Tagged: conan o’brien

Commencement Addresses

Around this time of year, videos and transcripts of recent college commencement addresses begin to appear. Some of them are very good! Aaron Sorkin, for instance, gave a really nice address to students at Syracuse University (his alma mater). Yes, he largely repurposed an address he gave at the school in 1997 (link via), but Sorkin has a well-established habit of revisiting his own lines, so I guess it’s not that big of a deal? (Unless you were at the ceremony in 1997 and also at the one earlier this month, and maybe in that case you feel very let down because despite it being 15 years later and Sorkin having created “The West Wing” and won an Oscar for “The Social Network” during that time, he apparently doesn’t have much in the way of new thoughts to offer graduates.) Anyway, it’s still a good speech.

Longform gathered some other gems, including Sheryl Sandberg’s speech at Barnard last year and Jon Stewart’s words to William & Mary in 2004. I’ve mentioned this before, but I have no idea what my commencement speaker said. As such, I will again point to two of my personal favorites: David Foster Wallace’s 2005 address at Kenyon College (audio) and Conan O’Brien’s address to Harvard in 2000.

What Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You

Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.

Okay, so you have probably seen this already, as it has been online for days and quickly reached maximum Internet exposure because everybody already posted it on Facebook and tweeted it and emailed it. But some of us only just saw it! Some of us saved it to read later and then we forgot and then the Heat game was on, and the next thing we knew we had forgotten to read that thing everybody had already seen and shared.

So I’m going to share it again because hey, maybe you also missed it, maybe you just didn’t see it because it’s a big bad Internet out there and sometimes you get caught up in things and miss that one item everybody has already seen. Here’s that list of things your commencement speaker won’t tell you, and it really is quite good if you haven’t read it already. (I particularly like the lowered expectations: “I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.”)

I don’t remember a single thing my commencement speaker said. Not a word. Probably something about graduation? Not really sure. But since it is graduation time for many students, I will also link to two of my favorite commencement addresses: Conan O’Brien’s speech to Harvard students in 2000 and David Foster Wallace’s famous “This Is Water” address to Kenyon College in 2005. (Here’s audio of the DFW speech, if you’d rather listen.)

Conan’s Terrific Dartmouth Commencement Address

Conan O’Brien (do I even need to say O’Brien here? You know who I’m talking about) delivered a great commencement speech to Harvard graduates in 2000. But a lot has changed in the ensuing decade, as Conan has gone through pretty big changes in his life and career. Thankfully, he stopped by Dartmouth to pick up an honorary degree and deliver another commencement address, and the class of 2011 heard a pretty swell speech:

But then something spectacular happened. Fogbound, with no compass, and adrift, I started trying things. I grew a strange, cinnamon beard. I dove into the world of social media. I started tweeting my comedy. I threw together a national tour. I played the guitar. I did stand-up, wore a skin-tight blue leather suit, recorded an album, made a documentary, and frightened my friends and family. Ultimately, I abandoned all preconceived perceptions of my career path and stature and took a job on basic cable with a network most famous for showing reruns, along with sitcoms created by a tall, black man who dresses like an old, black woman. I did a lot of silly, unconventional, spontaneous and seemingly irrational things and guess what: with the exception of the blue leather suit, it was the most satisfying and fascinating year of my professional life. To this day I still don’t understand exactly what happened, but I have never had more fun, been more challenged—and this is important—had more conviction about what I was doing.

Here’s a transcript, and you can watch the entire video here or below:

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”

Here’s the first trailer for “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” a documentary about the making of Conan’s (truly excellent) Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. The movie looks like a very entertaining behind-the-scenes glimpse at putting on such a show, but more than that it looks like a really interesting look at Conan’s mindset during that period in his life.


Conan and the Internet

How did Conan O’Brien transform from a late night host without technological savvy into a rather keen user of social networks and online media? Fortune explores, and it’s really rather interesting when you consider the way this drove his post-NBC, pre-TBS period, which wouldn’t seem so vital except it largely connected (or reconnected) Conan to his target audience at a time when he had no other platform through which he could reach them.

Conan will never talk to Leno again

Will Conan O’Brien ever talk to Jay Leno again? Obviously the answer is no, but here’s his explanation when he was asked about it:

“There’s nothing to figure out. We all know the story. We all know what happened. Life’s short. I’ve got a family and I’m really happy here, so I don’t think about it too much.”

I’m hoping somebody asks Conan why “Jaywalking” is so popular when it’s such an appalling and cruel little gag, but I’m not holding my breath.


The “Conan” Premiere

Good lord, it’s good to have Conan back.

Yes, it’s silly to judge a late night comedy show based on one outing. These things are marathons judged as individual sprints, which is both the way they are delivered to viewers as well as pretty unfair to the overall product. But it just felt right to have him back on TV. And yeah, it kept a lot of elements the same — monologue, desk, guests, musical guests, the Basic Cable Band — which I suppose will irk some who wanted to see a newer take on the late night talk show format.

Me, I didn’t mind. He’s trying to draw viewers TBS needs, to compete with Leno and Letterman, and be different without being so different they don’t recognize it as one of those shows. Plus, that’s the format with which he is comfortable. Nothing wrong with that. It wasn’t like people watched his “Late Night” or “Tonight Show” and thought, “Man, if only he could bust out of this blueprint and create his own version of a late night talk show.” He was funny within that paradigm and, considering his professed lifelong dream of hosting “The Tonight Show,” he clearly respects that framework. I don’t mind that one bit. I expect some changes will happen down the line, and things along the lines of his performance with Jack White show he’s not going to be entirely beholden to the old format, but a talk show is a talk show. (With all of the inherent benefits and drawbacks: The interviews, save his chat with Jack White, were the least interesting parts of the show.)

