The most difficult part about Conan O’Brien’s return to late night television is the quandary it poses for me at the ten o’clock hour. For the last several years, I have dutifully tuned into Comedy Central’s one-two combination of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report. Now, I have to choose between the two basic cable networks because I am a huge proponent of watching shows, especially those of the fake news variety, at the time they air rather than as a re-broadcast. And last night, even though I started the hour watching Comedy Central, I very quickly ended up flipping to TBS to watch Conan in its entirety. I surprised myself a little by this because I wasn’t expecting his return to be great or even good. In fact, I was worried that all the hype would bite him in the ass. However, despite what David Bianculli and the NYTimes thinks, the opening episode of Conan was a refreshing return to Standard O’Brien Humor (SOH) and filled with genuine laughs, ones that I wasn’t expecting.
First of all, his cold open was a success. The guest appearances were notable, (Yes, I will have some more Hamm), and the comedy was poignant because his viewers need to know that moving to TBS translates to a smaller budget and a pay-cut (this poignancy will only come through if you’ve seen the cold open). Some critics will call his self-deprecating humor tiresome and counteractive (See Bianculli), but I beg to differ; self-deprecation is what makes O’Brien funny. Last night, as a gag, O’Brien and sidekick Andy Richter donned rubber Halloween masks resembling O’Brien’s face. The manufacturer of the mask couldn’t sell it as a Conan O’Brien mask out of obvious legal concerns, so the mask was instead marketed as an “Ex-Talk Show Host” mask. Haha, Conan, the joke’s on you. Upon putting the mask over his head, Richter hilariously noted, “It smells like tears [inside].” Richter is back and the best sidekick out there.
To illustrate O’Brien’s penchant for self-deprecating humor, one of the funniest recurring bits to come out of his original Late Night with Conan O’Brien was his animated collaboration with Jim Gaffigan: Pale Force. These animated episodes portrayed Gaffigan as a brawny and unquestionably capable superhero while O’Brien literally peed in his superhero tights and sobbed like a little girl.
Emasculating himself is part of O’Brien’s strategic forte, and I feel like it succeeded even more so last night than on his previous shows. Indeed, last night’s show did not have O’Brien pissing himself, but he was “whacked” by the NBC execs/mafiosos multiple times from beginning to end. And isn’t that the point of O’Brien’s success story? That despite his seeming ineptitude, inability, and well, impotence (see Pale Force), he came out on top because he knows his demographic? And is it just me, or does he look more attractive with that hiatus beard?
Of course, all this raises the point that I am a prime example of this demographic that O’Brien appeals to. However, this is noteworthy because in snubbing O’Brien, NBC overlooked this demographic, a very shortsighted and costly move. You know the demo I’m talking about. If you work in an office, you’re probably apt to complain about us because we’re always on Facebook, not willing to work extra hours, in constant need of recognition, praise and incentive, and almost never without earbuds. Last week’s episode of 30 Rock included an excellent zing on this lazy generation (go to the 16:26 time marker).
The obvious is very relevant here—while Letterman and Leno compete for an aging demographic of retirees, O’Brien is cashing in on one that will matter in the years to come. This is a very similar story to the cable news market. Much like Bill O’Reilly and his undisputed success in Letterman and Leno’s key demographic with The O’Reilly Factor, Stewart and Colbert succeed in bagging O’Brien’s demo, which will matter much more in the near future. It’s a sort of changing of guards—O’Brien, Stewart, and Colbert will usher in a new relevance, while Letterman, Leno, and O’Reilly will stick with AARP cardholders.
I’m not sure which network my TV will start on at 10:00 tonight, but I am hoping for a masturbating bear sighting (SOH).