Why I Miss Late Night with Conan O’ Brien – HarpoonMurder

Why I Miss Late Night with Conan O’ Brien

Who do you consider the funniest person?


The Funniest Person You Know

Of course humor is subjective but maybe names of popular comedians or performers come to mind like Will Ferrell, Kevin, Hart, Melissa McCarthy or maybe you prefer Louis C.K., Bill Burr, or Norm MacDonald.

A comedian or comedic performer has the task or making you laugh but not just you, they are targeting a general larger audience.  They are skilled performers who have mastered a craft.  They often can share personal stories in hopes that the audience has similar sensibilities and can relate.  A good comedian can create a connection with you but of course like I mentioned before humor is subjective.

Let’s put it another way: who makes you laugh the most? Whether intentionally or unintentionally you probably find a friend, family member or co-worker as the person who makes you laugh the most.  For me this is not one person but my group of friends.  In any setting where we get together the goal is to have fun and thus implicitly make each other laugh and of course with friends there is already that connection established that the comedian has a limited amount of time to create.  They have the additional advantage in the area of subjectivity of already having an idea of what you think is funny.  There is also a shared resource of memories to tap into.  Often among friends we make jokes about each other, people we know and those are the times we laugh the hardest.  There is a personal reference to ourselves and others we know.  These are all inside jokes.

The Inside Joke

An “inside” or “in-joke” requires a context.  Without it, the joke can have no effect or seem outright annoying.  It’s a setup of familiarity and exclusivity.

Comedians in their routine often reference back to a previous joke or comment they made earlier in their set to set up another joke.  This technique is successful enough that you see many comics close like this.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Norm MacDonald stated what he believed to be the secret to David Letterman’s success.  He believed the joke was on the guest of the show and Letterman and the audience were the ones sharing on being “in” on the joke.

Norm MacDonald goes on about Letterman 12:50:

Late Night with Conan O’ Brien

I remember watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien in high school, staying up late Friday nights and sometimes setting up the vcr to record the shows during school nights.  I found a connection with the show.  Its ridiculousness matched my mood and sensibilities.

late night with conan characters

I recently read a book where Mike Sacks interview Robert Smigel, who was head writer for the Late Show with Conan O’Brien, where he talked about how he “wanted a show that would commit to a fake reality with fake characters.”

I thought about that and remembered the bit they did with Actual Items, where it was a spoof on Leno’s version except these ads were obviously not “actual”.  Using a tongue-in-cheek approach they pretended they were and took it to ridiculous lengths.

I never thought about why I liked the show so much but looking back at all of the recurring characters and bits I believe they were successful in creating a “fake reality” or at least a familiar world where the audience and Conan shared in on the joke.

It’s no surprise that Conan gained a cult-like following.  The show’s tone was led by Conan’s self-deprecating awkward embracing style which made us feel like he was one of us.  The characters, bits and even returning guests became familiar and once you got the sense of humor you were in on all the jokes.

The critics missed the layer of self-awareness.  To them the cavalcade of silly characters like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Abe Vigoda, Andy’s Little Sister or those bits like in the year 2000 or where they replaced the mouths of people just seemed juvenile or odd.  The media didn’t get it because they weren’t in on the joke and maybe that’s what made it even more enjoyable.


  • http://www.harpoonmurder.com/ feralmonkeyboy

    one of my favorite shows too, good article, good job!