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Conan O’Brien’s late night run has come to an end after nearly three decades.
The longest-tenured host in late night officially ended his nightly TBS show Conan on Thursday after a 28-year run. During his final opening monologue, O’Brien was quick to admit that it was hard to grasp that the end of the show had arrived.
“It’s hard to believe, it’s hard to say, it’s our final show on TBS,” he told the live audience at Los Angeles club Largo. He added that he’s done over “4,000 hours of television,” and continued, “Every night, I always said, ‘Tonight we have a really great show,’ and I have to tell you I was often lying. But tonight we really do have a great show! And if we don’t, what are you going to do about it? I’ll be long gone.”
Before he took the stage, the final episode of Conan kicked off with a sketch of The Simpsons, with an animated O’Brien giving an exit interview to Homer Simpson. During their sit-down, O’Brien asks Homer what his favorite moment from the show was, to which Homer pinpointed a moment that an actor gave a “mildly interesting anecdote” from the set of a movie that made Andy Richter fall asleep. “Homer, you pretty much described all the shows I’ve ever done,” O’Brien said. Later on, O’Brien told Homer he wanted to show him something he’s “never shown anyone before,” only to unveil that he’s bald.
While onstage, O’Brien thanked the Simpsons team — O’Brien was previously a writer for the long-running Fox series — for their “amazing cold opening.” He said, “I started working with them 31 years ago. After all these years, to be in a recording session with Al Jean, James L. Brooks and Matt Groening. … That gave me goosebumps.”
During his final week of shows at TBS, O’Brien has welcomed guests Seth Rogen — the pair smoked a joint onstage — Bill Hader and Paul Rudd, who continued to carry out a long-running Mac and Me gag. On Thursday’s finale episode, O’Brien was joined by Jack Black and Will Ferrell, the latter via Zoom.
“I’m shooting a secret project. I wish I could talk about it, but you know how those things go,” Ferrell explained to O’Brien as to why he couldn’t attend the final show in person, only to reveal, “It’s Batman.” Ferrell later told O’Brien that he wishes him the best as he ends “an incredible run.” Ferrell added, “I’m truly excited to see what comes next.”
Ferrell also acknowledged that it was a full-circle moment, given that he was joining O’Brien on the Conan series finale, just as he had on host’s final Late Night show and Tonight Show tapings. He poked fun at O’Brien, telling him it’s “exhausting” to always have to deliver a farewell speech. “I love you Conan, but if you don’t mind, can I just pretape a few goodbyes and you can just use them when your next several shows flame out? We can just get it out of the way.” Ferrell proceeded to recite goodbye monologues the late night host could use in the future, even one for O’Brien’s upcoming HBO Max show.
Black later joined the farewell celebrations and recalled making his first-ever talk show appearance with O’Brien. “I was scared as hell. I was petrified. I had never been in front of a late night audience before. You were so smart, and funny and kind. It was the best way to enter the late night television world and I will always feel a special connection with you and worship you,” Black told O’Brien. He also described Richter as “the most amazing incredible sidekick of all time.”
Black and O’Brien also shared a story of how they had intended to air a musical number during Thursday’s episode, in which Black was set to “fake an injury” and be taken to an ambulance by paramedics. However, their rehearsal took an unexpected turn. “The crazy thing is, I actually injured myself for real,” Black said of spraining his ankle, explaining why he’d walked onstage with a cane.
O’Brien added, “The funniest part is we had an ambulance there and so I’m yelling at these two guys, ‘We got to help him. We got to help him.’ And they were like, ‘No, we’re actors,'” as they both laughed over the fact that they didn’t realize it was a “fake ambulance” on set. The actors eventually drove in the fake ambulance to purchase some bandages for Black.
“It was a really quick run to CVS. They made it in record time,” Black said.
“I wanted to be the best guest of all time for your final episode. But instead, I’m literally the lamest guest of all time,” Black said. However, O’Brien thought otherwise. O’Brien explained that when legends like Johnny Carson or David Letterman left their shows, “everything is meticulous.” But Black’s injury “felt fitting” for Conan. “Of course, we would think of a bit with Jack where Jack pretends to get hurt and while shooting it, Jack gets hurt. We’re the only show in the history of the medium that would ever do that.”
To make up for not being able to dance, Black performed a farewell song he penned for O’Brien.
Also during the show, O’Brien remembered all the memorable guests who’ve joined Conan as he showed clips of comical past appearances and sketches from stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, Harrison Ford, J.J. Abrams, Ryan Reynolds, Sophie Turner, Betty White, Zach Galifianakis and Tom Hanks.
