For as long as I’ve been old enough to decide (sometime in high school), I would stay up weekdays until 12:50 am. That was after the opening monologue and the first sketch of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. I would later discover there was another bit between the first and second guests (at about 1:10 am). If I was daring, I’d make it that far. But those were rarities. Over the years, there was variation. The commercial sometimes came before the sketch. There would be a short bit immediately preceding the first guest. And so forth. But 12:50 was the norm.
The 5th Anniversary Special got me hooked for good. I still remember telling my friends about it the next day at school. On location in Houston at 2:40 am. Schwarzenegger turning the tables with the moving lips. And of course, the Norm MacDonald – Courtney Thorne-Smith interview. It’s hard to believe that was 11 years ago. It was one of the best things I had ever seen on television; certainly, one of the best compilations (the 10th Anniversary Special paled in comparison). I still believe that today.
Conan connected to my sense of humor in a way that none of the other talk show hosts ever did. He was self-effacing, awkward, and weird. The monologue was short and to the point. When his jokes bombed, he’d reject the mercy applause, or mention that he gets paid either way. Max Weinberg was a creepy pervert with a thing for underage girls. Announcer Joel Godard had an affinity for Asian male prostitutes, and committed suicide any number of ways. La Bamba, a closet homosexual.
It was all so random, yet beautifully hilarious. The Walker, Texas Ranger lever carried the show for weeks. Bullshit characters like Shoeverine and the Fedex Pope. The 24 parody, 60 (as in seconds). The pathetic and creepy Interrupter. The ghost lounge singer with his bigoted ditties. Stamp collections, state quarters, celebrity surveys. My personal favorite has always been Actual Items, a take from Leno’s Headlines… only they’re completely made up. It encapsulates everything I love about Conan.
Nobody did ‘travel’ shows better, whether it was in Ireland or San Francisco. Nobody did ‘on-location’ bits better, whether he was bird-watching or playing 1860s baseball. There were the spectacular visits from Triumph. Pierre Bernard’s recliner of rage (culminating in his hilarious cameo on Stargate SG-1). The interviews with Martha Stewart were always immensely entertaining. The ones with the late Steve Irwin vastly energetic. And an absolutely adorable one with Lara Flynn Boyle.
Sixteen years of Late Night. The Tonight Show awaits. It’ll be interesting, no doubt. It won’t be the same. I hope it works. And for the rest of my life, I’m sleeping half an hour earlier.