As Conan O’Brien wrapped his last ever show this past week, ending almost a three-decade run of entertaining the masses, and making sure people were late for work the following morning having stayed up to watch him. He is the longest running host in the history of late night, and that kind of longevity is only achieved through a consistent presence of hilarity, and ultimate overall innate sense of what is cool.
The drama and absolute shit-show debacle of The Tonight Show/NBC that followed, led to not only a rebirth on a new network, but also a revamped attitude in who he really was as an artist. Encouraged by everyone’s mentor Garry Shandling, complete with a Hawaiian getaway and horse-back riding, he returned to the stage of late-night with a new perspective and drive which led to some of his best stuff.
His past resume boasted not only a degree from Harvard, where he was writer for the Harvard Lampoon, but also a summer in Wrigleyville with Jeff Garlin, as well as long standing writing gigs on The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live. His epic musical number in “Marge vs. The Monorail” episode is noteworthy of his early comedic genius, with a lot of help from the brilliance of the late Phil Hartman. He conceived the idea when he saw a billboard in Los Angeles that just had the word “Monorail” on it, with no other details or explanation. Genius.
For me personally, he was the one constant of my turbulent 20’s, as I tried to figure out my career/relationship/identity as a human being, often failing miserably but somehow finding a way to get back up, learn something and go out again. As most people experience in that era of life, when the bar closes and the crowds gone and it’s just you lying in bed, after getting rejected by some girl who wasn’t half the women your ex was, who really wasn’t that great anyways trying to figure out what the fuck you’re going to do in this life…Conan is forever the best distraction available. Even more so, a security blanket of adulthood. His serendipitous time slot always seemed to coincide with the darkest levels of depression in my life, and always resulted in a complete 180 degree turn of emotions.
Over a quarter century he elevated the mood of the country with ridiculous, but always in good fun, hilarious satire with his trademark wave of Irish red hair and self-described “comics body” which now has become an actual era in television history. From torturing his executive producer (Jordan Schlansky) who has apparently no visible job description, or his personal assistant (Sona Movsesian) and most of the world during his travels abroad, the popularity of Conan is directly correlated to his presence as not only a comic, but his overall persona as well.
In 2018 Conan O’Brien cut nightly music from his show, as well as the length of the show to half an hour. Not sure why. His reasons were as flimsy as his hair, and in my opinion, looked like it wasn’t his decision. I’m not sure what happened, but it was disappointing, because for years it changed the shape of music. Without his show as a platform, we may have never had the following bands break out the way they did. As evident by his selection as his first ever guest, none other than Radiohead. He became the fun show to be on, artists could set up the stage the way they envisioned it, and Conan was more than happy to accommodate multiple-song sets, no time limits or censorship. All that combined with a genuine love of music and charisma we all envy, he transformed the late night-time slot into something well worth waiting up past 1 am for.
Back when Conan was on after midnight, he used his show as the most amazing live venue for upcoming artists, and was much cooler than Letterman, Leno, or Carson could ever imagine. His love of music is apparent in the careful selection of musical guests, and even more so it seems is his immaculate sense of timing. A rocker himself on lead guitar, and a legitimate member of the E Street band as his nightly accompaniment on drums, O’Brien has the ability and more so understanding of what is good, and what is not. This was the unquestionably the cool show to be on in late-night tv. This reputation attracted the kinds of performances that launched careers, and here is his musical legacy, as seen below in an amazing collection of moments cultivated over the last 28 years.