One of the more intriguing events listed on the schedule for the 2010 Bridgetown Comedy Festival was a panel featuring writers for Conan O'Brien moderated by Jimmy Pardo, who had provided the audience warm-up comedy for the short-lived Conan edition of The Tonight Show. What would they say about the tumult that hit late-night TV just a few months earlier? What are they up to now? Are they still on Team Coco?
You can hear their latest material that's not on TV by checking out the Conan O'Brien Writer's Room show on Wednesday, April 28, at the Hollywood Improv. The tentative lineup, hosted by Pardo, includes Josh Comers, Matt O’Brien, Dan Cronin, Todd Levin, Brian McCann, Brian Kiley, Andres du Bouchet and Deon Cole.
We'd get to some of that juicy news and gossip, but not after Pardo asked each of the writers present -- Brian McCann, Josh Comers, Kevin Dorff and Dan Cronin -- about how they originally had gotten hired for Conan. (Photo by Liezl)
McCann, who joined Late Night in 1995, said he had submitted writing packages at least three times since the show debuted in 1993, and joked that he thought his friendship with Andy Richter through their mutual performances in the Chicago improv scene would have gotten him in easily. As far as what earned approval even back then? "Conan was looking for ideas. Just endless ideas," McCann said. Crazy, topical, anything really. "He loves it all, as long as it makes him laugh."
As for the switch from NYC and LA, and moving from 12:35 a.m. to 11:35 p.m., McCann said the implied suggestions from on-high were to make the show "more presentational" like a "live road show." Which is, ironically, what Conan is doing this spring with his North American live tour of theaters. Dorff, meanwhile, had said the writers had heard last year to keep the show "Conan-centric." Before, the show's writers often were a big part of the mix with sketches before, during and after the guest panelists. "Give people time to get used to seeing this guy in this job which is new to him," Dorff said they were told. Cronin said that the WGA strike that lasted 14 weeks at the end of 2007 -- when Conan eventually had to front and carry the entire load himself on the air -- only drove home the point that Conan's Tonight Show would be more about Conan and less about all of the characters.
Someone used their hot tub time machine over the weekend to bring this TV highlight out of hiding. Five years ago, Chris Rock warned Conan O'Brien that if he made Jay Leno angry, Leno would stick around for another 20 years on The Tonight Show. Comedians knew what was coming. Just like Artie Lange predicted in 2008 and Norm MacDonald predicted in 2009. Roll the clip!
This video has circulated in the past day or so, thanks in part to Robert Reich himself posting it to Talking Points Memo, but it dates back to July 22, 2005, if IMDB is to be believed. Yes. It's funny to see Conan O'Brien team up as buddy cops with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. And it's not difficult to believe that Reich has a good sense of humor -- I've interviewed his son, Sam Reich, who heads up CollegeHumor TV.
But what gives it a double-dose of extra fun watching it now in 2010? For one thing, Conan had no problems calling that prostitute "Coco," five years before he'd get tabbed with it as his own nickname. And if you keep watching, you'll see Donald Glover (now co-starring in NBC's Community) in what quite possibly is his first TV credit. Just the kind of fun and informative thing to watch on a Friday afternoon. Roll it!
If you're wondering why Tom Hanks was on the final edition of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, well, perhaps you thought, maybe it's because Hanks nicknamed Conan "Coco" on his second Tonight Show. Close. But not quite. As Hanks explained in last night's show, he and Conan go way, way back to Hanks' nights as a host on Saturday Night Live, when he remembered seeing Conan back in the deepest recesses of SNL's studios as part of the "Boiler Room Boys" with fellow SNL writers Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel. Wonder what happened to those guys?
Eventually, NBC.com and Hulu will figure out they need to put more of their Conan clips online to earn some revenue -- they need the money. Until then, I did find these two clips from SNL way back in the night, in rare appearances by Conan O'Brien when he was an SNL writer but had speaking lines. Both instances involve Tom Hanks as the host. So now it comes three-quarters-circle. This first clip is from 1988, in which Hanks tries to disprove the Hollywood myth that he's a nice guy. Hard to believe now, right?
This second appearance of Hanks and Conan comes from 1990, when Hanks hosted SNL for his fifth time and gained entry to the ultra-exclusive SNL Five-Timers Club. Look who the doorman is! It's Conan! (That he says his name is Sean is merely coincidence, as we still have not met yet) With appearance by all of the previous SNL 5-timers: Paul Simon, Steve Martin, Elliott Gould. No Alec Baldwin back then. Roll it.
