Conan. (Not) the barbarian. The red-headed Irish dude with the unchanging baby-face that reminds most of a jolly leprechaun. You know. The irreverent tall guy who does all the voices? Yeah; him.
Who doesn’t love Conan? Even if there weren’t fifty other comics and talk show hosts online peddling their own brand of sadly unfunny comedy, but rather fifty guys and gals overflowing with side-splitting comedy, Conan would still come out on top. He’s just that good.
Conan brings us raw, unbridled insanity. That’s probably why we still tune in, even after all these years. He hasn’t slipped at all; like fine wine, he’s only getting better with age, refining his craft and gift for garrulous gab. When writers were on strike years ago, the cameras were turned backwards, and the Conan office staff were front and center, the focus of Conan’s sharp wit. This format worked so well, the Conan show never stopped relying on his staff for laughs. These are some of Conan’s most cherished skits, much-beloved by everyone we know.
Anyone NOT familiar with the running gag revolving around one of Conan’s producers, the ever-undefinable Jordan Schlansky, and Conan’s continuing confusion about Jordan’s role on his staff? Just in case you (somehow) missed it, Conan tries his hardest, again and again, to throw Jordan off his unwavering balance, always to no avail. To be fair, Conan did take Mr. Schlansky to Italy to share a meal at Jordan’s favorite authentic Italian restaurant.
Then again, Conan also divided Jordan’s office in two, blasting music from the other side and encouraging staff to blow smoke through a window he sloppily cut through the divider, first with an axe, then a very loud power saw. I guess that sort of balances things out?
Juxtaposing Conan and Jordan was a brilliant, likely unintentionally incredible success, with Conan at his very best. And his meanest. After all, his brand of acerbic wit, much like that of Frank Sinatra’s buddy, the late Don Rickles, is biting and cuts deep. Who can forget the many roasts Rickles hosted back in the ’80s? Too many guests of honor probably excused themselves for a short cry in the powder room, afterwards.
But Conan said the unthinkable last week. The laughs stopped cold in living rooms across the Island. He referred to Staten Island as a “landfill” during a skit called “Conan & Sona Meet With Human Resources” that aired on TBS on December 17th. Meeting with real-life Human Resources specialist Claire (Lord give her strength!) at Turner Broadcasting , the channel presently hosting The Conan Show, Conan’s longtime assistant Sona lays it all out for us.
“I have a lot of issues,” Sona begins, “He tells people I floated to this country in a basket, and he found me in a bush. I learned to speak English by watching episodes of Dynasty. He has knocked food out of my hand on more than one occasion.” In fact, that statement about watching Dynasty to learn the language was once written up in a Rolling Stone interview.
Sona isn’t even bitter; she matter-of-factly enumerates the numerous ways in which Conan would be sorely reprimanded as her boss, were he not a world-class A-list celebrity comedian, star of his own show. Like Sona, we all know it’s just for a laugh. Likely, not a few viewers haven’t wished Conan was their boss. Sona has an admirable unwavering sweet disposition. If Conan were your boss, how long would it take for you to blow your top? For many, the scale would be in hours and minutes, not days and months.
But then came the unspeakable. The worst gaffe anyone can make while speaking with Staten Islanders, or telling anyone else about Staten Island within earshot of native islanders. Conan begins with, “How many comedians does TBS have? Oh, right. The Impractical Jokers.” So far, so good. He then continues in his best stage voice with, “Well…it’s always the
Impractical Jokers. Those wanks from Staten Island! They hold all the glory. I’m sorry fellas; I didn’t mean to go after you. I know you all grew up on a landfill…”
Mouths dropped. Dentures snapped in two. Popcorn and corn chips fell simultaneous, staining carpets and sullying Italian tile floors with salsa and onion dip all over the island, synchronously, as if by magic. But it was no magic, merely the voice of Conan O’Brien, pumped into living rooms, dens, basement rec rooms, and bedrooms across our fair (is)land.
No; he didn’t? Yes; he did! Conan used the word landfill together in a sentence with Staten Island in it. And he wasn’t celebrating the landfill’s closure in the year 2000, either, or praising the late State Senator John J. Marchi’s tireless efforts that culminated in making our air smell so much better. If there were a rage-meter on the island that night, chances are that would have been its last time functioning, dying right then from anger overload.
Should we forgive Conan? Or is Staten Island “cancel culture” going to make watching the show a serious faux-pas, like saying Brooklyn has the best pizza or that Staten Island isn’t really part of NYC? It’s the holiday season; I think it’s probably best to just move on. Comedians should have the right to offend. At the same time, Conan should know we’re not giving him a pass on any more landfill jokes. Conan, you’ve been duly warned. Tread lightly!
(I must admit I’ve never actually watched The Impractical Jokers, though I’ve heard all about how funny they are from fellow Islanders, far and wide. Now’s probably a good time to check out the show, if you haven’t. I know I will. Conan recommends them, highly, and his word on good comedy’s gold.)