Conan O'Brien's interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes recently aired with highlights ranging from O'Brien's take on whether Jay Leno acted honorably to his quip that his nationwide tour is the first time anyone has paid to see him, though "they've paid to make me go away." For obvious reasons, O'Brien's feelings on Jay Leno were the main points of interest. Kroft mentioned to O'Brien that Leno felt both comedians were "screwed" in the often-covered late night debacle. Conan was quick to answer between bouts of laughter:
"How did he get screwed again? Explain that part to me. I'm sorry, Jay's got The Tonight Show and I have a beard and an inflatable bat, and I'm touring city-to-city. Who can say who won and who lost? I'm laughing because crying would be sad."
Continuing on the subject of Leno, Kroft asked O'Brien whether he believed Jay acted honorably during the ordeal. O'Brien let out a long, hesitant sigh before responding:
"I don't -- I don't think I can answer that. I don't think -- uh, um -- I can just tell you how I would have handled it, and I would have done it differently. If I had surrendered the The Tonight Show and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well, um, and then, uh, I would not have come back six months later. But that's me, you know, and everybody's got their own way of doing things. I would have done something else, gone somewhere else, but that's just me."
Though O'Brien displayed a serious side rarely seen by the public, he didn't play the victim in the interview. Conan was adamant people understand that he's doing great and is excited about his future. "I do believe -- and this might be my Catholic upbringing or Irish magical thinking -- but I think things happen for a reason, I really do." When Kroft interjected such a stance is more in-line with how Lutherans think, O'Brien snapped back to his comedic instincts and clarified what it means to have a Catholic upbringing. "Oh my God it is (how) Lutherans (think). Okay, I believe that if I experience any joy in life I'll go to hell, that's what I believe." The full interview can be seen here.
As a longtime Conan O'Brien fan, the late night NBC showdown between Leno and O'Brien was tough to witness. O'Brien has been a mainstay in my household since 1996 when my 13-year-old self was mesmerized by a man with hair like my own (I thought I was the only one on the planet with "the wave"). He made me feel as though there was hope for pale people with a tsunami of a cowlick. I owe O'Brien for being my inspiration. If it wasn't for Conan, I don't know if I ever would have been the accomplished graduate student living with his parents while racked with student loans that I am today. I also maintain that any comedian with a recurring character named "The Masturbating Bear" is okay in my book. The Masturbating Bear was funny when I was 13, and it's still funny now at 27. I watched with pride when O'Brien did his last show in New York as he prepared to leave for the bright lights of Hollywood and The Tonight Show. Following him for 13 years, before he became a household name, made me feel a deep kinship with a man whom I had never met.
As an individual from the economically depressed state of Michigan, Jay Leno has done much to help ease our troubles. Though not heavily publicized, Leno did several stand-up shows in Detroit where any unemployed worker could come and watch for free. His show was an adrenaline shot for a city that has not seen many positive days the past several years. It's actually been several decades -- I was just trying to be polite to my Motor City brethren.
Ultimately it's Leno's show in Detroit that angers me the most. How can Jay do a show in Detroit to help the unemployed, then one year later take The Tonight Show back from O'Brien and leave him and his staff unemployed? Such a move definitely sends mixed messages. Though there's a big difference in situations -- both men are wealthy beyond any of our wildest dreams -- people in Michigan don't take too kindly to people who take another's job. Perhaps Leno can do a free show for O'Brien's staff and all their families the next time he decides to do a comedy tour (when he isn't too busy serving as NBC's puppet).
Speaking of comedy shows for the poor, on May 21st O'Brien is scheduled to be in East Lansing, Michigan. The impending show was brought to my attention by this tweet from Conan:
Mr. O'Brien, as a poor student who was unable to get tickets to your show due to how fast they sold, is there any chance I could get a ticket along with my girlfriend and sister? After all, you wouldn't want Leno to be the only one to have done a free show in Michigan, right? I could beg, if you'd like. Being a grad student, I lost my dignity years ago.
Scott Janssen is a graduate student, blogger, and an all-around drain on society.