NBC Universal honcho Jeff Zucker sat down for an exclusive one-on-one chat with Charlie Rose earlier in the week, and it's now up on Hulu.com along with other clips from Rose's PBS talk show. Of course, we know now that tonight is Conan O'Brien's last night as the ill-fated host of NBC's The Tonight Show, and the demise of The Jay Leno Show in primetime is not far behind, with Leno retaking the helm of Tonight on March 1. We had not heard much, if anything, publicly from Zucker about this.
Rose did not ask Zucker about his very first encounter with O'Brien at Harvard, which did not set the best tone (as Zucker had O'Brien arrested when Conan's Harvard Lampoon stole all of the issues of Zucker's paper, the Crimson, as a prank). No. This was a more sobering half-hour in which Rose reiterated all of the problems NBC has had in late-night -- as well as the network's overall difficulties languishing in last place. If you want to hear Zucker's take, this is your chance. And if you live outside of America and cannot access Hulu, you can watch the half-hour on Charlie Rose's site.
Strange but true in so many ways, when Artie Lange appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 2008 to promote his book, Lange told Conan that he was making a big mistake in agreeing to move to Los Angeles and taking over the Tonight Show, suggested he let the "bobblehead" Jay Leno continue to host it instead, and take NBC's $40 million penalty fee. Conan denied it then. "No. I don't think so," O'Brien told Lange. "Forty million dollars not to work? Sweet. I've got to look into that." Roll the clip!
The people at CBS and Late Show at David Letterman know that after Monday's blistering take on NBC, they could have some more fun tonight. Except now that Conan O'Brien announced today that he would not move The Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m., the balls are in NBC's court, and tonight's Tonight Show will be one to watch (they're all ones to watch, BTW). So CBS has put up these two clips from tonight's Late Show. The first has Letterman giving NBC an idea on how to replace "Big Jaw" Jay Leno at 10 p.m. with another Law & Order...Leno Victims Unit.
When Letterman gets to the desk tonight, it sounds like he is rehashing his advice from last night, only with updated information about the ongoing battle at NBC to reply to Conan's announcement this afternoon. Also, as Letterman tells Carson Daly, the difference between having a TV show at 1:35 a.m. and not having a show, isn't that much of a difference. Roll it!
The Hollywood Reporter also has gotten hold of quips from Letterman's monologue. "I just knocked off another competitor!"
UPDATED: Here is Letterman's Tuesday monologue!
In part two of his monologue, Letterman also gets in a dig on Leno regarding Simon Cowell's decision to leave American Idol. Then it's back to Sarah Palin jokes.
Last summer, while running around from show to show at the inaugural Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival, I managed to catch up with Robert Smigel and Dino Stamatopoulos backstage after one of their rare screenings of "The Unaired Bozo Circus Parody" along with the pilot for TV Funhouse. At the time, I quickly posted only part of the video, in which I asked Smigel to offer his perspective on his Chicago Superfans sketch that he developed into one of the more popular recurring Saturday Night Live sketches in the early 1990s. Da Bears. Da Bulls. Well, as all of this NBC late-night TV melodrama has unfolded, I remembered that Smigel not only was the first head writer for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, but that he and Stamatopoulos had talked a little bit about that -- Dino was Smigel's first hire -- as well as their humble beginnings in comedy. Also, how they came up with the word "crunk" before it became popular for something else. In their eyes, it was supposed to be a fake curse word that Conan and others could say on the show without actually cursing. Roll the wayback machine clip!
Stamatopoulos could be seen on several episodes this season of NBC's Community, and is developing a new show for Adult Swim, Frankenhole. He previously produced Moral Orel for the cable toon network, as well as Tom Goes to the Mayor. His writing credits include The Ben Stiller Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Dana Carvey Show, Late Show with David Letterman, Mr. Show with Bob and David, TV Funhouse, MADtv and Important Things with Demetri Martin. Those sound like pretty good credits, don't they?
Smigel, meanwhile, made The Dana Carvey Show and TV Funhouse happen, but he remains famous even today for pooping on all types of famous people as Triumph the Insult Dog. He stopped by Conan's Tonight Show last week to show what happened with Triumph went to the spa.
If you'd like to see Triumph do a 40-minute set and have not seen that yet...
