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Conan’s First Night on the Job

June 2nd, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

A new era of late night television kicked off with an epic journey last night as new Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien went to great lengths to get to his new set (all the way in California). And the lanky, red-haired comedian returned true to form, bringing his familiar, self-depreciating humor to a number of sketches in the first half hour. Not much stand-up here: Instead, O’Brien focused on taking us a journey from coast to coast, on to a tour of the Universal Studios lot, and even for a ride around L.A. in his beloved 1992 green Taurus. Joining O’Brien for his first night: long-time sidekick Andy Richter to play McMahon to O’Brien’s Carson, while Land of the Lost star Will Ferrell offered some (un)helpful advice for the new guy in town and musical guest Pearl Jam wrapped up the evening with their new track, “Get Some.”

“[On ‘Late Night,’] we prided ourselves on having a lot of produced comedy. I will probably try to continue that tradition. That’s what I’m comfortable with, that’s what I come from, the comedy world,” he said in a recent phone call. And longtime fans, take note: You will be seeing some familiar sketches as the new show rolls out. “There are certain bits that we did over the years on the ‘Late Night’ show which I would look at and think to myself, ‘This would work at 11:30; this bit could work at 8 o’clock at night. For example, this thing we’d do on the ‘Late Night’ show, when NBC merged with Telemundo. I said I wanted to reach out to our Spanish-speaking audience, and so I started doing a soap opera that was completely in Spanish, called ‘Noches de Pasion on Conan O’Brien.’ It was just a really fun, silly bit. I remember thinking I could have probably, as a child, sold this bit to Johnny Carson. It’s just a fun, sort of old-school Tonight Show piece. That’s a piece I’d be anxious to try out on this show.”

“And then there are things like ‘Year 2000′ which is basically just a good way to deliver jokes,” he adds. “One of the things I’ve been stressing to my writers at the beginning is we’re moving from one playground to another playground for the first time in 16 years. Being on the Universal lot is such a gift, and being in this strange culture. You know, people just laugh when they think of me being in Los Angeles, and it’s an opportunity to think of new ideas. It’d be a shame to just dust off the old ‘Late Night’ show and move it to 11:30. It doesn’t feel right to do that. We’re really hoping to come up with new things as well. I’d like to keep the best of the ‘Late Night’ show, a couple of pieces here and there. I see no reason why Triumph the Insult Dog can’t file reports for us, and then I think this is really an opportunity to do something new. I think people would be disappointed if I didn’t reinvent myself to some degree.”

Need a bigger Conan fix? Check out our hand-picked collection of favorite Late Night moments from his last gig, including a look at the Year 2000 with Sarah Silverman, Triumph at Comic-Con, a game of old-fashioned baseball, and — my personal favorite — a leisurely day picking apples with Mr. T. Here’s hoping we’ll see some more of these sketches on the new Tonight Show.

Rebecca Harper ()
Editor, Hulu

Last comment: Jun 10th 2009 1 Comment
  • BMB says:

    Woohoo! Conan is back! I stayed up late for the premier (although, I’ll probably catch future shows during earlier hours, thanks to Hulu).

    Though I am a huge Conan fan, I did think he seemed a bit nervous on his first night. I guess it’s to be expected, being on the stage where so many greats have been before. By the end of the week, I feel like he was hitting his groove a bit more. It seemed like he had to mention “Universals Studios” enough times to hit a quota.

    Cool collection on some of his hand-picked moments. I watched that and died laughing on the Mr. T skit.

    Here’s to more people being introduce to Conan and falling in love with his humor.