As Conan O’Brien wraps up the final episodes of his nightly TBS show Conan this week, perhaps the greatest praise we could offer is that the late night icon has surpassed “The Barbarian” as the definitive pop culture Conan (if you’re still confused given the similarities in their names and physiques, Conan O’Brien is the one with the red hair who hosts the talk show; Conan The Barbarian is the one with the enormous sword who looks Arnold Schwarzenegger and/ or Jason Momoa).
Since taking over for David Letterman as the host of NBC’s Late Night on Sept. 13, 1993, Conan has produced nearly 4,400 episodes of late night television across his three shows. Over 1,500 of those have been for his TBS show Conan, which began in November 2010 and finishes this Thursday, June 24. In honor of O’Brien’s incalculable influence and legacy, here’s a look at some of his greatest moments, along with a preview of his final shows.
Conan’s last two weeks of shows coincided with L.A. loosening its COVID safety protocols, which has allowed a live audience to attend his final tapings. Last week, a crowd was in attendance when Conan welcomed Patton Oswalt, Martin Short, JB Smoove, and Mila Kunis, who told a very funny story about her recent fireworks encounter with Conan. For his last week, Conan will be welcoming Bill Hader on Monday, Dana Carvey on Wednesday, and Jack Black as his final guest on Thursday (Black is alternately excited and anxious). Conan also has a mystery guest booked for Tuesday’s show. Given their interconnected history, we’re guessing it will be another late night host—no, not that one, we’re going with David Letterman. UPDATE: It was Seth Rogen.
A Comedy Triumph
Conan has played an instrumental role in countless careers, from The Office stars John Krasinski, Ellie Kemper, and Mindy Kaling, all of whom interned for Conan, to his sidekick Andy Richter. However, it’s arguable that Conan’s most famous protege isn’t a person, it’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Played by Conan’s former head writer Robert Smigel, Triumph is one-note in his humor (it’s in his name after all), but the absurdity of the character combined with his aggressive, confrontational style made him an early avatar of cringe comedy. If you’ve never seen the clip of him trolling the line of hardcore Star Wars nerds lined up to see Attack of the Clones, it’s funnier than Princess Leia dunking on Han Solo.
By far the most-viewed video on the Team Coco YouTube page is Disturbed performing “The Sound of Silence.” I’m not sure why that fact is so funny to me, but the most popular video that’s intentional comedy is a hilarious bit in which Conan confronts producer Jordan Schlansky about his tardiness to the office. Schlansky became something of a recurring foil of Conan’s over the years, so it’s fitting that he heads the list of viral clips on Conan’s YouTube page. Perhaps more than any of his late night peers, Conan was an early adopter of emerging social media platforms. Beyond his success on YouTube, his podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend is one of the most popular comedy podcasts.
Man of the People
As amazing as Conan is with his guests and in skits, his greatest strength is hitting the streets to make comedy with regular people. His spin-off series Conan Without Borders features some of his best remote segments from across the globe, but even before he moved to TBS, O’Brien had displayed his knack for interviewing quirky commoners. He’s specifically cited the clip above where he plays “Old Timey Baseball” as one of his favorites. Conan’s ability to gently mock people and customs while remaining warm and approachable is a special talent. As much as we’ll miss the skits, characters, and interviews, it’s Conan’s gregariousness that will be impossible to replace. That and his ability to cleanly sever a head with a single swing of his sword (wait, is that the other Conan? I still can’t tell them apart).
To watch the final week of Conan on TBS, sign up for Sling Orange using the link below.