Because David Letterman tapes his Friday shows early, he didn't have a chance to weigh in on NBC's late-night TV reshuffling -- or as Bill Carter of The New York Times thinks of it, his new book that'll someday make a miniseries sequel of The Late Shift -- until Monday. Don't worry. Letterman wasn't going to keep quiet. And he didn't. In fact, if he didn't already have guests lined up, you almost think he might have spent the full hour taking jabs at the Peacock Network and Jay Leno. From his opening line, when Letterman deadpanned that once again, he had been passed up for The Tonight Show, through the monologue, then to the desk for a full history lesson on NBC's late-night history, it seemed, to his advice suggesting that Jay and Conan share hosting duties so Jay can "tell his little jokes" and still have time to tinker on his old truck or whatever. And of course, Letterman's staff also put together a special Top 10 List There's Signs of Trouble at NBC.
You could tell that Letterman has fondness for Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon, the two guys who have followed him on NBC's Late Night franchise at 12:30 a.m., but no such good will for Leno even after all these years. Here are three segments just from last night's Late Show with David Letterman. Roll 'em! First up, Letterman's monologue:
Letterman reminds us all what happened in previous years at NBC, and offers a couple of suggestions for what to do in 2010 and wicked impersonations of Leno as a guy who just wants to tell his little jokes and tinker on his old truck, or something:
And here's the Top Ten:
Letterman will continue to get great laughs out of this situation in the short-term. But what about the longer term? What will the late-night talk-show landscape look like for the NBC lineup after the Winter Olympics conclude in March?
Let's start with the easiest guy: Jimmy Fallon. Well, actually, Carson Daly's fate is even easier to describe -- the affiliates own the 2 a.m. hour, so he cannot air then, and even if his show did stick around, it has been an odd duck ever since he ditched the semi-live studio audience format (though that was an oddity, too), and Daly always has seemed out of place whenever he strays from being the Dick Clark of our time (even if Ryan Seacrest wants to take that title from Daly). NBC still can have Daly host New Year's Eve specials and let him focus on his strength as a music guy.
Ready for the weekend? Me, too. But first, a few things to mention and link to that people are reading and talking about in comedy circles...
(photo by Dewey Nicks for the NYT)
“I felt like Lyndon Johnson in the hill country, running a grass-roots campaign,” O’Brien said. “In places like Oklahoma City, everyone was wearing Conan wigs and they brought a Clydesdale out of a truck. I grabbed a cowboy hat and rode in circles in front of the station. There were cheerleaders doing cheers for me and banners with my name on them. I kept thinking, I came into show business through the back door of SNL and The Simpsons, and now I’m in the carnival. Which I love. If you want to host The Tonight Show, you need to go to Kansas City and Cleveland and Milwaukee and San Jose and Oklahoma City. There’s something about the show that does belong to those people.”
We have news on both the outgoing and incoming versions of The Tonight Show. First, the new: TV Guide obtained a publicity photo from NBC showing Conan O'Brien's new set in California -- which is twice the size of his digs up in 30 Rock in NYC, and also somewhat reminiscent of Leno's set, no? Perhaps more importantly, sidekick Andy Richter is back in action, giving us a backstage look at the new offices, whilst pretending to be Conan!
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien debuts June 1.
Meanwhile, Jay Leno has two more weeks to go before vacating his late-night seat and getting ready for primetime in September. Leno's final guests on his version of The Tonight Show will be Conan O'Brien and James Taylor, plus a surprise or two, he told reporters on a conference call late yesterday. Here are some excerpts, courtesy of Eric Deggans at the St. Petersburg Times.
On doing a nightly 10 p.m. comedy showcase: “The real key to this, is having a lot more comedy in the last half hour. Research shows people like the monologue, people like Headlines . . . we'll update those and freshen them up. The real trick is that second half hour. Although my job previous to this was to give a good lead-in to Conan, the job giving a good lead-in to the 11 p.m. news is really, really important. That's where a lot of our affiliates make most of their money. We have some interesting elements that will be a little different There hasn’t been a successful 10 o'clock launch of a dramatic series in the last five or 10 years. There’s no laughs at 10 o'clock. And to me, 10 o'clock is like 11:30. Even young people go, I can't stay up past 11."
Andy Richter and Conan O'Brien once again will be side-by-side launching a late-night talk show, as NBC announced today that Richter will serve as the announcer and also sketch comedy player for The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien when it debuts on June 1.
Richter appeared on O'Brien's final "Late Night" last Friday. But he had been O'Brien's sidekick for close to seven years, from his "Late Night" start in September 1993 until May 26, 2000. From the official NBC press release, this statement from O'Brien: "Andy is one of the funniest people I know and we've maintained a close friendship since he left 'Late Night.' We have a proven chemistry that will be an incredible asset to 'The Tonight Show.' I'm looking forward to working with Andy on a daily basis again, particularly since he owes me $300."
