Donde Esta Conando? or Why Conan Matters to Us
Well, it's 12:30 early this Tuesday morning, and I'm not asleep. Why, you might ask? Well...quite frankly, I'm bummed about the fact that there will no longer be any new episodes of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
It's no secret to anyone that knows me, I'm a HUGE Conan fan. I was part of the, "I'm with Coco" movement early on, and thank goodness for Sir Mike of Mitchell and his mobilizing abilities. I've written about Conan a lot in the past, and I can easily bond with anyone who "gets" Conan's sense of humor and can throw Conan quotes back and forth with me.
My husband and I went to a friend's house last Friday to watch the last episode, a show that was epic in so many ways that I shouldn't even get started on talking about them. That's a blog in and of itself.
But even Conan himself said, in a nutshell, that the work he does is just comedy, and The Tonight Show is just another television show. With everything going on in the world right now, especially in Haiti, there really are better things to give our attention to. I really can't argue with that fact, and Jake and I have been riveted by Haiti coverage and are definitely doing what we can...though that's not very much. I find that in this case, it seems to be possible to feel two things at once, concern for world matters, and a bittersweet feeling about The Tonight Show.
But here I am, up past midnight, finding myself really and genuinely bummed out. Even though I know I shouldn't be, even though it's "just a TV show"...I still feel this way. I've been trying to put my finger on why exactly that is, outside of the obvious reasons. Conan is hilarious, his writers are great, he really does have the best band in the history of television, and Andy is the icing on the comedy cake. I still stand firm that Andy Barker P.I. was canceled WAY too soon. Then again, I'm getting used to that feeling...
But there's something else. There's this idea of what The Tonight Show means to the viewing public. Each generation gets it's own version of the show, it's own time to steer the ship. It's own little place in history. Conan is the host of my generation...of our generation. His humor has the trademark irreverence of our youth. I was eleven when he took over Late Night, and my older sisters were the ones who encouraged me to watch his show. So I did, through Jr. high, high school, college, and into my adulthood.
The power of the late shows are that they are with you in a way that no other shows ever are in terms of presence. Sitcoms and dramas go on hiatus, films are only in theaters for a fleeting amount of time. But the late shows, ah, they're on almost every night, give or take a few weeks throughout the year. They're sharing current events with you, they're along for the ride.
For me, Conan was something of a test. I almost hate to say something like this, because it makes me sound like I take all my cues from a TV show, and that's not it at all. I'm a big consumer of news and a careful one, and I'm invested in world and current events. But there was something relaxing about knowing that you could turn on your TV every night at 12:30 (and 11:30 for the past seven months) and have a kind of a gauge in Conan.
If Conan could still be making jokes, there was almost a sense that everything was going to be okay. Through wars, economic crisis, unemployment, if Conan was still out there making us laugh about it, it felt like things were going to be okay. And if he took a moment to stop and be serious, then maybe it was time to panic and loot. (I kid, I kid...but not really.)
Again, I know, a little irrational. But in a way, Conan is a national mascot, a generational touchstone, like Carson and others before him. Like other figures, say, a beloved nightly newscaster, an iconic singer, a famous writer, any other public figure that makes a real contribution to American culture. Conan not only falls into that category, I think, but he was more present than almost all of the others because of the unique nature of the talk show business. He was in our living rooms and bedrooms almost nightly. (And boy isn't that an easy set-up to a joke...)
Conan will land on his feet, I have no doubt about that. But now that all the hysteria is over, all the buzz, the final Tonight Show...there's a new kind of sadness I'm feeling.
My generation, well, we were robbed of our version of The Tonight Show. Even though everything is going to be okay, and I'm making a commitment not to be cynical about it, there's a surprising grieving process going on that quite frankly, has taken me a little bit by surprise.
There's something that feels personally offensive about Conan's cancellation. As a twenty-seven year old woman really ready to take the world by storm, to build a career for myself and really finally start living life as an adult, still young but mature enough to actually make headway in life...it almost feels like they canceled me. Ridiculous as that sounds.
So for anyone out there who doesn't understand all the fuss over Conan, that's okay. You don't have to. But know that there's more going on here than millions of whiners and malcontents. There's a huge cultural shift and we're losing something we thought we were going to have for years and years to come, a Tonight Show that appealed to our sense of humor, our world view, fronted by our host. All those years we spent having to go to bed early while the grown-ups watched Carson, and now we're finally old enough to stay up...and they pulled the plug on us. It was a sudden loss, a baffling one, and it just might take us a while to cope.
So you're just going to have to be patient while we deal with that.
On one final note, you know what it feels like? It feels kind of like this...