The nerve of that young punk with his hair and his masturbating bear!
June 5, 2018 12:55 PM   Subscribe

In Conversation: Conan O’Brien. David Marchese of Vulture talks with the current longest-serving late night show host in television, as he prepares to shift Conan to a 30-minute slot.
posted by lmfsilva (30 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember his first shows! Getting old is weird.....he was so bad, so awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera! I never would have thought he'd last longer than, say, The Dennis Miller Show.
posted by thelonius at 1:08 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


After an episode of fat shaming on his early show I stopped watching him. So as far as I know he's still bad.
posted by Splunge at 1:17 PM on June 5, 2018


Yeah, I doubt that the format change is because the hour show is doing so well, but I still wish him well. His recent Due Buffoni/"Conan and Jordan Go to Italy" special had me gasping.
posted by praemunire at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2018


I don't generally want to watch late night talk shows, but when I do, I prefer to watch Conan. He's the least bad of them all, the badness mostly coming from just the nature of the programs. This format change seems suspect, but as someone who watches Conan and other such shows exclusively from youtube clips, I probably won't notice much of a difference. Plus maybe we'll get more stuff like when he is messing around with Jordan or Sona.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:59 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was a huge, high-school-aged late-show junkie when he first came on the air, and I came in here to say...well, I see thelonius beat me to it. I still remember this sketch from what I think was the first show where the supposed potential hosts were lined up: a live frog, a tape dispenser, and Conan. And then various shots of older, white TV execs pondering those choices for a cringe-worthy long period of time. Definitely a surprise that he won in the long run.
posted by Quindar Beep at 2:05 PM on June 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


His travel shows are fantastic. I wish that was 100% of the format.
posted by gryphonlover at 2:22 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think this will be a positive change! These shows are so formatted. Hoping they'll be able to do weirder stuff and more remotes.
posted by agregoli at 2:22 PM on June 5, 2018


I'm not sure that I even knew that he still had a show.
posted by octothorpe at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


I suppose there is a certain honestly to spending the first season making fun of how bad you are. But, honestly, when you're a Harvard legacy whose father was professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who interned for Congressman Robert Drinan when you were a sophomore in high school, the same year you won the National Council of Teachers of English writing contest, when you were the school Valedictorian, when you started writing for Saturday Night Live at 25, when you were a lead writer on the Simpsons and were likely to have been the next showrunner --

well, the whole shtick of "I'm not very good at my job," the constantly interrupting guests, the almost total inability to see an interview through from beginning to end, the frequent and seemingly genuine meanness toward some of them, the flustered behavior and sultry growling around any vaguely attractive woman who comes on the show, it all starts seemingly like a celebration of white male mediocrity.

He should be the best in the business. He came with the skills. Instead, he had a bad first year and made it his shtick and then permanently refused to excel, and I guess even people who should be great will settle for mediocrity when they can get away with it.
posted by maxsparber at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2018 [14 favorites]


"He should be the best in the business. He came with the skills. Instead, he had a bad first year and made it his shtick and then permanently refused to excel, and I guess even people who should be great will settle for mediocrity when they can get away with it."

I don't think this is fair or accurate. He's obviously gotten better at the job over the years. Also, lots of the things you're complaining about are what makes him good. Interrupting guests who have a tedious story or worse, some bullshit to promote is a good thing. Never got a meanness vibe from him. His growling at woman is definitely the worst thing about him and the show, though.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:43 PM on June 5, 2018 [11 favorites]


Never got a meanness vibe from him.

It's what made me stop watching the show. I remember him interviewing John Waters and just treating him like a freak and constantly referring the Waters' audience as though they were bizarre aberrations, until Waters finally interrupted him and said "I don't know what you mean. I have fans, like anyone else."

The interruptions do not make the show. Conan is not more interesting than Jeff Goldblum and yes talks over him constantly.
posted by maxsparber at 2:46 PM on June 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


Conan's final week on the Tonight Show was consistently brilliant as he'd never been before or has been since. And his closing speech, in which he asked his audience not to be cynical and expressed deep gratitude for his opportunities. NBC has of course tried to scrub all this from the Internet.
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:46 PM on June 5, 2018 [10 favorites]


I think this will be a positive change! These shows are so formatted. Hoping they'll be able to do weirder stuff and more remotes.

It would make more sense from my perspective at least, to just fully lean in and completely move this to YouTube or make it an online show. I mean, that's the way I've been consuming Conan the last few years, in bite size chunks, YouTube clips.

