“Obviously this was not our first choice … it was not our eighth choice. But I am determined to make the best of this situation. So ladies and gentlemen, people that are watching, here’s the plan: tonight and tomorrow night, we are going to have a lot of fun on television.”
-- Conan O’Brien, in his penultimate Tonight Show monologue
A few scant hours after you read this, Conan O’Brien will wish his audience a good night, walk away from his desk, and end his all-too-brief reign as host of the Tonight Show. I’m not going to rehash the business politicking behind the mess – it’s been covered enough through blogs, in the media, and even on other late-night talkshows. What I can say is that Conan’s departure leaves me feeling robbed. What should have been a decade-long dynasty of comedy and general goofiness was instead reduced to a handful of embryonic months. I’ve seen Joss Whedon shows on FOX treated with more respect.
If there’s any silver lining to the shenanigans seen in the last two weeks, it is that Conan’s waning tenure is producing some of the most honest, cynical, and darkly humorous entertainment ever seen on a major broadcasting network. The nation is watching a man deal with the abject denial of his childhood dreams, and his reaction is to laugh as his lifelong ambitions crumble around him. Well, laugh and spend as much of the network’s money as possible. All while doing everything in his power to insult the network executives responsible for this rigmarole.
Future generations will most certainly look to the Bugatti Veyron Mouse sketch linked above as the empirical definition of catharsis. Standing next to the world’s most expensive car, laughing maniacally over the ridiculous excess of it all, it’s almost possible to see concentrated beads of schadenfreude drip from Conan’s being.
It’s little wonder that the man has garnered so much support. Freakishly tall, pasty white, with unruly red hair accompanying a litany of self-deprecating comments, Conan’s characteristic pessimism is practically custom tailored to the geeks and dweebs of the world. I remember Conan’s Late Night antics accompanying many of my study sessions throughout high school and college. Musing about his audience (dozens and dozens, maybe!), Conan would launch straight into one of his irreverent and wildly inappropriate staples – a “self-pleasuring” bear, robotic pimp or “Walker, Texas Ranger Lever” – and leave me entranced. Conan’s show was the underfunded underdog crawling through the infomercial wastelands of late night television, and he made sure you knew it at every turn. He captured the minds of young people who identified with his instability (we had nothing to show for ourselves; no one knew our names; we were unimportant workers or students earning a quiet existence) as we admired his ability to laugh at his shortcomings.
When Conan signs off later tonight, I’ll lament the loss of a youth icon, however temporary. I’ll feel no anger for the way he was treated, no rage for the old standards maintaining their foothold, only sorrow for the lost possibilities.
But I’ll be damned if Conan didn’t go out the way that so many of us have only dreamed of: a pocket full of cash, a laugh on his lips, and an obscene gesture flying in the face of his ex-bosses.
Godspeed, CoCo. You were not long for this world.