September 27, 2005


New York Magazine has a big article about Conan O'Brien. (Via Throwing Things.) Here's my favorite paragraph (because it's the meanest):
O’Brien does have some sharp edges, mostly stemming from his differentiation between dumb people and smart people—he sneers at the writers from time to time and calls out to his assistant in a tone of voice that gave me chills (he makes free use of a button he can press on his desk to slam his door shut, too). Oh, the villainy! And he goes on and on about his own work ethic and has little respect for guests he deems not worthy of his show—his highest praise is calling them “likable.”


Meade said...

"Here's my favorite paragraph (because it's the meanest"

Mean must be the new nice.

To paraphrase Dusty Springfield and the Fab Four: What the world needs now is likeableness, sweet likeableness. Likeableness is all there is.

Steve Donohue said...

After reading the article, I want to know more about the O'Brien/Stewart animosity. I can't seem to find much information about where this could come from, except that they may be the next two competitors on the late night scene.

Freeman Hunt said...

I would imagine that it would be frustrating for O'Brien considering that O'Brien is still actually funny and Stewart only used to be funny.

That was an interesting article.

gs said...

An eminent scientist believed that intelligence was hereditary, yet he was the kindest individual you could ever meet. In his view, embarrassing someone for being mentally inferior to him was morally equivalent to taunting the person for a physical disability.

I'm withholding the name because I don't remember where I read the story. Although it described a real person, it has the ring of fiction, unfortunately. Not that my own behavior is invariably beyond reproach.

SMGalbraith said...

Re O'Brien vs. Stewart:

Darwin said competition within species was greater than between species.

Good enough explanation for me.


Scipio said...

Thoughts of Patton and Dennis Leary are running through my head right now.

They're warm thoughts. I'm getting the feelings that I imagine others feel when thinking about puppy dogs and flowers and whatnot.

vbspurs said...

Mean must be the new nice.

It most certainly is -- on television, of course.

Take Kathy Griffin's show, My Life on the D-List on Bravo.

She was actually counselled a few times by friends, family and agents not to go after celebs (and the President) the way she does -- which is indeed mean.

OTOH, if people out there care about that, where else can you find out that Katie Holmes is dirty, smells, and doesn't wash her oily hair?

Mean has always been underrated on (American) television.

There was a reason everyone hated JR. And that reason wasn't because he wasn't Rebecca of South Fork Farm.


vbspurs said...

New York Metro's reporter seems not to like Conan, feeling his goofy character, courtesy of the Harvard Lampoon, is out-of-place, and out-of-synch with everyone but his loyal 2.5m fanbase.

I personally neither like nor dislike Conan, though some close friends of mine like him a lot.

He's neutral, in the manner of a Carson/Leno/Letterman, who can make pointed political remarks about the current presidents, funny -- but never having you think they're targetting them, like say...Stewart does.

So when he takes over from Leno, he'll fit fine in that regard.

As for the idea that his brand of humour is "New York" as the posited, and that it goes over well in the Midwest...since when is this arch Bostonian a New Yorker?

Groucho was a New Yorker -- quick-witted, double entendres and all. Conan is Hasty Pudding Irish, goofy, physical, and ultimately, wholesome.


Eddie said...

Conan's my favorite talk show host.

Cat said...

He shouldn't worry about Stewart. What makes him popular with Hollywood and Emmy voters are his politics. Those politics would not bring in the late night ratings of a Leno, never mind a Carson (could anyone bring in those ratings anymore with all of the television choices?).

Ron said...

Groucho was a New Yorker -- quick-witted, double entendres and all. Conan is Hasty Pudding Irish, goofy, physical, and ultimately, wholesome.

Brava, Victoria!

XWL said...

That article is far too long for what actually is said.

I've watched Conan for as long as he's been on and his show though still good has slipped into an occaisonal hole of mannerisms and repeated tropes that are becoming less and less funny.

At 42 and soon a father of 2 he can't pull of the geewhiz whizkid shtick anymore, hopefully he'll evolve before the self-parody becomes fatal.

With that said, he will be a huge improvement over Leno on the Tonight Show when he gets that job, and I suspect that there may be some manuevering to get Leno to leave a year or two earlier than the announced 2009 date.

And as far as smart funny fast sketch style comedy nothing comes close to comparing to Seth Green's little stop-animation show on Adult Swim. Robot Chicken packs more laughs into one 12 minute episode than an entire week of Conan, or a season of SNL.

Wade_Garrett said...

I would say that Hasty Pudding is more of a Harvard thing than an Irish thing. This year's production seems to be some sort of drag show, and Conan is not exactly at the top of anybody's list for television personalities they'd like to see in high heels and a feather boa.

What comedic school does Stewart fit into? I wouldn't say that he's either a truly New York, Jewish-style comedian because the basis of that brand of humor is toughness, and Stewart plays the part of the nerd/coward on this program. I would say that Stewart and O'Brien share a lot of qualities - self-deprecation, intentional clumsiness, nerdiness, and mock sophistication . . . they're almost post-ironic.

