Robert Hampton

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24th January 2010

I’m with CoCo
Posted by at 11.53am | No responses | Television

The late night talk show is a format which hasn’t really caught on in the UK the way it has in America. Sure, we get Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross and (shudder) Alan Carr once a week, but how many of these hosts could successfully do a show five nights a week, for 40 or so weeks a year? Not many, I’d suspect.

In America, the late night talk show has become something of a staple of many network schedules (Wikipedia helpfully summarises). It seems odd to us in the UK, where most TV channels give up after about 11.30pm and fling on old films or Pages from Ceefax to take insomniac viewers through the night. Across the pond however, some of these shows have become icons of popular culture, and that is especially true of NBC’s long-running Tonight Show. So when questions started being asked about Tonight’s future, it was headline news in the US.

I’m not going to go into detail about the controversy (the links in this post should satisfy any curiosity you have) but I want to highlight Conan O’Brien, the current host of the Tonight Show who is being forced out after just seven months on the job.

I first discovered Conan a few years ago when I stumbled across his previous show, Late Night, which was shown in the UK for many years as a weekend filler on the business news channel CNBC Europe. I quickly became enamoured with his absurdist style of humour, honed while writing some of the very best Simpsons episodes during that show’s glory years. The surrealism was elevated further by CNBC’s practice of showing stock market prices during the commercial breaks.

Unfortunately, Conan lost some of his edginess with a move to the more mainstream Tonight Show in 2009. Fortunately, there are some choice clips from his old show available on YouTube and I’ve posted a selection of them below.

GE Computerised Voice

Late Night was broadcast from NBC’s studios in New York City’s Rockefeller Center which meant that Conan was sharing office space with some big names in Corporate America, including NBC’s parent company, General Electric. It was a setup that was mined for its comedy potential on a number of occasions. In the clips below Conan has fun with the building’s computerised phone system.

Transit Strike

Conan was often at his best during taped segments such as these, where he got out and about on location and met with normal people whose reactions range from bewilderment to a willingness to play good-natured stooge to his antics.

Bread Man

Celebrity guests were the show’s bread and butter, of course, but every so often someone more unusual would come along. Here the host has fun with a “bread expert” who puts a little too much into his hobby.

Good Priest, Bad Priest

One of the many random sketches which interrupted show. Look out for a guest appearance from Jesus Christ:

Pierre Barnard’s Recliner of Rage

Conan, like Letterman before him, frequently made his production staff into characters on the show. Late Night‘s graphic designer, Pierre Barnard, was recruited to rant about his nerdish obsessions.

Cloppy the Late Night Horse

A horse with a fondness for shotguns and death. This one-joke sketch was given extra legs after Nicholas Cage of all people endorsed it during an interview.

Conan and Finland

Bizarrely the show was especially popular in Finland, a fact discovered when Conan solicited hate mail from countries across the World and discovered that Finnish people were sending in their letters even before he’d got to their country.

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