I know there are still people that have cable television, but I wonder at how long that shrinking market will last, since I know so many people now just consume everything through their mobile devices or streaming online. This won't really change how I continue to consume his show.
posted by Fizz at 3:34 PM on June 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


I consume pretty much all late night TV via YouTube - mostly I watch Colbert's monologue and Seth Myers's A Closer Look and sometimes the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight but it's all done via each series's official YouTube channel. Can't remember the last time I watched an entire episode of any of those.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


well, the whole shtick of "I'm not very good at my job,"

You seem to be rather badly confused about the skills that make for a good late-night talk show host. What your dad does for a living has zero to do with it. Whether you were high school valedictorian, ditto. Where you went to college, nothing. Whether you are a skilled comic writer, not very much. To be able to project some form of charm and charisma to an audience, to build an apparent rapport with interviewees, to be able to execute skits so that they're actually funny...these are all quite difficult things to do and they have nothing to do with your or your family's educational attainments.

It's a comic shtick. You may or may not care for the shtick, but he's actually quite good at executing it. Using that as fodder for complaints about how mediocre men climb in this society seems...a little misplaced.
posted by praemunire at 5:15 PM on June 5, 2018 [27 favorites]


I used to be a hardcore Conan fan, but at some point after the move to TBS I just...stopped watching. Now I watch clips on youtube whenever they do something that is reminiscent of their old confidence. His show had an unpredictability and a willingness to take risks that just got completely obliterated by his experience with the Tonight Show. It's become entirely formulaic and routine, and the moments of genius and sublime comedy have become more and more infrequent.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:36 PM on June 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


He should be the best in the business. He came with the skills. Instead, he had a bad first year and made it his shtick and then permanently refused to excel, and I guess even people who should be great will settle for mediocrity when they can get away with it.

the most gen-x of all talk show hosts
posted by entropicamericana at 7:10 PM on June 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


In 1994, when I was 15, I skipped school and took the Peter Pan bus to NYC with some friends to see an episode of Conan. It was Mike Myers, Tawny Kitaen, and the Proclaimers. We unexpectedly ran into Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall in the 30 Rock lobby and he asked us if we knew a good place to get lunch. I don't think I've ever felt so important in my life. That we did not, in fact, know a good place to get lunch was entirely irrelevant.

When I was 19, I managed to get tickets for the day David Bowie was going to be on. BowieNet had just launched and one of the perks was knowing the man's schedule well in advance, so I was able to request tickets specifically for that day. Charlize Theron was the other guest, henceforth known as Not-David-Bowie, because the audience was packed full of people so devoted to Bowie that they bought their internet service from him and really couldn't care less about her. She said during her interview something like "and it doesn't matter what I say because I'm not David Bowie." Everyone cheered. It wasn't the reaction she wanted. My friends and I saw him perform and if that were it, we would have been happy and content. But in the lobby after, we saw people running. And I said, oh, let's follow them. So we ran across the building, out to the opposite side of where we had come in, and there was a crowd, and there was David Bowie, with his dazzling smile, being all charming as he signed autographs.

Anyway, that's all to say that Conan is very much a part of happy memories of my youth and New York City and I DVR his show out of intense teenage loyalty even though I rarely watch it anymore. Also, Johnny Carson's last episode was on my 13th birthday so having Conan still on the air, even on basic cable, the last man standing from the Leno/Letterman war days, is oddly comforting to me.
posted by Ruki at 8:13 PM on June 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


Conan's fine but never really found him that interesting. I miss Craig Ferguson.
posted by axiom at 9:24 PM on June 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


Conan's fine but never really found him that interesting. I miss Craig Ferguson.

I think Craig Ferguson wins forever for his defense of Britney Spears. Conan does get second though.
posted by pan at 9:40 PM on June 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


You seem to be rather badly confused about the skills that make for a good late-night talk show host. What your dad does for a living has zero to do with it. Whether you were high school valedictorian, ditto. Where you went to college, nothing. Whether you are a skilled comic writer, not very much.

Sorry, but I just can't agree. Conan spent his professional life seeing how funny ideas could and couldn't be translated into funny TV performances. He worked on the Harvard Lampoon, the comedy equivalent of Clemson football or Stanford computer science. I'm sure he spent countless hours planning his show with people he met through all these positions. I don't know anything about his parents but I'd bet he didn't pick his major and extracurriculars based on being able to afford food or get away from an abusive situation.

