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Late Night TV: Conan Versus Letterman

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I have been, and I think always will be, a fan of Conan O'Brien.  When it was announced that Coney would be taking over The Tonight Show, to me, it sounded just about perfect.  In a debate between Leno and Letterman, I always came out on the side of Dave, but in one between Conan and Dave… well, for me that's harder to answer.  So, today, I've opted to take a look at some clips from both shows to try and figure out if I can possibly choose between the two. 

I had a great plan for this, I was going to embed a clip from Conan and then embed a clip from Letterman and then one from Conan and another from Letterman.  It was going to be a back and forth thing highlighting funny bits from both shows.  However, The Late Show with David Letterman doesn't actually allow you to embed clips, you have to watch them directly from their website.  That would be one point for Conan.

First clip: Conan O'Brien poking fun at a baseball team that deserves to have much fun poked at it:

See, that's just plain genius – the Mets are bad (sorry Met fan), the Mets probably ought to be better, but that's not the point.  No, the point is that what really sells this bit is not Mr. Met getting out of his car with the baseball bat, it's his actually smashing the window – it's funny that he gets out of the car and shakes the bat, it's hysterical when he actually smashes that first window.

First link for Dave:  Dave goes to the new Harry Potter movie.

One of the things Dave really has going for him is his general anger/bewilderment towards society at large.  The intro here is funnier than the bit, but they're both still funny.  If I were Dave, what really would have distressed me however is the fact that I paid to go see Harry Potter and I ended up at Transformers (this could be a rights issue, but if it is, they simply ought not to have put the clip online, and therefore I’m assuming it is here as it was on TV).  I understand both of those films are big budget Hollywood blockbusters, but that doesn't make them entirely the same.  That Megatron can't hold a candle to Voldemort.  I guess Dave was too upset by his date's actions to notice.  I'm calling this a tie.

Second clip: Shatner reading Palin's farewell speech:

A lot of this very definitely rests on Shatner's shoulders, and his ability to make fun of himself and someone else at the same time.  Even so, you have to give credit to Conan and his staff (let's not forget the staff, without them the show doesn't happen) for coming up with the idea… and for bringing Shatner back to read Palin's tweets on another night.

Second link: Letterman's Brüno Top Ten with Brüno.

Just like with Conan, what we have here is excellent use of a celebrity.  Sacha Baron Cohen may milk the thing more than he ought to, and Letterman does make a mistake in counting down the numbers, but he recognizes the mistake and points out just how much it doesn't matter anyway.  I think the Shatner bit may be funnier, but I'm still awarding a point to Dave because the Top Ten thing has to be one of the greatest – if not the greatest – bits in late night television… also, I desperately want this to end in a tie and already awarded Conan a foolish point for NBC providing the ability to embed clips and CBS not.

 

So, there you have it, two late night geniuses doing what they do best – making people laugh.  I think that there hasn't been a better time for late night television in general in years.  One guy has Paul McCartney back in the Ed Sullivan Theater and the other has that hair… you can't lose. 

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    I suppose I have a bias because I am an Indy native and actually Letterman and I went to different schools together back in the 60s.

    But, overall, I think Conan has a greater appeal to younger folks, which, I’m sure NBC is thrilled about. Dave has a broad audience, but is more likely heavier on us old farts. Leno’s strength I think is strong in middle, more conservative America. There are a surprising number of Hoosiers who prefer Leno to their Indiana home boy. No loyalty!

    I have long felt that Dave was and is funnier and edgier than Leno. I’ve never bought into Leno’s humor. I think he is a very good guy, as is Letterman for that matter. I don’t really have a feel for Conan personally.

    Conan’s schtick is more “out there” than Letterman’s. Letterman’s stuff seems to concentrate more on the “dumb,” and perhaps more on irony. Sadly, there are a lot of people who just don’t get irony.

    I suppose if you find Conan and Letterman more or less equal, that’s good for you. Double the fun.

    B

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Sorry, but that’s not genius

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    It would have been genius if Mr. Met swung the bat eight times before actually connecting with the window. Or if Mr. Met just held the bat in his hands and did nothing. (See, because, Carlos Beltran…) Or if Mr. Met accused Andy Richter of trying to steal his job.

  • Micahel M.

    Conan has the personality of a sucked grape.