was a low key affair. Instead of having a ton of celebrities come on, he had people who meant a lot to the show participate. Will Ferrell dropped by as George Bush and then stripped down to his dancing leprechaun outfit, John Mayer sent a video telling Conan how much he is going to suck in L.A.. Andy Richter dropped by to reminisce about the old times, and the White Stripes [Conan’s favourite band], played a stripped down version of the song “We Are Going To Be Friends”. Conan even tore down some of his set, and made sure everyone in the audience got a piece of it. Conan saved the final segment for himself thanking his family, crew and staff. He vowed not to change his brand of humour [I hope Conan keeps his word on this]. He thanked original host David Letterman for making “Late Night” such a great show in the first place, and Jay Leno for his support. A very classy move indeed.
From Conan’s very first episode, I remember thinking the show would do all right. His first sketch was him walking around New York, and everyone saying “You better be as good as Letterman”. Tom Brokaw even said it to him. His first guests were John Goodman and George Wendt, and at one point in the show, he had them leg wrestling. It was funny stuff. [I’m proud I didn’t even have to look this fact up. It’s still in my memory!]
Conan always had great bits. “In the year 2000”, “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog”, “Blue Screen Drive By’s”, are some of my favourites, especially when Triumph goes to the Westminster Dog Show. There is no late night band that is better than the Max Weinberg 7, and Andy Richter was an excellent sidekick in his time on the show.
Now, Conan is off to L.A. to take over The Tonight Show and take on the Late Show with David Letterman, with Leno moving to 10pm. There has been some talk about Conan’s brand of humour, as some people find it immature, and are worried that it doesn’t fit the 11:35pm time slot. These people need to give their head a shake. Conan and his writers can take a simple idea and make it comic gold. I use the example of his fake interviews where he talks to a picture with moving lips. Think of how that must have sounded when it was being pitched in the writer’s room. I would imagine some people groaned and didn’t like it, because it sounds dumb. And I agree, it does sound dumb. But when it was on the air, it was brilliant. Then there’s the “If They Mated” segment, taking two celebrities, and showing what their baby looked like. On paper it sounds silly and immature, but again it worked. When Dirty Dancing was celebrating its 10th anniversary, Conan would go on about how “great” the film was and he couldn’t believe it was 10 years old. He would mock it, and a highlight was when he had the late Jerry Orbach on the show, and they acted out the scene where “Baby”, played now by Conan, is arguing with Jerry Orbach. It was amazing.
All late night shows have their staple segments. Jay Leno has “Jaywalking”, Letterman has his “Top 10 List” and “Stupid Pet Tricks”, but none of those ever got me as excited as when a regular character from Conan would appear. Last week, Conan was playing some of the best segments of the show, and seeing Triumph interviewing the people in line for the opening of Star Wars: Episode II was still laugh out loud funny. I hope the writer’s continue to pitch and come up with these crazy ideas, and try them out. It’s what made Conan work. I ask you to think of the last time you spoke to anyone in the office about something that the other late night hosts have done recently. I’m willing to bet that Conan’s material was the one that was worth talking about
In closing, I want to remind everyone that Conan was an unknown when he came into the late night wars, and wasn’t given a chance at succeeding. Conan’s replacement, Jimmy Fallon, is also not being given a chance. While I am indifferent to Fallon’s hiring, I am willing to give him a shot, because if it were not for a patient executive at NBC, who was willing to let Conan grow, I would not have some great late night memories, and I would not be writing this piece.
Best of luck to Conan at 11:35pm