Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan the Conqueror

Last February I used this forum to reflect on Conan O'Brien's departure from the Late Night desk that had been his home for sixteen years.  Here's what I said then:
I wonder if Conan will have the same success now that he's switching things up a bit and moving to LA. I hope so, but I'm somewhat cautious. For me a big part of his show's appeal was how it seemed almost "hidden" at 12:30. While Leno's more big-tent Tonight Show far too often sees him playing to the cheap seats, Conan was a guy who seemed content to crack his friends up, and if everyone else got a chuckle, hey, that's good too.
The easy, unforced nature of his humor is, I think, where much of his appeal lies. From "In the Year 2000" to "Clutch Cargo" to one of the single funniest bits of all time, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's legendary visit to the premiere of Star Wars: Episode II, Conan just did his thing, and it's a testament to how steadily he stuck to it that eventually the rest of us just had to catch up.
It turns out I was more right than even I realized.  And with last night's farewell giving the host his best ever numbers in the slot, I guess folks caught up just a little bit too late.  Still, for those of us who stuck with the lanky talker for the duration (and the one thing I can
say about Conan's Tonight Show I can't say about any other version is that I watched every single episode), last night represented a validation and culmination of his brief time there.  And as the highlight reel of the past seven months makes explicit, there's still more to come (probably at Fox, possibly by fall).

In his closing monologue, an at-times emotional O'Brien went out of his way to be gracious to the company that had been so ungracious to him, thanking NBC for the twenty year career the net has given him.  Perhaps more tellingly, and in marked contrast with his Late Night exit speech, he didn't once mention or even allude to the man who preceded him and is now replacing him.  Nonetheless, in imploring viewers to shy away from cynicism and to remember, "If you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen," Conan leaves The Tonight Show with class, and with the wind at his back for whatever comes next.

Here's the closing monologue:


I don't know how long NBC will keep it up, but for now you can also check out the entirety of Conan's final Tonight Show here.

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