That reminds me, I'm going to need to create a few new categories.
The elevators open on the sixth floor of 30 Rockefeller Center to reveal a hallway full of activity. We're hours away from another taping of NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien (not to mention test shows underway in an adjacent studio for Jimmy Fallon!). Three floors up on nine, where O'Brien and the writers work, however, the mood feels decidedly different. It's almost as if it's the last week of high school. Make that the funniest high school in America, and most of the students don't know how to react, because they're about to go on summer break in the spring, and meet up again in college in Los Angeles, where they'll put their own spin on The Tonight Show in June. How do you say goodbye, exactly?
The Letterman folks went through this all before in 1993, of course, when David Letterman jumped from 12:35 a.m. at NBC to 11:35 p.m. at CBS, providing the opening that O'Brien and his staff have more than ably filled.
Despite the high-school/college metaphors above, though, you don't get the sense that O'Brien's staff is suffering from a case of senioritis. It's just...different. Fewer guests to plan panel stories for, more clip packages to hunt down and edit, and a completely overhauled monologue for the final week. Out with the topical news and celebrity jokes, in with the goodbye quips. For Tuesday, writers prepared an elaborate farewell to the show's Masturbating Bear (played by writer Michael Gordon) that involved O'Brien trying to freeze him in carbonite in tribute to Han Solo, only to have Carrie Fisher herself rescue the bear and reunite with him after a chase through the streets of Manhattan.
Most clip packages got debated and selected months ago. On Wednesday, writers huddled in one of the offices trying to select clips for a last-minute addition to the highlight reels. Packages on Wednesday's show included a blooper reel of sketches gone awry, and a reel that showed how much they relied on robots, bears and Abraham Lincoln over the years.
Meanwhile, writers Brian Kiley and Guy Nicolucci are staring at their respective computer screens, racking their brains to come up with farewell one-liners for O'Brien's prepenultimate monologue. "Normally, you have a sense of what the good ones are and aren't," Kiley says of writing monologue jokes. He has known O'Brien since both attended the same Sunday School in a Boston-area Catholic church, and has a good feel for what kinds of topical jokes O'Brien likes to tell and which subjects to avoid. He'll go through the morning newspapers, find his marks, fact-check them, then type and email them over. For the final week, though, O'Brien just wants to use the monologue to say goodbye. One of Kiley's more TV-daring punchlines that made it onto the late-night airwaves Tuesday noted how you couldn't say the word "douchebag" on TV when Conan started in 1993. Nicolucci says it's like throwing jokes over a wall, waiting to hear which ones land and which ones don't. With an hour to go before the daily 4:45 p.m. meeting on the set with O'Brien, Kiley joins Nicolucci in his cramped office for some team brainstorming. Is there some way to still get a Paris Hilton mention into the monologue? Kiley offers: "We won't be on the air until June, so for the next three months, I'll be going door-to-door telling Paris Hilton jokes." Nicolucci exclaims, "Yes!" and types it up, quickly adding it to a lengthy e-mail correspondence.
One more thing from the Super Bowl I want to point out for you before we move on to other funny business. Yes, you probably saw and chuckled at Conan O'Brien's attempt to sell Bud Light to Sweden. But I also want you to keep an eye on the guy who convinces O'Brien to do the ad. That's H. Jon Benjamin, who not only has worked for O'Brien as a "Late Night" writer, but also was a voice for Dr. Katz and is a major player for the new Comedy Central show, Important Things with Demetri Martin. So here's to seeing more of Benjamin on your TV. Enjoy:
Conan O'Brien will tell you he is not an actor, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have plenty of stories to tell, and he shall share some of them on a special two-hour edition Monday of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. Conan has a month left in his Late Night slot in NYC, before heading to California to take over the Tonight Show. Here, Conan talks about writing for SNL, pitching famous comedians, how you can find something funny without laughing because you have simply seen and heard so much comedy before (oh, do I know that feeling), and how SNL was different from Not Necessarily The News!
More clips after the jump!
The morning after NBC made it official, we all need to put the announcement of Jay Leno moving from late-night into primetime in 2009 into perspective.
First, realize and recognize that while Leno's fall 2009 show will air weeknights at 10 p.m. on the East and West coasts, he'll actually be on at 9 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones! When Leno told the press yesterday that 10:30 was the new 11:30 for many folks, he could have and should have said that for all of middle America, that long has been the case. Instead, when I heard Leno tell NBC Universal sibling show Access Hollywood (their studios are literally across the hallway from Leno's studio in Burbank) that “11:30 seems really late to most people,” what I heard translated as most people = old people?! That Leno asked NBC to do research (focus groups, anyone?) and found that his audience wanted to see him earlier, that only bolsters this circumstantial claim that Leno's ratings will fall outside the 18-49 demo.