I liked how the show — at least at the outset — seemed to fuse the somewhat anarchic spirit of his last few “Tonight Show” weeks with the super-energetic spirit of his live tour. It’s silly to take meaning from something like this, but it looks like he fused his post-“Tonight Show” self (i.e. the beard) with the classic host persona (i.e. the suit). So that’s nice. I thought all of the NBC references were funny, and unlike other people, I don’t mind that he was so strong on that out of the gate. That’s what people know about, are thinking about and it’s at the core of why he is where he is. To not deal with NBC jokes would be stupid and, frankly, a waste of good material. I don’t think he’ll be making jokes about his exit in December, so who cares?

The Jack White stuff was great. Having Andy there on the couch was great. And Conan belongs on television. So all in all, it was a pretty fun return, albeit in pretty standard packaging.

Things I Liked:

  • “Last season on ‘Conan'”
  • I do enjoy a reference to the tollbooth scene.
  • “People ask me why I named the show ‘Conan.’ I did it so I’d be harder to replace.”
  • Two things I’m glad are still around: Andy and his beard.
  • “Comma, Brett Favre’s penis.”
  • The Internet people “saved my ass,” he says. Nice that some talk show hosts can acknowledge such things.
  • He has his own Death Star! Basic cable ain’t so bad.
  • Jack White. The jam, the interview. I enjoyed all things Jack White.

Conan returns with “Conan”

Hey, so how excited should we be for “Conan,” anyway? Conan O’Brien’s new show premieres tonight on TBS (at 11 p.m.). On the one hand: Conan! On the other hand: It is still, and no matter how many ways it is innovative or different or new it will still always be, some variation of the same.

I’ve read elsewhere (I forget where, exactly) about an interesting subplot to Conan’s return to the airwaves. Conan, before the whole Jay Leno/NBC imbroglio from the early days of 2010, was a rather beloved comic figure to a certain segment of the populace. He was funny, weird and different. But there were large chunks of people who didn’t watch or had no real stake in his success. After NBC badly, badly screwed up what was essentially a personnel move — albeit a public, high-stakes, big-money, image-altering move fraught with eternally negative publicity — he became Conan O’Brien, Hero.

A lot of people out there who are rooting for Conan or followed his online exploits did so after he became a folk hero. Are they the kind of people who will tune in each week to watch him? Will the lingering affection from “Team Coco” last when it’s February and he’s interviewing Snooki and a dude with an iguana that can open a can of beer? In short, will these people watch?

Me, I’m a Conan fan from way back when. Tuned in sometime in the mid-1990s and was hooked. And even with that, I was never and will never be what you would term a regular viewer. When he was leaving “Late Night,” I tuned in for the last few episodes (i.e. I DVR’d them); when he was starting out on “The Tonight Show,” I probably DVR’d and watched for about a week. When he was leaving, I watched the last few weeks with great interest — most of them, except for a few times if I was busy and didn’t get to it, in which case I could watch the highlights online. I will DVR this new show, for a while at least. But I am not the kind of person to religiously watch a late night show. That’s a lot of television, a big time requirement and not something I am prone to doing. I record “The Daily Show” and watch it often, but definitely not every installment. That’s just me. Maybe it’s generational, maybe it’s cultural, I don’t know. But I am the target “Conan” audience — young, in the 18-to-34 demographic, culturally aware, a longtime fan with a strong desire for Conan to succeed — and I don’t know if that target audience tunes into a show every night at 11 p.m. (or watches it the next day after recording it).

But I am still excited for it. I am still rooting for it to succeed, whatever success will be determined by TBS, Conan, the advertisers and the people who carry the network. I’m going to watch at least the first week, and intermittently after that, probably when I remember or am watching TV right then or, much more often, I’ll watch a clip or bit from the show that is sent to me online.

And not that this is a zero-sum either-or game or anything, but Jay Leno is still awful. (Do we have to compare the two now and forever? Only right now, with a new show premiering, does it seem valid.) Not necessarily as a human being (we don’t know exactly the extent to which he was involved in everything last January), because I don’t know him well enough to say that. But as a television host, as a comedic persona, he’s pretty awful. Having him and no Conan made it seem like there was a comedic imbalance. So at least we’re back in a world where Conan O’Brien exists on television.

Late night viewers can be easily segmented into particular consumer demographics

You already know Leno viewers are more likely to be rich Republicans who enjoy Fox News, while Conan viewers are likely single atheists, right? Obviously. But now you have actual, official numbers to say so! To celebrate the launch of the Hollywood Reporter as a weekly magazine, the publication had a survey conducted of late night viewers. It’s full of all sorts of obvious-seeming things, but this tidbit is interesting:

Given a list of personality adjectives, viewers said “mean spirited” and “smart” best described Letterman, “outdated” and “whiny” fit Leno, while “trustworthy” best represented O’Brien.

The people who were surveyed seem wise. I think I will choose to trust these numbers. This follows Monday’s report in AdAge confirming that, yes, you as a viewer can be segmented by what you watch and what you buy in order for massive corporations to target you and your bucks. In other words: Duh.