A Tribute to Conan O’Brien: I Grew Up with ‘Coco’

The now famous image around the internet in support of Conan O'Brien. Author: Mike Mitchell.

With tonight being the last one of the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, I figured it was only appropriate to write a tribute to a man I’ve been watching since the fifth grade. Interestingly enough, Conan’s mix of subtle, clever, and (self-aware) stupid humor entertained me when I was ten and entertains me now at twenty-three.

With the announcement in 2004 that Conan was replacing Leno on the Tonight Show in 2009, it was bittersweet news. It was great that he’d be on the air indefinitely at an earlier time slot with more of a budget and a bigger audience; but it also worried me that Conan might be forced to become vanilla, lame, and not funny. Why? Because with Jay Leno being the host for seventeen years, what else was I to expect?

“Indefinitely” turned into seven months for Conan, while his late night predecessors obviously had several years. This whole drama with NBC, O’Brien, and Leno is certainly not the most important thing going on in the world right now – and Conan makes a point of mentioning this every show while asking his audience to donate to help Haiti. But as far as television goes, it’s a major disappointment.

Conan may be a generational thing. After all, my generation happens to largely prefer O’Brien to Leno, or even Letterman sometimes. In a way we grew up with him. He was able to make us laugh all these years while we were going through puberty, sneakily staying up later than our bedtimes to watch him even though we had to get up for school at 6 in the morning, graduating high school, and throughout our formative college years when we officially became young adults.

Really, it’s no wonder this “Facebook and Twitter” generation has paraded the streets and the internet in defense of Conan O’Brien near the end of his show. So on behalf of all of us, I’d like to say thanks to “Coco” for all the laughs. We sure as hell hope they continue on another network in the near future.