Ah, ratings. In the just completed November sweeps season, Leno's Tonight Show averaged 4.9 million viewers (though only 1.7 million fell within the 18-49 age bracket), for a 1.3 rating and 5 share.
So, that happened. What a weird, wild 30 hours for Katt Williams in New York City last week. It began on Wednesday afternoon, when NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien taped its show and never heard from Williams, a scheduled guest for that night's program. His people told me the next day that Williams, traveling by tour bus, simply got stuck in traffic and never made it into Manhattan in time.
Williams and his entourage did arrive later that night, and sometime in the 2 a.m. hour, NYPD searched a car (allegedly lacking a license plate) traveling with said tour bus, found a handgun in the car, and arrested the entire entourage, including Williams. A source close to Williams tried to assure me that he had been detained on charges of "Pimpin." Ha! Either way, the comedian didn't make bail until 18 hours later, and hurried over to Carnegie Hall, arriving at 8:36 p.m. Considering his stand-up concert was supposed to start at 8 p.m., theater staff and the New York Comedy Festival people were more than a bit anxious awaiting his arrival, and started the show late, plus had opener Wil Sylvince pad his time onstage. Williams emerged to applause at 9:09 p.m. and promptly filled us all in on at least some of the details. He first asked for patience. "I just got out of jail 35 minutes ago," he said. "I had 15 n!&&ers with me. They took us all in!" He also quipped that he didn't rush over just to cash a paycheck, as he'd been paid in advance. After a few more thoughts about the discomforts of incarceration, Williams launched into his regularly scheduled routines, talking about what Barack Obama's presidency means to black Americans, a lengthy historical retrospective on the pilgrims, the great American melting pot, and the beginnings of slavery. If blacks had begged for reparations before, Williams wasn't asking on this night. "This week was the greatest gift you ever gave us, period," he said. He also took a few moments to discuss his dislike of Sarah Palin, and after delivering an hour of material, Williams closed with another five minutes of rapping. Very impressive stuff for a guy who had not gotten a wink of sleep the entire day and barely a minute to decompress from 18 hours in jail! Even Chris Rock, in attendance, was smiling as he left Carnegie Hall. After the show, Williams seemed to be in good spirits as he wound down a very eventful day and night with other comedians at the festival's official afterparty at Carolines.
If any publicity is good publicity, then this is as good a time as any to remind you that Williams has a new DVD out on Tuesday, It's Pimpin', Pimpin'.
And here's a clip:
The New York Comedy Festival today announced it has entered a multi-year partnership deal with Comedy Central, which means Caroline Hirsch's annual celebration of big-name comedy in the Big Apple now will get a bigger TV presence. The deal includes an annual Comedy Central special, and perhaps more. So the fifth New York Comedy Festival, running Nov. 5-9, 2008, in varied venues around Manhattan, unveils this early lineup:
11/5: Frank Caliendo, Carnegie Hall
11/5: “We Have a Winner” moderated by Lizz Winstead, 92nd Street Y
11/6: Louis C.K., They’re With Me, Town Hall
11/6: Katt Williams, Live In Concert, Carnegie Hall
11/7: Carlos Mencia: At Close Range, Avery Fisher Hall
11/7: An Evening with Craig Ferguson, Town Hall
11/7: Writers Speak! A Potentially Regrettable Evening with the Writers of The Daily Show, Paley Center
11/8: Tracy Morgan: Coming Back Home, Apollo Theater
11/8: Sarah Silverman and Friends, Hammerstein Ballroom
11/8: Joel McHale Live at Town Hall, Town Hall
11/8: Late Night with Conan O’Brien Writers’ Panel Discussion, Paley Center
11/9: Brian Regan Live in Concert, Avery Fisher Hall
11/9: B.J. Novak and Friends, Town Hall
Tickets start going on sale at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, Aug. 7. They still have to release the names and special events happening during that week at Carolines. Plenty of big names, though, on the slate, including several repeat performers from last year. Louis CK rocked Town Hall last year, so already looking forward to that. We'll see how McHale and Novak handle the larger stage. Tracy Morgan plays the Apollo. Sarah Silverman moves from last year's Carnegie Hall to this year at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Carlos Mencia? The Late Night writers talk should be very interesting, coming as it does near the end of the road for some of them as the show prepares to move to California.