A picture of comedian Conan O'Brien against a dark red curtain.
After nearly 30 years, O'Brien is moving on from late-night television to try his hand with new mediums. (Image via Google Images)

Conan O’Brien Bids Farewell to Late-Night Television

It’s time to reflect on this American media personality’s run on talk shows, as well as his distinct comedic style, evolving format and plans for the future.

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A picture of comedian Conan O'Brien against a dark red curtain.
After nearly 30 years, O'Brien is moving on from late-night television to try his hand with new mediums. (Image via Google Images)

It’s time to reflect on this American media personality’s run on talk shows, as well as his distinct comedic style, evolving format and plans for the future.

After 11 years of laughter, jokes with his producer and repeated showings of Paul Rudd’s infamous “Mac and Me” clip, Conan O’Brien bid farewell to “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” on June 24. His time on “Late Night” nearly rivals that of the legendary Johnny Carson. However, O’Brien isn’t leaving for good. He is planning a move to HBO Max, where he will create a brand-new program evolved to fit the digital age.

The Comedy at the Center of “Conan”

“Conan” began shortly after O’Brien’s run on “The Tonight Show” was cut short after just seven months. While many were initially confused by his decision to move to TBS — a network less known for late-night programming in comparison to NBC — it proved to be fruitful. O’Brien could be completely himself, leaning into as much silliness as he wanted.

The distinct comedy style of “Conan” came from O’Brien’s background in improv. Both masters of timing, he and his co-host Andy Richter would fire off quick-witted comments that often left the live studio audience and even sometimes the celebrity guest in stitches. 

He also exercised his improvisation skills outside of the studio while interacting with individuals in unscripted remotes, or pre-taped segments of the show. O’Brien shot remotes around the office, joking around with coworkers by calling their parents or catching them eating cake in the break room. Sona Movsesian (O’Brien’s assistant), and Jordan Schlansky (the show’s associate producer) often made appearances in these segments and quickly became fan favorites themselves. O’Brien made sure to stress to the audience how unscripted the remotes were to emphasize how bewildering the actions or words of people around the office sometimes were.

Remotes gave O’Brien the opportunity to explore the world beyond the Warner Bros. lot, taking cameras out onto the streets. O’Brien went on a Tinder date, joined Movsesian on a girl’s night and even visited the Taco Bell headquarters. The most viewed remote features O’Brien,  alongside Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, helping one of his staff members learn to drive. 

The success of these segments spawned “Conan Without Borders.” These were hour-long special episodes focused on O’Brien’s travels to other countries such as Mexico, Ghana and South Korea. These trips were what initially encouraged O’Brien to consider other mediums for his show, foreshadowing his eventual move to streaming. 

“That was almost a religious experience for me,” he said. “It completely changed my opinion about what these shows can be.”

A Host With the Most

O’Brien brought his brilliant quips to each interview he conducted, ensuring that there would never be a dull moment on air. Unlike other hosts of “Late Night,” who preferred to be the funniest one in the room or were not so comedically equipped to riff off a guest, O’Brien would remain invested throughout the exchanges on the show. 

When speaking about his experience appearing on “Conan,” actor and comedian Bill Hader told Vulture: “Every time you do one of those shows, you think you’re gonna bomb. With Conan, even if I had a terrible interview or the material I was going out there with wasn’t very good, there was not a chance I could bomb, because he was right there with you.” 

O’Brien’s authenticity kept the show fresh and fun to watch. He didn’t take himself too seriously and his comments were never too mean-spirited. He was game for anything — whether it be an outrageous story or a strange and extraordinary new bit. He also enjoyed spotlighting up-and-coming comedians, no matter their background. 

Billy Eichner, a comedian, reflected on one of his most memorable “Conan” appearances with The Washington Post — the time he helped O’Brien join Grindr.

“That was a few years before this super-inclusive LGBTQ stuff started popping up, especially in the comedy world, which has always been so straight and male-dominated,” Eichner explained to The Washington Post. “And Conan just fully leaned into [the segment]. He wasn’t making fun of it, he wasn’t acting grossed out by it. He was fully embracing it. And we just had so much fun.”

O’Brien Evolves With the Times

O’Brien is not afraid of change. He is happy for his content to continue to evolve alongside the popular mediums for modern media consumption. In 2019, O’Brien changed the run time of his show from one hour to 30 minutes, with fewer guests and more original content.

“It’s still going to be me hosting a very silly show, but I want segments on my half-hour program to link to digital content, deepening the experience for my younger fans, and confusing my older ones,” O’Brien joked in a statement.

Initially, TBS was skeptical about changing the format. But, after the first 30-minute episode aired, the reception from viewers and critics was positive, with many finding it to be a refreshing change of pace in the typically formulaic late-night programming. 

In 2018, O’Brien launched his own podcast, “Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend,” with Movsesian joining as his co-host. Together, the pair has interviewed personalities such as Seth Rogen, Ali Wong and even former President Barack Obama. Each episode typically lasts an hour or longer and involves more in-depth conversations with each guest. O’Brien later created his own Team Coco podcast network, featuring popular podcasts like “Why Won’t You Date Me?” hosted by Nicole Byer and Laci Mosley’s “Scam Goddess.”

By moving to more accessible, digital mediums, O’Brien has made himself available to a wider audience and has established himself as someone willing to move forward with the times rather than stick to an outdated structure. 

The End of an Era and the Dawn of a New One

The end of “Conan” is bittersweet. Its absence will certainly be felt among the more standard, big network late-night talk shows, but the anticipation of what O’Brien will do next is already building. O’Brien’s next project — a variety show — is slated for release on HBO Max in 2022. The show is still in development, but despite the current lack of details, fans are eagerly waiting to see what O’Brien does next, and they know the wait will be well worth it.

For those who want to relive the show’s funniest moments, “Conan” lives on digitally, just as O’Brien wanted. Clips of “Conan” from the first season to the last can be found on his website and YouTube channel. He can still be found weekly in new episodes of “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.”

At the end of his last episode, O’Brien left his “Late Night” audience with a touching final sentiment about his comedic philosophy. “I have devoted all of my adult life, all of it, to pursuing this strange phantom intersection between smart and stupid. And there’s a lot of people that believe the two cannot coexist,” he admitted. “But God, I will tell you it is something that I believe religiously. I think when smart and stupid come together it’s very difficult. But if you can make it happen, I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”

Writer Profile

Mai Senser

Virginia Commonwealth University
English major, Media Studies minor

Mai Senser is a film student turned English major based in Richmond, Virginia. A lover of pop culture, both past and present, she’s always ready to join the conversation.

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