Conan O’Brien has been doing comedy forever, and some people said that I was ahead of the curve for watching him in 2001 as a freshman in high school, but they were wrong. People have been fans forever. I watched him do Late Night With Conan O’Brien on NBC when I was up late studying, and I could swear that watching him made me smarter than the material I was studying. Conan O’Brien went to Harvard and graduated in 1985 (Google search his celebrity 2000 Harvard commencement speech), and his comedy is so smart, I was flabbergasted when, in his farewell to Conan on TBS, he revealed that his comedy formula is the “intersection between smart and stupid.” I realized then that freshman year of high school is definitely a time when one definitely feels that intersection between smart and stupid, often in a non-comedic way, so I am forever grateful for all of his jokes on NBC, TBS, and in his writing for The Simpsons in the ‘90s and elsewhere, for taking what could be potentially the smart-stupid demons inside of all of us and exorcising them into some of the funniest jokes in media history.
As a comedian myself, one of my first instincts was to channel other comics and do what they do, and there’s probably nothing wrong with that, because that’s what they’re doing too. I wanted to stay on the safe side, tell my own stories within an already successful formula that I made my own, and some things seem so ubiquitous, like “The thing about…” that it’s almost unavoidable to do anything else. Therefore, we can all learn to make a smart-stupid joke like Conan. Did he learn it from Homer Simpson? And yet, there is so much more to learn from him.
Read on to enjoy one comedian, writer, Ivy Leaguer, and fan’s takeaway of the things she has learned from being a Conan groupie all these years.
1. Tell jokes for how smart people should be, not how smart people probably are.
On TV, at Thanksgiving, and especially on the internet, much like Conan, tell any appropriate joke that you think is funny, even if you think that other people won’t “get it.” Conan has a laugh track. Is your joke about the Plague? Nobody at Thanksgiving gets it. “What, the plagues in Egypt?” Nanna asks. Just explain your joke. “No, Black Death,” you clarify. Although explaining your jokes at Thanksgiving is polite, in contrast, as Conan has done on TV, and as you can do on the internet, you don’t even have to explain your jokes, because somebody out there will definitely get them and get you, and they are rolling on the floor laughing.
2. Be friends with everybody, even strangers you are just meeting for the first time.
Conan seems to be friends with all of the celebrities he has had on his show and spoke with such dignity about his friendship and working relationship with Andy Richter in his Conan farewell, yet he is just as friendly to every other person on the globe, except for his interns. Be just like Conan and strive to make the barista laugh!
3. Anybody can be a surprisingly good dancer.
You never know in life who is a secretly good dancer. Have you seen Conan’s side-to-side swaying of his hips, pulled by two invisible strings like he is a marionette? Then he cuts one of the strings and his hip falls back down. Brilliant! When you meet your mother-in-law for the first time, now you can wonder!
4. Collaboration is fun and effective.
Conan in his Conan farewell had a zillion people to thank, not really for servicing him, but for working together with him. He actually has comedy writers and bosses on top of him, and his wife was a former coworker. Some of the best people in the industry have worked with him. Collaboration doesn’t go well with narcissism, so perhaps that’s one of the reasons he was chosen as an unknown to have a late night show in a workplace that requires so much collaboration. He’s not keeping track of who got what laugh, he just wants the show to be successful as a whole for everybody in the world to enjoy, including his coworkers. Now I can’t wait for my next group project in a school setting!
5. Poking fun at yourself is okay.
Conan makes jokes about how pale he is, how Irish he is, even how ugly he deems himself to be. There’s something so disarming about this in a world where people are known to write mean comments on YouTube videos or gossip ruthlessly about celebrities, in a world where people strive to be the hottest, and in a world where people are so politically correct it borders on hypervigilance. I’m calling myself a Superjew now!
6. You can poke fun at others in a way that is still respectful.
Conan’s associate producer Jordan Schlansky has been on his show for 26 years, and Conan introduced him in his Conan farewell by saying he still has no idea what he does for his show. His roasts to this coworker are routine and unapologetic, and yet you can feel how much Conan respects him and his staff in general. In fact, you can almost feel Conan hug his punchline people at the end of every bit! Now I’m roasting my unmarried cousin for having gone to Smith College!
7. You can look like anything and be on television.
There’s only one person who looks like Ariana Grande and 8 billion people who do not! Conan looks the least like Ariana Grande of practically any celebrity, and yet he is in the middle of such an amazing career in front of a camera. It takes all kinds of people to make up the world!
8. Innovation is key.
Conan has always been a friend to innovation and pointed out in his Conan farewell that he wanted to move to TBS so he could do whatever he wanted. Other celebrities too have fought against censorship, and when there’s a will, there’s a way! Can’t say it on the air? Put it on Facebook! Can’t put it on Facebook? Say it at a big party! Can’t say it at a big party? Write it in your diary!
9. Not everybody ages.
Do all those jokes keep him so young? A healthy work relationship? Being nice to everybody? Is it the pompadour? We’d all love to know what his beauty secrets are! Regardless of how he does it, it’s nice to know that aging is an option, not a destiny! Now I’m throwing a penny into a wishing well the color of Conan’s hair, wishing to age as well as Conan!
10. Nothing lasts forever.
All good things come to an end, they say. And yet we have this incredible body of work! It was all captured on video! Will Conan repeats be as popular as Friends someday? Now Conan O’Brien feels like my friend!