That's absolutely nothing against him! But it's not like he just hopped on a bus to NYC one day and got dragged wide-eyed onto the Late Late Show.
posted by smelendez at 10:07 PM on June 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


I quite enjoyed his interview with Archer.
posted by flabdablet at 2:47 AM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


You seem to be rather badly confused about the skills that make for a good late-night talk show host.

It's true I didn't go yo Late Night University, which you must have, since you seem to have the confidence of an expert and I can't imagine you would just presume that.

My only experience is 30 years as a professional interviewer, which, admittedly, isn't enough for me to claim any real expertise, but I was under the impression that an interview involved not constantly interrupting the person you were talking to, trying to suck focus by being funnier than them, and being able to let someone finish a story.

I was also under the impression that these skills can be acquired and that this is something I could reasonably expect of someone who a) had a superb education; b) had worked in entertainment at the highest level of achievement; and c) has been doing it since 1993.

But I defer to your superior education.
posted by maxsparber at 4:21 AM on June 6, 2018


My only experience is 30 years as a professional interviewer, which, admittedly, isn't enough for me to claim any real expertise, but I was under the impression that an interview involved not constantly interrupting the person you were talking to, trying to suck focus by being funnier than them, and being able to let someone finish a story.

Late night TV interviews aren’t really interviews in the sense that you’re addressing, though. They’re little comedy sketches. The guest works with a producer to figure out what the interview segment will consist of, they come up with a set of jokes and stories, and the interview itself is basically an improvised scene based on what they worked out. Conan is playing a (somewhat obnoxious and naive) character in these scenes.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:47 AM on June 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


Does anyone remember Charles Grodin on Letterman’s Late Night? He definitely made the whole artifice of the thing apparent.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:50 AM on June 6, 2018


My only experience is 30 years as a professional interviewer

Doing entertainment? O'Brien does cover the genesis of his approach in the piece - the only guests he can get, usually, are celebrities doing promotional visits, and allowing them to talk and tell stories, in the best journalistic traditions, will chiefly result in a 7-minute sales pitch for whatever pablum they're flogging. So he tries to craft an entertaining bit out of the raw material, and sometimes that means he rides roughshod over their attempts to steer it back to promotion. I'd imagine he gets the balance wrong, but I think that probably means he needs to change his format.

I'm reminded of an Australian comedian, Shaun Micallef, who had a brief late-night show in the Conan O'Brien mold, except Australia doesn't really like late-night and the show particularly poor even for that. Micallef's two current gigs are based on that experience - one's highly scripted and more suited to his humour, and the other's a game show, where the format provides a baseline where his absurd tangents don't swallow up the guests. Neither involve substantial interviews with guests.
posted by Merus at 4:56 AM on June 6, 2018


Craig Ferguson forEVER and EVER. But we do love the pulling-strings dance in our house...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:00 AM on June 6, 2018


I am using this post as an excuse to link to the best joke ever told on Conan.
posted by DulcineaX at 7:18 AM on June 6, 2018 [6 favorites]


The guest works with a producer to figure out what the interview segment will consist of, they come up with a set of jokes and stories, and the interview itself is basically an improvised scene based on what they worked out.

I miss Craig Ferguson. I really, really miss Craig Ferguson.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:26 AM on June 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was also under the impression that these skills can be acquired and that this is something I could reasonably expect of someone who a) had a superb education; b) had worked in entertainment at the highest level of achievement; and c) has been doing it since 1993.

Dude, I graduated summa from my Ivy and I can guarantee you I would never be good at Conan's job. There are tons of TV writers who went to good schools and work on good comedy shows who never even do stand-up. Because stand-up and TV hosting are performance gigs, and those require a different set of skills than either doing well in school (seriously?) or even writing comedy for other people to perform (admittedly, somewhat more relevant).

When you are criticizing a person for not living up to the expectations created by their dad's completely different job and the fact that they went to their dad's school, it's time to accept that they just bug you personally. Which is fine. Conan's comic persona is designed to be off-putting and you can find anybody irritating you want to, persona or not. Further, sense of humor is very idiosyncratic. You don't have to think he's funny. But your bases for criticism are just weird. And if you don't understand the difference between late-night interviewing and other forms, as other folks have explained, you're just...confused.
posted by praemunire at 10:38 AM on June 6, 2018 [8 favorites]


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