Recently, my mind has revealed a little tidbit of itself to me with regards to the “late-night comedian” Conan (Conan O’Brien). Conan O’Brien is not a late-night comedian. I mean, obviously, he is a “late-night comedian” in the sense that he jumps into our devices every day, late at night, in hopes of humoring us. However, this label of “comedian” does serve his purposes.
Since Conan identifies as a comedian, he can gain access to places and ideas without the typical strings that are typically attached to say, politicians or lawyers or even … journalists. Nevertheless, the essence of Conan is not comedy. The essence of Conan is education. It is by Conan’s intellect that he moves through the world, grapples with and deciphers the problems of this world. Comedy is his vehicle, and through humor, he can bring even the most complex things back down to Earth, creating Bathos. Conan’s genius is his ability to do this. Unfortunately, the masses do not care to learn, and so, even if those lessons are directed at you subliminally, your mind will reject this (and I have no proof of this, and I am too lazy to find a source to back up my claim; you were warned, which is why this is all theory, conjecture, especially since I do not know Conan O’Brien personally). This is the foundation upon which my theory about why Conan lacks mass appeal is built.
To me, Conan O’Brien lacks a bit of proliferation; I do not see him “everywhere.” I also know that he’s never one of the big three late-night comics. And I used to understand why: He’s a clown. But then, desperate for any entertainment when Colbert is away (I am capable of appreciating more than one person at a time), I started watching Conan’s “Conan Without Borders” segments while living in Seoul, South Korea. I couldn’t believe that Conan was even viewed in Seoul, much less adored. It was a weird awakening. So, inspired by the popular, I began watching Conan. Honestly, I don’t really care for his show, but I am absolutely obsessed with all of his “Borders” segments. I’ve seen them all, and I love every one of them. And I know I love them because of Conan.
While “Without Borders”, Conan can be the ridiculous American that the rest of the world may enjoy because he lives up to an American stereotype, The Clown. And Conan’s smart. He’s an actual intellectual. You do not end up with the types of credentials that he has and remain stupid. The difference is that Conan is not an elitist intellectual. He doesn’t sit upon his high horse (like say, Bill Maher, and I appreciate him so much, too!) and look down on all the uneducated (by systemic inequality or sheer laziness) people and call them stupid. He also doesn’t want to be surrounded by only those who are equally as intelligent as he is. He wants to be around people. And I cannot even qualify or “define” what type of person because Conan sees people as people. He does not treat a woman like a woman, a dude like a dude, an Asian like an Asian, etc., etc., &c. He treats everyone he encounters like a person. And that’s saying something, especially for someone who could so easily sell out for any number of reasons.
Conan is good with people in person. I find his pieces to be most consumable when watching him interact with other people. Hence my indifference to his late-night show. I basically watch everything of Conan’s on YouTube, except his late-night riffs, because he is so good at interacting with every type of person, he is hilarious to watch. He has no shame. He’s willingly going out there and representing the idiocy of Americanness to the rest of the world. He’s our global Bathos Ambassador.
People want and will easily think the worst of you, no matter what. The global community, the peoples of all the different, varied, cultures of the world do not have a positive, glowing, sunshine-and-rainbows perspective, perception or opinion of These United States. Of course, many people do want to come here to experience the ginormity of American life, but generally speaking, the American people are not looked upon with the same light that Americans use on themselves. And clearly, Conan knows this.
Not only does he know this, he is capitalizing on it. He is playing the role that the global community wants to see, wants to be proven right about, wants to interact with, and Conan plays that role unlike anyone else because nobody else is doing it. With all of Conan’s big intellect, he didn’t decide to point the cameras at his big intellect. Instead, he said (and I “quote,” but not to quote him but rather, to write a bit of fake dialogue), “I’m sick of all these intellectuals talking down to the less educated and calling them stupid. All you have to do is educate them.” And even if Conan has a smaller base of fandom here in These United States than I would like, it’s comforting to know that the global community has embraced him, enjoys his perspective, and feels as though they’ve won a small victory against the USA by being right about us Americans: We are clowns. Our day-to-day problems are so miniscule that we have problems and arguments about basic necessities (say, what type of person gets to use the millions of free toilets available to the general public) that other nations do not even have at all.
We’re all clowns. And so, if Conan has taught us anything through all his years entertaining us, it is that American comedians are not the only clowns. We have one sitting in the White House, and we are all clowns ourselves. To be American is to be a clown. Our problems are of such little consequence because we brought all of these problems on ourselves. We could literally fix all our problems tomorrow, with a few swipes of a pen. Yea, we then have to get to work and get it done, and so, again, Conan proves a point. It’s not only about realizing that you’re a clown and that you’re part of the problem; it’s also about how problems don’t fix themselves. So, if, as a nation, we are going to allow people to in our society to exist who are uneducated and lazy, then it’s our responsibility to change that, to create the world in which we want to live. If we do not want people to be uneducated, then we must educate them. If we do not want people to be lazy, then we need to build and create things and spaces for them to do and create things.
And so, I want to thank you, Conan, for getting out there and being the face of America. Conan may have a reputation of being ridiculous, but he does not hold a reputation of being stupid. So, whatever Conan does accomplish while the cameras are turned off is his real work, his learning. Nevertheless, he remains dutiful to his responsibility to also educate the masses, and for this effort, I appreciate everything that he does. Thanks, Conan! You make me laugh, but more importantly, you make me think. Thank you.