On Friday night, Conan O’Brien will deliver one last “Late Night” monologue, banter with a still-secret roster of celebrity guests, and then permanently shut off the lights in his studio at 30 Rock. After 2,725 shows, the goofball with the orange bouffant is heading west to take over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno.
There’s been much talk about whether Conan’s loony comedic style will translate to the more traditional confines of the 11:35 p.m. time slot. Even more worrisome, though, is the notion that the transition to the more family-friendly “Tonight Show” will necessitate an O’Brien overhaul to the point where “Late Night” fans no longer recognize their gleefully sophomoric Conzey.
With this troubling thought in mind, MTV News took a look back at the past 16 years of “Late Night” brilliance and selected the bits and sketches we can’t live without. The masturbating bear and sexed-up manatee might have to go, but we hope these picks make the cut for the new “Tonight Show,” which debuts June 1.
In the Year 2000
In the best “Late Night” bit of all, Conan and a rotating cast of celebrities take turns making faux-futuristic predictions about what will happen in the oh-so-far-off year 2000. The segment is really just a platform for absurdist jokes (“This holiday season, aliens that look exactly like fresh-baked gingerbread men will pick the worst possible time to invade Earth”). And yet when Conan and company don toy-like space collars and shine flashlights on their faces as if they were kids on a sleepover, the true charm, simplicity and genius of the show comes through: funny people saying funny things — and there’s nothing like it on TV. Or maybe we just dig the bit because of how awesome it is to hear house trombonist LaBamba croon a falsetto “In the year two-thousaaaaaaand!” (Watch Alec Baldwin and Seth Rogen taking a look into the future.)
Fake Celebrity Interviews
Take a photo of a celebrity, insert a mouth and a comedian’s voice, and voilà: the solution to your inability to book A-list guests and years’ worth of comedy gold. Even after Conan gained credibility and could regularly land top stars, this bit endured for the simple reason that putting words into the mouths of celebrities is a hell of a lot funnier than listening to what they’d say in real life. (See what “Arnold Schwarzenegger” and “Bill Clinton” had to say to Conan.)
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
Who hasn’t felt the wrath of the equal-opportunity poop-talking puppet? Triumph has trained his bleep-tastic insults on “Star Wars” nerds, presidential candidates and Hollywood royalty. In the hands — and with the voice — of Robert Smigel, Triumph just doesn’t do PG-rated comedy, and to rein him in would be to destroy the very things that make him such a revelation. NBC overlords: Give us the real Triumph, or let that pooch drift silently away into “Late Night” history! (Triumph reports from Comic-Con and the Republican National Convention.)
Conan Sings a Lullaby
Under the guise of an innocent bedtime song to get viewers’ children to sleep, Conan strums his guitar and delivers oddball lyrics like, “Double murder, broken bone, Alec Baldwin, on the phone.” It’s pure comedic courage to dare your audience to fall asleep. Plus, the segment is just enduringly strange, and the often cookie-cutter comedy now on display at “The Tonight Show” is in dire need of off-kilter laughs.
Conan Goes on a Trip
OK, the guy’s spent his entire life trying to get onto the “Tonight Show” set, but once there, we hope Conan doesn’t stay locked in Burbank for the next two decades. Whether he’s swilling from an enormous wine glass in Napa, attending bartending school (“I’m like a coaster ninja!”) or thinking he can get stoned off yellow tulips in Amsterdam, Conan’s at his loosey-goosey best when reacting to new environments and playing the absurdist fool to unwitting strangers. Come to think of it, most of his adventures involve some form of intoxication, so let’s hope the stiffs in Standards & Practices don’t put the kibosh on more drunken Conan shenanigans. (Conan visits Amsterdam, Napa Valley and bartending school.)
What bits do you want to see on Conan’s “Tonight Show”? Got any ideas for fresh sketches?