Conan, I feel you

Well, I’m back home from Toronto. I can’t tell you how tired I am. Part of it is the two hour adventure I had with customs, but the other part is not going to sleep until about 1 a.m., knowing good and damn well I had to be up at 5 or 6 or something to leave for the airport. But how could I go to sleep on the Conan finale?
I don’t watch much late night TV — or TV in at any time, really — but Conan’s always been hilarious to me. It’s a hilarious that’s difficult to explain, and one that you can’t expect anyone else to get. He’s just one of those guys.
Generally, that isn’t the description of a mainstream star, so it’s perfectly understandable that The Tonight Show didn’t work for him. His funny just isn’t for everyone. Can’t fault the masses because they prefer easy to quirky. If the masses were into quirky like that, we wouldn’t call it “quirky,” would we?
Anyway, Conan got canned. Canned with eight figs in his pocket, but canned all the same. And while the parting gift certainly helped, getting fired doesn’t feel great. Doesn’t matter who’s fault it is or who’s behind it. Fired is fired is fired, and it stings. Been there a few times myself.
And having been there, I can’t say how much respect I have for Conan, how he handled his departure, and how he went out — like a grown man.
When you work on an open mic, it’s rare that you get to say goodbye on air. For good reason, bosses are a little reluctant to turn their airwaves over to someone with nothing to lose. Folks have a tendency to just let shit off their chests in those situations, and it often causes problems and, potentially a fine from the FCC.
But you know what? Why would you wanna buck on the way out? Doing a daily show is such a personal thing. You don’t do the show for your bosses. You do it for yourself and the people that are into what you’re doing. Day after day after day, you and those people interact. In television, the interaction isn’t nearly as personal as when you do local radio, but it’s still about you and your audience. And the second that last show wraps, it’s over. Sure, people can catch up with you and you can read the nice things they say about you, but that connection is gone. Outside of the checks, that connection is the best thing you can possibly get from working in these media.
So why would you rather take shots at people doing their jobs, what they must do or what they think is best, when you could talk to the people that made it great, the people that you won’t be with again for a long time?
Parting shots are for punks. Period. If it’s really like that, then go in your boss’ office and ream him out right there. Man up. Give him the chance to fire you on the spot, punch you, whatever. But what does anyone get from showing out in public?
This game is about the people that watch you, that listen to you, that allow you into their homes. What Conan got in the last few weeks was something I was fortunate enough to receive — genuine verification that what he’d been doing the last two decades really did affect people. Was it enough people to keep him on the air?
Who cares? It was enough people that he could hear them. And if you’ve got one person that has let you into their lives and says that your work has made them better in any sort of way, that you’re winning.
And that victory means so much more than ripping into your boss or the people at your company, the majority of whom were probably wonderful to him.
Conan got that. I almost cried when he almost cried because I damn sure nearly cried in a similar situation. It’s hard to explain to people how hard that moment was. It’s not crying about the job. Conan knew what was going to happen to him well in advance, the same way that I did. You make peace with that early.
What you can’t make sense of is the loss. Not the job. The people, the audience, the folks that have helped you put something like that together and the relationships with all of them. One day, they’re just gone. Not all of those things have to change, but they do. That’s just how it is.
And Conan trucked through it like a grown, incredibly dignified man. He thanked NBC for his 20 years there. He thanked his staff. He pulled back the curtain to say he was allowed to say anything he wanted…but wouldn’t. He had the chance that so many people dream of — to let loose on those above them — and chose to speak to the people that stood with him.
That, to me, is how we all should be. To quote Big Boi, “hate ain’t even in my lifestyle.” It seems not to be in Conan’s, either. He made that day about him and his folks, which is certainly something I think we can all take with us.
And then there’s the classic bit of television we got at the end — “Freebird.”

I can’t lie — I spent more time worrying about getting my finale right than I did worrying about finding a job. If I was gonna walk, I was gonna go how I wanted to go. That was the gift I wanted to give myself. Forget snappin’ on someone. If this was gonna end, and me and my people were gonna kick it one last time, then we were gonna do it right. Those that heard it can give you their opinions, but I couldn’t think of any better way to walk away than how I did — laughter with a parable attache.
The difference between me and Conan, of course, was I could just pull Randy Watson and Tyrone Green off YouTube. He could actually call Billy Friggin’ Gibbons.
Seriously, how cool is this — on his last show, Conan played guitar on “Freebird” with Max Weinberg, Billy Gibbons, Beck and Ben Harper??? With Will Ferrell doing Will Ferrell stuff, removing any hint of melodrama? And Gibbons, Beck and Harper fell back so CONAN O’BRIEN could take a solo until the end? Are you kidding me?
I can’t think of anything better. And given the way Conan handled that hour of television, I can’t think anyone that deserved it more.
I’m certainly speaking from a very personal place, so I have no idea if anyone else saw what I saw or gets what I get from it. But I’m not sure the last time I saw anything that personal or genuine on television. And even if Conan’s comedy doesn’t do it for you, give it up for Conan’s heart. That show was harder than it looked.
And a little harder for me to watch than I’d care to admit.

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