Comedian Conan O’Brien told reporters in New York Thursday that he doesn’t feel pressure to address politics every episode like his fellow, late-night hosts Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah, Bill Maher, Samantha Bee and John Oliver do.
“I feel like it’s being handled and very well,” the 55-year-old star of TBS’ Conan said at a press event associated with the New York Comic Festival and moderated by CNN journalist Jake Tapper.
“We address what’s happening. We touch upon it,” O’Brien said, adding he has considered featuring topical issues more prominently in his work, but ultimately decided that his strength is silly, timeless jokes and he shouldn’t try to force something that doesn’t come naturally to him.
“A lot of that stuff is still very popular on the Internet; stuff we made 25 years ago,” he said. “Those were classic moments. I’m just trying to manufacture more of those. The best moments from my travel shows, I believe, will be funny long after I’ve left this earth.”
The comedian acknowledged that the late-night landscape has changed drastically since the years when Jay Leno and David Letterman ruled the airwaves and harbored a bitter rivalry against each other.
At that time, the press stoked the flames as Letterman dared to launch his own program to compete with The Tonight Show after retiring host Johnny Carson tapped Leno instead of him as his replacement.
Nowadays, there are more than a dozen late-night, talk-show hosts in the United States and they typically support each other publicly as they carve out their own niches.
“The media loves a horse race,” O’Brien said. “There’s, literally, 135 horses running and it’s very hard to create a storyline and, so, I don’t think there is as much of a percentage as there used to be for the media. … It’s not a fun story, so I don’t think there is any reason for hosts to play it up any more.”
TBS recently announced Conan episodes will be 30 minutes long instead of an hour in 2019. However, O’Brien emphasized Thursday that fans can actually expect more content, which will be available via social media and a weekly podcast, due to begin Nov. 19.
The former host of The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien — who succeeded both Leno and Letterman at certain points in his career — said the changes to his brand will build on how his global audience consumes entertainment in viral video bites as opposed to appointment television viewing.
“They can see the best of my best anywhere in the world on their phones,” he said, noting younger viewers value authenticity and seem to want to know what his staff and days are like.
To satisfy this craving, O’Brien tapes and releases candid footage showing how he prepares to interview celebrity guests, interacts with the public and develops comedy segments. The finished, polished broadcast appears to be secondary to millennials and teens, while more mature viewers prefer a more traditional format.
“This isn’t something I try to do to make people happy; it’s a natural extension of who I am,” he said. “You should be able to see what I am up to 24 hours a day. If we have something we can comment on in the moment, it shouldn’t have to wait until the linear show. They should all feed each other. It should be symbiotic.”
O’Brien said there is truly only one thing he demands from the people he interviews in any capacity: that he or she be funny and spontaneous.
“I like guests who roll with it,” he said, revealing he avoids artists who seem overly rehearsed or determined only to talk about how much they love their co-stars. “That’s the kind of stuff I want less and less and less of. Those guests drive me crazy.”
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