“I honestly love hosting a late night talk show … I always thought it was the job I was born to do. But every so often I like to try my hand at another career,” O’Brien said as he introduced another montage of moments he “hit it out of the park,” including the time he acted as a Mary Kay beauty consultant, commercial actor and attended a dance rehearsal. He also shared fun moments from Conan Without Borders, which the late night host said was a “highlight” of his career.
Toward the ending moments of his show, O’Brien expressed his gratitude for everyone at TBS who “never went back their word” that they would support him. “The people at TBS were nothing short of remarkable,” he said. He then went on to thank his “squad,” whom he has worked with on the show. He also paid tribute to Richter: “In another era, a sidekick was someone who sat next to the host and laughed along and just sort of supported them. … They all had their special skills. When I found Andy Richter, he’s one of the funniest people that I’ve ever met … He’s a brilliant man and I love him forever.”
O’Brien then mentioned that there’s one person in particular who altered his life: Saturday Night Live‘s Lorne Michaels. Before Conan, O’Brien was the host of Late Night With Conan O’Brien — succeeding David Letterman — from January 1993 to February 2009. O’Brien also briefly hosted The Tonight Show from June 2009 until January 2010. O’Brien took a moment to thank Michaels for seeing his hosting potential early on.
“In 1993 when I was chosen to replace David Letterman, people thought it was a batshit crazy, stupid idea. They didn’t know me the way you do. I had no experience. I really shouldn’t have had the job. One guy changed my life, Lorne Michaels at Saturday Night Live. He said, ‘I think that guy’ and NBC said, ‘The writer with the weird hair?’ … Lorne put his credibility on the line,” O’Brien said. “Lorne saw something in me. I’d like to think he was right. He changed my life and I’ll owe him forever. He’s a great man.”
He also expressed his thanks to Lisa Kudrow, who, he says, “had more faith in me than I did. You wouldn’t know me if it wasn’t for Lisa Kudrow,” he said, explaining that she encouraged him to take on the hosting gig.
For his closing thought, O’Brien offered a reflection of his late night run: “I have devoted all of my adult life to pursuing this strange phantom intersection between smart and stupid. There’s a lot of people that believe the two cannot coexist. But God, I will tell you that it is something that I believe religiously, when smart and stupid come together, it’s very difficult, but if you could make it happen, I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. I am so grateful to all of my staff and to the fans in this country and around the world who have joined me in this really crazy and seemingly pointless pursuit to do things that are kind of stupid but have something smart in there somewhere and there’s a little tiny flicker of what is kind of magic … My advice to anyone watching right now is it is not easy to do, but try and do what you love with people you love and if you can manage that, it’s the definition of heaven on earth.”
Prior to Conan‘s finale, Mindy Kaling — who began her writing career as an intern on the late night show — paid tribute to O’Brien on social media by sharing an image of herself posing alongside the host. “You’re the best of the best. Thanks for always being the funniest person in the room, but more importantly, being kind,” she wrote before quipping, “Also congrats to me; I look fucking great in this photo.”
Vanessa Bayer also took to her Instagram to share a throwback image with O’Brien, writing, “Congrats @teamcoco from your former intern. So grateful to have gotten to work with you and to look related to you.”
Meanwhile, John Krasinski, who was also a former Conan intern, wrote: “As is evident from the grainy image, the year … was 1973. The host was Conan O’Brien. This gentleman is without question one of my favorite and greatest inspirations. Both in what funny is … and what kindness is. Here’s to @teamcoco! For tonight, and every night … thank you!”
Other stars also expressed their well wishes to O’Brien on social media, including Josh Gad, Bob Saget, TBS Full Frontal host Samantha Bee and Lauren Lapkus, who wrote, “As a kid, I loved staying up late to watch Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and I always dreamed of getting to be on the show. I put it on my vision board and eventually got to show that to him and even return as a guest a couple more times. So cool to have a dream like that come true.”
The Late Show host Stephen Colbert tweeted, “Conan, thank you for 28 wonderful years of late night shows. Now, can I claim the title of ‘palest host?'”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Richter reflected on Conan‘s legacy: “I do feel one of the best things about our show is that we meant something to younger people, people younger than us that were serious about comedy in the same way that the shows that meant something to me when I was in my teenage years, my college years, and thinking about, ‘Maybe I want to do comedy for a living,’ that we made an impression on people like that and helped form their senses of humor and what they wanted to do with television when they got a chance to do something with television.”
Following Conan‘s end, O’Brien will continue making Conan Without Borders specials for TBS and host and produce a weekly variety show on HBO Max. O’Brien also launched a podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, in 2018.
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