February 25, 2009

Some say it was a waste of time, others say it was an incredible waste of time...

From The Sad Bear


Throughout college, no one person had a bigger influence on my mannerisms, speech or humor than Conan O'Brien. OK, maybe that's a lie. It's actually a dead heat between Conan and The Rev. Dr. John Seth Reist, Jr.

But look: they're both masters of the non-sequitur. They both sing funny songs and do funny dances. They're both men of intense wit. Sometimes, you have to think really hard to determine if something they say is a serious yet failed attempt at humor or just a sly, "Yes, I know this is a stupid joke, but that's why it's funny." With both men, the latter is almost always the case. They both have catchphrases.

(Hey woah! Keep cool, my babies!)

I guess where this analogy departs is the fact that I know The Rev. Dr. John Seth Reist, Jr. (Can we make that the official SB style for him from now on? Change the Stylebook!). I do not know Conan O'Brien. Thing is, I kind of feel like I do.

All the stupid little sketches that probably aren't that funny were I to really think about them - they're like inside jokes between close friends that also aren't really funny.

No, scratch that: these are inside jokes, that my friends and I shared. I mean, seriously, the SlipNutz? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. But for some reason we all found it hilarious. I, for one, still kind of do giggle thinking about them.

I watched so much of Conan and remembered so many of those silly little bits that certain words now trigger an immediate mental response. Such as the word "inappropriate!" Or AIDS. Or anything to do with the country of Finland. Or countries in general. Or the word "razzmatazz," of which I can't find an appropriate video clip but featured writer Brian McCann singing a weird disco song.

Only an expert entertainer makes bits like those, the ones that stick with you and come back during inopportune times. And only an expert entertainer makes those same bits funny every time you think about them.

There are even more things that I do, mostly unconsciously at this point, that I took from Conan. I'm pretty sure that my generic nerd impression comes directly from him, and when I'm telling someone to hurry up I always mimic Conan mimicking his producer ("Gottago! Wegottago! Moveitalong, wegotattago!").

The scary part? I had to think for about two hours to realize that I did those things.

I have a feeling Conan won't change much. But he's on at 11:30 (10:30 Central...will we ever see a Central Time Countdown again?). Now, more people will be watching. It will feel less intimate; less like he's one of my buddies in Koon sharing some stupid thing that just came to his head.

12:30 is special: you might as well be the only one up and Conan is the only one there to keep you company. But 11:30? The late news just ended. Somebody, somewhere, is watching a Friends rerun. 11:30 isn't mysterious.

Hopefully that won't change Conan's comedy, but it's the end of an era: that hour makes all the difference.


I first encountered Conan O'Brien not on the Late Night show, but on a web transcript of his commencement address to Harvard's graduating class of 2000. It's a quick, good read. It was a few more years before I actually watched the show. Thanks to Conan, I got to know the White Stripes, the Eagles of Death Metal, Dungen, Jim Gaffigan, and Norm MacDonald and found camaraderie in the EAR, Galloway's fourth floor, and Koon Dorm.


Jack told me to go Galloway. When I asked, he said it was more 'artsy' and I'd be happy there.

Jack was also the first Hillsdale College student I ever spoke with.
"My name is Jack, BTW, I'll be a sophomore, just ask me if you need any more questions answered about the dorms. I'll be in Koon next year (yeah baby! Best dorm on campus now that there are men living there..the women effed it up). Hope to see you next year."
Later I made another inquiry (I was still using LiveJournal at the time):
Chase: "I think it was a few months ago that I posted on here and somebody commented and mentioned something along the lines of a Conan O'Brian fan group. Does this little ring of people still exist?"

Jack: "Dude, that's totally us (me (Jack), Tony, Evan, Kyle, Jon Oatess, etc, etc). I'll tell Tony to put you guys on the Conan email list (yes, such a thing does exist)."
So one night I went over to Koon. I didn't think it then, but looking back, it was the first I felt in sync with some of the people on campus. It was clear those guys felt something similar.

That night I walked back to Galloway with Miloch. After his confession that Conan was just "O.K.," the walk back was fairly silent. But it was still summer and I remember hearing crickets. Tony was wearing a bandanna around his head...like he often wore when juggling on the quad. It was blue and white.

I visited many more times, and eventually Conan visits grew to watching my Seinfeld DVDs during finals week marathons.

Watching Late Night with Conan O'Brien in Koon led to good things: ramen, Street Fighter, my first viewing of Annie Hall, Jack burning me Bloc Party and Wolf Parade, and a place I knew I'd be comfortable.

I was scheduled to live in Koon my sophomore year, but landed in The Beat by mere chance. Either place would have been fine, in hindsight. Either way, those Conan O'Brien nights led to the same people.


Living for years without cable television, I took to watching music performances exclusively on late night shows. I was also a record-from-radio-to-cassette junkie and fond of VHS compilations.

According to a tri-fold paper that I still own, Conan O'Brien fueled the best performances, by far. For example: A Perfect Circle, System of a Down, and Ravi Shankar.

That might be a joke.

Also the Hives, Slipknot, the White Stripes, Black Keys, Dungen, and a slew of other since I stopped recording.

And, of course, Eagles of Death Metal. But there's more to that recording than I care to remember. Because, as all VHS players eventually did, mine took one hell of a bite out of my "Live Cuts" tape, taking with it about 4 hours of footage, including none other than my coveted "Speaking in Tongues" performance.

I cried.

I threw the fucking tape away.

I probably could have mended it.

But for all that heartache, I'll never forget the excitement of tracking down the TV listings section in the Chicago Sun-Times to find who would be on that night, and more often than anyone else, Conan was the man.


Could not be reached for (substantial) comment, really, but did say: "I don't have anything to say. The White Stripes weren't very good [on Friday]. And I hope Jack White's voice isn't fucked, though it sounds like it is." Thanks, Boo.


"Dear Conan:

Yours has been a history of many great moments, but perhaps the common link to all your best episodes is facial hair, running like a scraggly, greasy braid from your pale, Irish chin. Never will we forget the beard and moustache championships, you growing a beard during the strike or, your favorite clip of all, when you donned a moustache and played Old-Timey Baseball. I look up to you, Mr. O'Brien, as I look up to all people--men and women alike--who have the courage to grow beards and wear fake moustaches. You are right up there with Topol, Robert Goulet, and this guy.

Your address to the Class of 2000 at Harvard also wasn't bad.

For all these things, Mr. O'Brien, we will always remember you--not as you are now, but as you were, when you began your monologue at 12:32 AM, EST, to the sound of drums and trumpets. May you continue to "triumph" in your new home. Just remember, there's an awful lot of pressure on you. You better do a good job.

We'll be watching. And laughing.


Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger M. Perkins said...

Yeah, the White Stripes did a bit of a half-assed performance.

Especially by comparison with what they've done before on Conan.


February 25, 2009 at 2:49 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

re: Stripes: After what seemed to be almost a false start, their performance was OK with me.

Chris: Did you see how Willi Chevalier has gone with the SILVER beard now?! Thank you for that link. I still need to sew/adapt my old WB&M T-shirt into something new.

February 25, 2009 at 4:17 PM 

Post a Comment

<< Home