The late night exile of Conan O'Brien ended Monday with a tweet: "The good news: I will be doing a show on TBS starting in November! The bad news: I'll be playing Rudy on the all new Cosby Show." (For members of Jay Leno's audience, a translation: Coco's kidding about the Cosby thing). Starting in November, O'Brien will helm a new 11PM talk show from Monday to Thursday. That this news came the same day O'Brien's highly anticipated Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour begins seems like sweet justice.
I confess to looking for redemptive narratives in everything. When Conan went off the air in January, it wasn't with the cynicism I thought he'd earned the right to:
"All I ask is one thing, and I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."
He was all bangs and no whimpers. And now he's back.
I was 13 when Conan debuted in David Letterman's old slot on NBC. The morning after the first Late Night With Conan O'Brien aired, my Civics teacher, 26 at the time, proceeded to use parts of Conan's topical monologue for our lessons. I've been a Conan fan from day one, and I'm in that demographic: the smallest tail end of Generation X, too young to have been a real 90's slacker but old enough to understand what made Letterman (and Conan) so funny. In the days leading up to O'Brien's departure 17 years later, my thirtieth birthday drew closer. I'd rung in 2010 eager for the 2000s to be over, to take my twenties with them, and I was getting pretty sick of my own postmodern cynicism. It hadn't lead anywhere.
My religious status on Facebook has been, since January, "Work Hard, Be Kind, Amazing Things Will Happen." I don't mean it in some karmic way or in opposition to everything I learned in Divinity School about good works and grace. But as a mantra for a generation that's perhaps taken too long already to see the worth in sincerity, I think it works. It works for me.
Hard work and sincerity seem also to work for Conan. His road show exists primarily to keep his staff employed during their stint in late night limbo. Conan's new deal at TBS, which moves George Lopez to midnight, happened only after Lopez reached out to convince Conan he was on board. O'Brien reportedly refused wanting to reproduce the same hard feelings his situation at NBC (a network he spoke fondly of in his finale, after all) spread across late night.
I've been working hard at the New Sincerity. It's risky and it leaves you vulnerable, sure, but I think it's worth it. Conan didn't say anything about jealously, though. My sister bought her boyfriend tickets to the road show for his own thirtieth birthday. I haven't seen mine. So not cool.
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