Image courtesy of The New York Times
Ed note: This was originally written for the Indiana Daily Student’s WEEKEND.
Conan O’Brien has defined the odds time and time again. I mean look at his ridiculous haircut and pale skin: How does someone like that succeed in Hollywood? In Conan’s case, a boat-load of talent, that includes much more than hosting late night television and doing embarrassing dances in which he looks like a puppet on strings.
As Coco begins the next chapter in his glorious career, it’s time to take a quick look back at some of the best moments that helped get him here, in chronological order.
“Mr. Short-Term Memory” and “Girl Watchers” Saturday Night Live sketches (1988): Conan’s first huge break came when he was hired as a write for SNL during one of its glory periods in the late ‘80s. There, he was responsible for a number of great sketches, but most notably these two Tom Hanks-starring bits. Both exemplify Conan’s off-kilter, self-deprecating humor and helped strike up a relationship with one of Hollywood’s most popular players, one that still exists today.
“Marge versus the Monorail” Simpsons episode (1993): After “SNL,” Conan made his way to another seminal American comedy in the FOX animated phenomenon and this 1993 episode is one of the most well-regarded in the series’ run.
Sting helps with your heart (1994): The early run of Late Night is mostly forgettable, but this 1994 Live-Aid parody with Sting suggested great things that eventually came to pass.
Feeling the love in Houston (1994): It was rough-going early for Conan and when he found out Houston was airing his program at 2:30 a.m. after reruns of things like Ricki Lake, he had to find out why people in Houston hated him. Turns out, they had many reasons.
The Governator meets his Syncro-Vox’ed self (1999): One of Conan’s go-to bits on Late Night involved interviewing folks through a remote location that helped them appear on a television right in front of him. Of course, their mouths were replaced by someone else and they often said outrageous things. The most-used victim of this gag was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in 1999 the real Arnie came face-to-face with the fake one in a great moment.
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and the Masturbating Bear (Various): It’s hard to leave off the two most-popular characters from Conan’s time at NBC, both of which are wildly offensive animals that never seem to get old.
Walker, Texas Ranger Lever (2004): When NBCU obtained the rights to the glorious ‘90s action drama, Conan made the best of it with a lever that would fire up random 15-second clips of awesome (read: horribleness).
Conan visits Martha Stewart’s ranch (2005): Conan and the queen of domesticity always had a weirdly intriguing relationship and his visit to her home in 2005 is the seminal moment of that.
Opening bit to his second Emmy hosting gig (2006): O’Brien found himself trapped in various series, most notably Lost where he asked Hurley (Jorge Garcia) how the series didn’t even get nominated the year after winning a number of big awards.
Conan meets his female doppleganger (2006): As part of the “Conan hates my homeland” gags, Conan got into something of a faux-fight with Finland and the network that aired his program there. It quickly escalated when a fan pointed out that O’Brien and the Finnish president shared an uncanny resemblance and ultimately, Conan made a few wonderful episodes out of going over to Finland to meet her.
Horny Manatee blows up the internet (2006): After randomly mentioning a fake web site during a fairly goofy fake college mascots sketch, HornyManatee.com became a reality and Conan urged fans to submit weird manatee pornography. Little did he know that the world really wanted manatee porn, as the web site became overwhelmingly popular late in 2006.
The Writers Guild of America Strike period (2008): Unable to employ his writers, Conan reminded America that his true talents lie in just being absolutely ridiculous. From the traveling guitar playing, ring-spinning and zip-lining, this is perhaps Conan’s best stretch on Late Night ever and the time he cemented himself as the late night host of a generation.
“Who Made Huckabee?” (2008): Similarly, the WGA strike spurred late night’s cool kids Conan, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to create a mock rivalry where they tried to determine who actually helped Republican presidential nominee Mike Huckabee become a legitimate force. The three gamely appeared on the others’ programs multiple times and ended on a ridiculously awesome note.
The final week at The Tonight Show (2010): After news broke that Conan was likely to be pushed back to 12:30 a.m. so Jay Leno could return to his old timeslot and subsequently that Conan wouldn’t agree to this, the whole country became enchanted by the newest late night controversy. Conan embraced his probable departure from NBC in his final handful of episodes, which were biting, freeing and of course, hilarious in the way he hadn’t been since making the hour jump forward.
Conan joins Twitter, follows one person (2010): At the height of his internet stardom Conan triumphantly joined Twitter to provide hilarious, sarcastic 140-character anecdotes to his swelling fan base.