Wade_Garrett said...

I'd like to know what other people think: could Stewart carry a late-night talk show on a major network without his contingent of guest stars and contributors, such as Stephen Colbert and Lewis Black?

vbspurs said...

I would say that Hasty Pudding is more of a Harvard thing than an Irish thing.

Absolutely, but what I meant is that he has the lampoonish, physical, slapstick humour of the Hasty Pudding crowd, with the self-deprecating humour of the Irish -- combined.

This year's production seems to be some sort of drag show, and Conan is not exactly at the top of anybody's list for television personalities they'd like to see in high heels and a feather boa.

Don't they always have that burlesque tradition in each production?

I mentioned in my Roberts piece during Plaidgate, that I'd give anything to have online, that photo I once saw of a robust Joe Kennedy Jr.

He was photographed just before a revue, and was seated in front of a lady's boudoir mirror, powdering his nose, with red lipstick, showing his hairy chest under a taffeta-and-pearls frock.

(Hah! Take that Rudi Giuliani)

Obviously, men dressing up as women is as old as theatre, but since in America only one comic is renowned for that (Milton Berle), the shock value is greater here for all that.

Speaking of the Golden Age of Television, my favourite New York comedian ever is Sid Caesar.

What I wouldn't give for a modern-day Sid Caesar, urbane, witty, SMART, silly, to take over Leno or Letterman one day.

Maybe they'd even go for a woman sidekick not Andy Richter -- like the brilliant, Imogene Coca.

Although when Andy left, Conan lost a lot of his spark, I thought.


Condoleesa said...

Stewart is likeable and funny. O'Brien is irritating and funny.

Wade_Garrett said...

I too miss Andy. Andy's solo project was never very funny, but he was an excellent sidekick. I've always thought that Conan's two strengths as a comedian are (1) his set-pieces, many of which are pre-filmed outside of the studio, and (2) his ability to think on his feet. Since Conan is so great at coming up with funny ways to respond to OTHER people's humor, I think that Conan, moreso than perhaps any other comedic talk-show host, gained from having a sidekick. He seems to have replaced Andy with this bizarre running-joke-of-the-week idea (think Walker: Texas Ranger). Needless to say, I miss those early episodes!

I wonder sometimes about how Stewart would do with a sidekick. Rather than having a sidekick, he just turns the program over to a different comedian for five minutes, then picks up where he left off. I think it would be interesting to see Colbert or Cordry (not Lewis Black, though) sit on the couch next to Stewart for an entire show.

vbspurs said...

I've always thought that Conan's two strengths as a comedian are (1) his set-pieces, many of which are pre-filmed outside of the studio

Yes! If you ever saw the two episodes when he goes to visit Martha Stewart at her ranch -- when he's being taught to ride a horse, and he's making fun of her...wonderful stuff.

Simple, clean, funny.


Wade_Garrett said...

My favorite Conan bits are: (1) when he has Martha Stewart as a guest in-studio, and then ambushes her with a microwave burrito to eat. She starts to eat it very daintily and formally, to the extent one can eat a microwave burrito daintily and formally with one's hands. Then he says, "you might want to wash that down with a sip of the 800" and then hands her a forty of Olde English 800. Simple, hilarious.

(2) Anything involving Mr. T.

(3) When he had Christopher Walken on the show, and then showed him a montage of OTHER guests on his show doing impressions of Walken. Every time it switched to a different guest, it would show the new guest's name at the bottom of the screen. Finally, it showed a clip of Walken himself, from an earlier appearance on the show, with the name "MC Hammer" under it at the bottom of the screen. "That MC Hammer's impression of you is UNCANNY!"

All of these bits were hilarious, but I wonder . . . would they work as well at 11:30 as they do at 12:30? My guess is probably not. The 12:30 timeslot skews way younger and includes a lot of college kids and people who don't have to wake up early. I'd imagine that Conan's brand of wise-ass randomness might not seem as funny to a more mainstream audience.

Ann Althouse said...

Terrence: If you want to find out how well the bits work at 11:30, all you need to do is live in the Central Time Zone.

Wade_Garrett said...

Erm. I do live in the Central Time Zone! I guess I'm a creature of habit - Once a month or so, I turn the football game on at 1pm to find that its already in the middle of the second quarter.

I would believe, though, that in demographic terms Conan draws the same audience in the midwest that he does on the east coast. If he was able to draw the 11:30 audience in the midwest, he would be considerably more popular in the midwest than on the east coast, because so many more people are still up at 11pm than at midnight. I don't know for certain, but I doubt that Conan is considerably more popular here than on the coast; I think its probably about the same.

Ann Althouse said...

Terrence: I would tend to think Conan is more appealing to east coast types, so if midwesterners are already enjoying him at 11:30, NYers will be fine with him then. I guess the question ought to be will midwesterners still like him at 10:30.