Last week Conan O’Brien ended his nearly 28 year run as a late night television host. Effectively ending the most prolific run in the history of late night television, spanning nearly 3 decades, 3 shows, and 2 networks – only to return in 2022 to HBO Max to start his next reign. Through the good and the bad, the Tonight Show and Conan, Conan has been a stalwart in late night comedy and personally, a member of my Mt. Rushmore of comedians. And although ratings for late night television have plummeted in the last decade due to the rise of digital content – no other host has been able to keep their footing as the King of Late Night, better than Conan Fucking O’Brien.
Now I won’t lie to you. I was never old enough to watch Jack Par or Johnny Carson. I caught the end of Leno, Letterman, and Ferguson – and by the time I started watching late night television – I wasn’t nearly woke enough to watch the Daily Show. My era of late night falls with the 3 Jimmy’s, Conan, Colbert, Myers, and Noah. And even though all those acts have been good, no host has really been able to transcend the medium of late night television and comedy like Conan.
Think about it. The bits that every host does to get viral, are bits that they use over and over again. Whether it’s Kimmel’s Halloween children bit, Fallon’s Lip Sync Battle bit, or Corden’s Carpool Karaoke – they are bits that have been beaten dead. Now think about Conan’s best bits. Maybe the one where he goes to Korea, or Mexico, or Haiti…maybe when he took a Lyft with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart…or even maybe the time he went to Italy with his associate producer Jordan Schlansky. However you look at it, all those other hosts are hosts, just hosts. Conan is a comedian who happens to be a great host. That’s the difference. Conan is trying to be different, he’s trying to make you laugh in the best ways possible, he’s the GOAT.
And when watching Conan do interviews, he does them so selflessly. He’ll make himself the butt of the joke, he won’t interrupt like the Jimmy’s would, he doesn’t fake laugh, he’s not making it about himself, he’s not egotistical or degrading. Conan doesn’t name drop, he’s not stopping an interview to tell a story about himself, and he’s not doing this to hog the spotlight like every other late night host. Conan is attempting to make every guest shine. But most importantly, he is always making sure that everybody in his crew, in his crowd, and on his couch are having a great time. He is the most selfless late night host on television.
Personally, I love Conan’s brand of comedy. It’s reminiscent of old SNL (as he did write for them). He uses voices, he plays odd characters in the middle of interviews, he dances like a chimp for laughs. He really has no qualms with looking silly, if it gets the laugh – he’s satisfied. And in my opinion, that is what comedy in the late night realm should be about. It’s about, television viewers winding down from a hard day’s work, putting on their favourite program to have a laugh before they go to bed. And in my late teens and early 20’s where I was confused about my life – Conan brought that joy to me.
Sure that joy may be brought through YouTube videos or his podcast (which you should definitely check out), rather than the traditional television format but he doesn’t care – which is another great thing about him. Conan isn’t sticking to the rules of late night. He doesn’t wear the full suit anymore, he doesn’t even do the hour long format. His job is to have people be happy. It’s reflected in how it’s seen in his staff, his guests, and his fans. I don’t know anyone who has a genuine fandom towards any of the Jimmy’s, or Letterman, or Leno. But people love Conan like he’s their friend. People don’t realize it but they can tell when someone is being genuine and Conan, my comedy hero – is as genuine as it gets.